From a Person Sitting in Darkness: New and Selected Poems

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LSU Press

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807123140
  • Publisher: Louisiana State University Press
  • Publication date: 11/1/1998
  • Series: Southern Messenger Poets Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 8.80 (w) x 5.40 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Gerald Barrax has published four previous volumes of poetry. He is former poet-in-residence and professor of English at North Carolina State University and lives in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

LSU Press

Gerald Barrax has published four previous volumes of poetry. He is former poet-in-residence and professor of English at North Carolina State University and lives in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

LSU Press

Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Efficiency Apartment

     My sons.
sometimes I can / not name you
until this magic room is sleeping,
and the stretched out ends our lives make
curl around
and stitch you through the interstices
behind my eyes.

* * *

(And ceremonies changed us
And equaled what we became
And ceremonial words preceded us
Into flesh and spirit and aborted us
Into the ends our lives made
With marvelous cadences to tell us what we were
And would be.)

* * *

One, Two, and Three
when the room is awake and shrugs the shadows off its walls
I see the papered magic I've added
scraps left over from the ends the world made
Roger is jolly on the wall and says Hi
Hippity Hop skips under the breast of a dragon's shadow
      that burns yellow leaves in green flame
The moonmen's marbled earth
      (that I gave your names to remember me)
floats in space above the telephone
And what you drew and gave me once on a visit
      One, your seraped boy with the cactus grin
      Two, your Sopwith Camel firing four lines
             of wavery pencil rounds into the dragon's mouth
                 (I arranged it thatway to conserve the forest)

         Three's cycloptic snaggletoothed house
I call children's art when visitors ask

* * *

(Dear, lost, penultimate love
Poorer for, richer for rituals
Of birth and mortgage
We made formality of ceremony
And two or three and ten years
Was too long to live the deaths
That did us part.)

* * *

Your schoolday weather.

(Did she know the probability of rain?)

Winter mornings close the room.
She wakes you before leaving
and unthreads you from my sleep.

(Did she hear the forecast at all?)

Twelve and ½ miles and one river
is close enough to dress you in three warm apologies

for being here.

In bells and voices at noon
in the center of a cross—
                           church, funeral home and two schools—
it opens and I am imprisoned
by the shouting sons of other fathers
playing (

* * *

Did I play with you?

(We gave us One for our youth
Two for love
Three the image of me.)

Is a father with no sons
a nursery with no rimes
songs, music
roses no rings
but ashes ashes
down the hill we fell
rolling One sliding Two tumbling Three

out of the ends of our lives


I am black sheep
three boys empty

I will go hi                 (Spy in her eye)
round my base is
round my base
hidingO seekand
(find me!)

* * *

(I wed thee
I ring this with what we were
In seeming real
One in
Two seemly
Three black

* * *

Books all over the place

my little people big people
slim and fat —boys

daddy does well in school—

they hunch in bookcase caves
and a box under the table
and squat on top of the closet
in my efficient kitchen
they are a comfort these days
chatting away in my unsleeping
exorcising the square deific

After opening the doors out of your lives
    I followed the little people leading the piper

and here I am
12 ½ miles and one river

wondering:what if I kill them

will they drown or burn

and then?

But no I guess
I have already given my only begotten sons
to save them
every week
it seems
I buy at least one

* * *

Hello. Hello. Hello.

and to make him laugh I play my old game
Is that you, Sam?

I have no son by that name.

It was funnier when
they'd come home from
school and I'd keep
them waiting outside the
back door asking who
they were Is that
you Sam Harry Joe

and they'd fall all
over each other shrieking

no daddy
it's us!

Hello,Hello. hello.
what were you doing
how is school
are there grapes on the vine yet
I'll see you soon I dont know
goodnight goodnight goodnight
no tell her goodnight for me

* * *

(Even now
The cadence of our changes remains in phase.
I had only to become what I am
And you what you will not.
Hotter than a pepper sprout
I am learning to play the guitar you gave me
Trying not to smoke
So much.
Peace. Your hold forever
        And now speak.)

