poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

Recorded for Poem-a-Day, November 16, 2017
About this Poem 
“Once I dragged a lectern out to a field and wrote there, facing the trees, and felt at a wonderful loss for words. What could I say to trees that might matter? Nothing but praise. Trees pay no attention to fences. And walking along West 97th Street I marvel at how the honey locust grows right beautifully through the chainlink and into the schoolyard here. (If you’re in love with trees, take a look at Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees.) Lines 14 to 16 borrow definitions from various dictionaries etymological and otherwise.”
—Catherine Barnett
 

Epistemology

Mostly I’d like to feel a little less, know a little more.
Knots are on the top of my list of what I want to know.
Who was it who taught me to burn the end of the cord 
to keep it from fraying?
Not the man who called my life a debacle, 
a word whose sound I love.
In a debacle things are unleashed.
Roots of words are like knots I think when I read the dictionary.
I read other books, sure. Recently I learned how trees communicate, 
the way they send sugar through their roots to the trees that are ailing. 
They don’t use words, but they can be said to love. 
They might lean in one direction to leave a little extra light for another tree.
And I admire the way they grow right through fences, nothing
stops them, it’s called inosculation: to unite by openings, to connect 
or join so as to become or make continuous, from osculare
to provide with a mouth, from osculum, little mouth.
Sometimes when I’m alone I go outside with my big little mouth
and speak to the trees as if I were a birch among birches.
 

Copyright © 2017 by Catherine Barnett. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 16, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2017 by Catherine Barnett. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 16, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Catherine Barnett

Catherine Barnett

Catherine Barnett was born in Washington, D.C. and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. She studied at Princeton University and at the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers.

Barnett is the author of Human Hours (Graywolf Press, 2018); The Game of Boxes (Graywolf Press, 2012), which was the recipient of the 2012 James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets; and Into Perfect Spheres Such Holes Are Pierced (Alice James Books, 2004).

by this poet

poem

iv.

I know agape means both dumbly
open and love not the kind of love
that climbed the stairs to you.

poem
At school he studies the human body:
aorta, valve, muscle, vein.
At home he redesigns it
out of cardboard and twine
until it looks like a coat he might hang
on a hook with other missing coats.
poem
This evening I shared a cab with a priest
who said it was a fine day to ride cross town

with a writer. But I can't
finish the play I said,

it's full of snow.
The jaywalkers

walked slowly, a cigarette warmed
someone's hand.

Some of the best sermons
don't have endings, he said

while the tires rotated