July 2021 Poetry Feature: Burlin Barr



Table of Contents:

  • Repairing Holes in Concrete Walls
  • Eruptive debris of very small size 
  • Wolf Tree


Repairing Holes in Concrete Walls 

The furnace always was 

too hot, having been 

converted from one mode of operation 

to something else entirely; 

its source of power mysterious, improvisatory; 

changing: it looked like a tree 

even and one guy said “hell… 

I think this once burned 

wood;” then coal, then oil, 

gas and the walls were coming apart 

from all of that erratic, differently-sourced heat. 


After the man left (the one with 

plaster and epoxy), well 

that was quite a fight: enough 

to break very quickly very old 

bonds; that old tree-thing still 

barely alive and smoldering: a 

scene from a horror movie, or a dream, or a common day; 

casting its spell of spew 

and hatred like fire emerging 

from any source imaginable and touching 

us every place we live and love


Eruptive debris of very small size 

It’s impossible that any machine stamped 

this out: an enormous nail. What 

could it have possibly been made 

for; who made it? In deep space 

it would have actual gravity: an object 

of enormity beyond comprehension. 


Or maybe it was a normal nail, 

and I had gotten smaller. 

Electricity here makes 

the fans run in reverse. 

It’s like that. And now this 

electricity has such insubstantiality 

(can electricity be substantial? 

can it contribute to our divergent masses?) 

that it provides no current 

to counteract or speed or slow 

the path even of a snail. 


Now the fan no longer runs. 

Even backwards. Nothing is even. 

The water pressure in the pipes isn’t. 

The water isn’t. 

There are no active volcanos in the area. 

But this wouldn’t be a bad place to put one.


Wolf Tree

Mesquites bear quiet finery; most
people I knew never much cared 

for that or even took notice
of the furry explosions adorning branch ends 

in among dark difficult needles;
“perfect day” they said, to find old flint 

arrowheads or a chunk of possible
meteor rock in a field somewhere otherwise overstrewn 

with what was left from the previous years’ dryness:
coyote haunch bones in a little muddy water 

hole we called “the bathtub;” along too
with finer and coarser ones of birds and the more 

vulnerable calves and then also hay not yet entirely
rotted; important to have the names: 

the bathtub; the wolf tree; Bev’s field.     
To a little kid squinting in the switch 

grass they may as well have been real places, big
even: sears tower, love field, trafalgar 

square, dripping springs; but those mesquites:
most people thought them a variety 

of trash; except Otis; he kept his right in front
of the house even, as if it was something anybody 

might want there. As if to say, “look at this.”
But mostly people got rid of them. 

Up here in the East people pull up golden
rod like it’s some kind of devil, but I like it well enough

and the bees like it more than I do,
and the last time one tried 

to get at me was when I got out of the green
beetle and, regarding the fur and tissue and bone,

stepped right into something and they
came right at me, and my intent being distracted, I ran

back to the beetle with maybe a whiff of rot
on me as well as the eyes I thought I had

seen; the road curved there and it was pretty
narrow; a curve that ended in more than a few 

people like Shannon, Wendel, or Ronnie Griffith who drowned
at 3:30 on a Tuesday just outside 

of his El Camino; in the smallest ditch you can imagine.
Think of that. Not really even a ditch.

More like a depression.
It doesn’t take much. 

Just a week earlier he’d stuck his head out of
the window and flicked a 

half-inch burning pall mall butt end
into the dry straw at our feet and enthusiastically opined 

“swaller your ass back there”
as he floored it and we just dealt with it. 

But, like I was saying, I was getting back 
into the green beetle a good dozen years before 

and looked forward and did so for a long time;
and held my breath, too, counting bodies that I never look at;

when I came back to that spot I always looked
forward and away with intention. 

You must understand, I wanted no possibility of distortion.
The place was a sort of fulcrum; bearing pressure and devastation. 

Look at that. Three i-o-n’s in a row 
words like carcasses strung up:

along the curvature of the elegant mesquite spine.
There their weight sustained by wire. 

I don’t know who they were: people ranching, 
hauling maize, with guns, or my huge beautiful uncle, 

who could turn his face pink and gave me nickels;
but the wolf tree was there and there was a place where

trophies hung: entire
bodies slung there in semi permanence 

turning into everything 
imaginable between a fresh body and shit and a variety 

of fear and hatefulness; coiling;
Other than that it’s an unnatural stopping 

point for any car—the beatle or that next one which was wrapped
around a different tree.

There was a long hill, only one around 
that offered significant acceleration 

and then gliding ease at the bottom;
small crosses there on the outer side 

of the road, of course, for the car 
deaths and the inner side was the wolf tree.

This curve was never a rational space.
There is a radius that can’t be calculated

from a center where people lived
And I regret that I have stopped missing them.

She (the one I travelled with and have not
seen for a very long time) and I mindlessly navigated

the middle of those on every trip we took together.
That one time I presumably had begun to drowse

or maybe I’d just closed my eyes, counting, 
like kids do to get past something. One, two, three . . . 

Listening and dreaming are two ways of bending;
but already then and many times hence she brought me back

with the gentlest agitation and said
We are almost there.


Burlin Barr writes poems, stories, and essays. His work was included in Best American Poetry 1994.

July 2021 Poetry Feature: Burlin Barr

Related Posts

picture of a bible opened up

February 2024 Poetry Feature

There was tear gas deployed without a tear. There were / rubber bullets fired from weapons that also fire lethal rounds. There were / armored vehicles steering through the streets of the capital that stars our maps. // What we saw was only new to the people it was new to.

Headshot of Anne Pierson Wiese

Sharp Shadows

On our kitchen wall at a certain time / of year appeared what we called the sharp / shadows. / A slant of western light found / its way through the brown moult of fire / escape hanging on to our Brooklyn rental / building for dear life and etched replicas / of everything

Sunlight coming through a window. Photo from Pexels.

January 2024 Poetry Feature: Four Poems by Vinod Kumar Shukla

To get out of bed in the morning, / I don’t depend on anyone / except on my sleep. / If I’m fast asleep / and it’s time to get out of bed, / I find myself opening my eyes. / When I want to stay awake, sleep won’t come. / If I stay awake all night / sleep won’t come all night.