* * *

Here we go round
here we go round
the Supremes hover above my feet
    the 3 girls I'll never have
the telephone is sorry
the room is raining, efficiently
the room rains and rings
the ends are stitched together
One, Two and Three
                   will be fine
the fit will survive

I have made us all typical
true to myself
the nigger daddy of social statistics

(is it asleep? yes
sleeping and raining and ringing)
goodnight goodnight goodnight
Dennis Jerry Josh


This could be the way
the fire comes: God's
fine irony withholding rain.
We could wait for the comfort
of overstatement (half the Flood was tears)
such as something going out of orbit,
falling into the sun
as another kind of rain,
but where is His hand in fire
if the woods are dry?

The woods are dry.
Leaves curl, brown,
fall from God's head
and crackle underfoot like irony's laughter.
At twilight a forest burns
and the sun goes down in more splendor
than even God gave it.
Only I am its match.
My roots need rain, too,
but neither rain nor fire
tells me if it is man or god who is chained to this rock.
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Table of Contents

Efficiency Apartment 3
Drought 9
The Scuba Diver Recovers the Body of a Drowned Child 10
Five-Part Invention 11
I Called Them Trees 18
Your Eyes Have Their Silence 20
January 16, 1967: 5:30 P.M. 21
Obits 22
Another Way of Dying 24
First Carolina Rain 26
Earthlog I 27
C for Charlie 29
Third Dance Poem 30
Odysseus at the Mast 32
The Quick 33
Fourth Dance Poem 35
The Dozens 36
Earthlog: Final Entry 37
In the Restaurant 41
King: April 4, 1968 42
The Singer 44
Visit 46
A Means of Travel 47
I Travel with Her 49
She Listens to Madrigals 51
The Fourth Son 53
Something I Know About Her 55
Shani 56
Ghosts 59
Narrative of a Surprising Conversion 60
"I had a terror - since September" 62
Hubris 63
Confession 64
Gift 66
Between Us and the World 67
Another Fellow 68
The Passage of Shiva 69
Ligustrum 71
Black Cat 72
Moby Christ 74
Near the End of a Savage Winter 75
The Buffalo Ghosts 77
An Audience of One 78
The Conception of Goddeath 83
Competitors 85
Barriers 87
More or Less 88
Who Needs No Introduction 89
In This Sign 90
One of My Own 98
Slow Drivers 99
Spirituals, Gospels 101
From a Person Sitting in Darkness 102
One More Word 105
Another Creation 106
To Waste at Trees 107
Symbiosis 108
Poems Like This 110
Two Figures on Canvas 111
Portraits 112
Recital 113
Lovers 114
Greenhouse 115
All My Live Ones 117
"School Days" 119
If She Sang 120
Dara 121
Liberation 122
God's Button 124
The Death of Another Fellow 126
Eagle. Tiger. Whale. 133
Not Often near Such Water 135
Domestic Tranquility 139
Whose Children Are These? 140
Special Bus 142
Strangers Like Us: Pittsburgh, Raleigh, 1945-1985 143
Haunted House 144
Yardwork 146
What More? 149
Two Poems for Miller Williams 151
Epigraphs 152
Sportsfan 157
War Film: Dying Forever 159
Uniforms 161
Adagio 163
Cello Poem 164
Counting the Ways 175
Sainthood 176
Sunday, 24 May 1992, 10:30 A.M. 177
"... and tell the girls to pray for me" 178
To My Mother, in Heaven 182
Trio for Two Voices and Bass Clarinet 185
Reunion Birthday Poem With a Line After Cummings 186
Reunion: Our Common Language 187
The Old Poet Is Taken in Marriage 188
Perfect Stranger 191
The Guilt 192
Jeopardy 193
In Their Heaven 194
Pittsburgh, 1948: The Music Teacher 195
Surreal Dreams: After Watching the Discovery Channel 197
Hands Off 199
Helen and the Animals 200
No Answers 201
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