From the Moon, Earth is Blue

From the Moon, Earth is Blue

by Wendy Barker

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"In the Museum of Modern Art," writes Wendy Barker, "chaos / displays itself tidily. Even the viewers // know the dance: stroll, stop, gaze, whisper. / Stroll, stop." Barker's poems tour an imagined museum, allowing us to observe the observer as she learns to see by means of her own creativity. Perspective is crucial to achieving internal balance — in a painting or a soul. After all, "from the moon, earth is blue."

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781609404987
Publisher: Wings Press
Publication date: 11/07/2015
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 48
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Wendy Barker’s sixth full-length collection of poems is One Blackbird at a Time, winner of the John Ciardi Prize (BkMk Press, 2015). Her novel in prose poems, Nothing Between Us: The Berkeley Years (runner-up for the Del Sol Prize) was released by Del Sol Press in 2009. Earlier full-length collections of poetry include Poems from Paradise (WordTech, 2005), Way of Whiteness (Wings Press, 2000), Let the Ice Speak (Ithaca House, 1991), and Winter Chickens (Corona Publishing Co., 1990). Wendy has also published three chapbooks, Things of the Weather (Pudding House Press, 2009), Between Frames (Pecan Grove Press, 2006) and Eve Remembers (Aark Arts, 1996). A selection of poems accompanied by autobiographical essays, Poems’ Progress (Absey&Co.), appeared in 2002, and a collection of translations (with Saranindranath Tagore) from the Bengali of India’s Nobel Prize-winning poet, Rabindranath Tagore: Final Poems (George Braziller, 2001), received the Sourette Diehl Fraser Award from the Texas Institute of Letters. Wendy’s poems and translations have appeared in many journals, including Poetry, Southern Review, Georgia Review, Gettysburg Review, The American Scholar, Kenyon Review, New Letters, Nimrod, Stand, Partisan Review, Michigan Quarterly Re-view, Antioch and Southern Poetry Review. Her work has also been included in numerous anthologies, including The Best American Poetry 2013 (eds. Denise Duhamel and David Lehman). Essays have appeared in such magazines as Poets&Writers and Southwest Review. She has read her poetry at dozens of universities, bookstores, festivals, and conferences in the United States, Europe, and in India. As a scholar, she is the author of Lunacy of Light: Emily Dickinson and the Experience of Metaphor (Southern Illinois University Press, 1987) as well as co-editor (with Sandra M. Gilbert) of The House Is Made of Poetry: The Art of Ruth Stone (Southern Illinois University Press, 1996). Recipient of an NEA fellowship, a Rockefeller residency fellowship at Bellagio, as well as other awards in poetry, including the Writers’ League of Texas Book Award (which she has received twice, for Way of Whiteness in 2000 and for Between Frames in 2007) and the Mary Elinore Smith Poetry Prize from The American Scholar, she has also been a Fulbright senior lecturer in Bulgaria. Her work has been translated into Hindi, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, and Bulgarian. She is Poet-in-Residence and the Pearl LeWinn Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Texas at San Antonio, where she has taught since 1982. Wendy has one son, David Barker, and is married to the critic and biographer Steven G. Kellman.

Read an Excerpt

From the Moon, Earth Is Blue

By Wendy Barker

Wings Press

Copyright © 2015 Wendy Barker
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60940-500-7



    From where does it come, this desire
    for the fitting niche, cradle for a flower,

    shelf for a long boat, and hanging
    hooks for the oars? To organize

    handfuls of our lives, establish
    the planets of our possessions in

    cycles, predictable. A comet misses
    earth by a million miles, almost

    a collision. The green chair out of place:
    a bruised shin, a ripped toenail.
    Regular orbitings — dish drainer to top
    drawer by the stove, cupboard to the right,

    detergent to the left. From the east
    the sun rises. Clear mornings you can see.

    In the Museum of Modern Art, chaos
    displays itself tidily. Even the viewers

    know the dance: stroll, stop, gaze, whisper.
    Stroll, stop. The cycle continues

    until someone tires, moves into
    the center of the room and sits

    down on a bench, free to observe
    more than one wall at once.

    White of the paint between
    frames, lines of the frames enclosing

    angles, spheres of brightened
    human flesh, dabs, splotches

    of movement. Spirals of yellow
    stars contained in a space

    smaller than a clothes dryer. Within
    a cylinder within a cube, repeated

    identical revolutions tumble
    the wrinkles out, our socks and

    shirts grown lighter, loosed
    of the clutter of lint, softer,

    less abrasive, so close to
    the irritable thinness of skin.


    (Anselm Kiefer, 1998, Mixed media on panel,
    Blanton Museum of Art)

    Splattered gravel, burned-out forests, residue
    from forklifts, excavators, back hoes
    glued onto this panel and taking up
    what seems the whole wall so you can't walk by,
    you're sucked into a mammoth
    3D sinkhole, staring at these clumped twigs
    like abandoned camp fires, or what's left
    of flattened or fire-gutted houses,
    as if, with one spark, leaves, birds, lizards,
    anything that wiggled or fluttered was gone,
    leaving only crumbled stone and dried out
    splinters, as if you're peering down from above the planet
    at ridges, fault lines, escarpments, canyons
    that resemble the land down your own street
    gone to bulldozers, gutted, ripped
    of root and vine, the rock bed under
    the trees split into rubble
    to be scraped away before foundations are poured,
    as if the ground hadn't been foundation enough,
    but this huge piece is about what's left after
    everything's been ground
    down, after we've exploded it all,
    taken ourselves out, and the only thing left
    will be faint tracings of the stories
    of stars you used to look up to.


    Painting began when
    a woman plucked
    a blackened chip from
    the cave's fire and
    outlined her lover's shadow.
    He was leaving, upriver. Then she drew
    her own shadow as
    it overlapped with his.
    According to Pliny.

    "No black in nature,"
    said the impressionists,
    but other lore had it
    that black paints were
    made from carcasses.
    Medieval ink: from
    oak galls, swollen growths
    around wasp nests.
    Tang dynasty gentlemen
    used black to portray
    landscapes of the mind.

    From our small
    boat, over the surface
    of the black lake
    we fling petals —
    coreopsis, lilac,
    mallow — along with
    our mother's ashes.
    Pink, lavender,
    yellow scattered on
    the surface and then,
    the lake closes over, black.

The Lost Book

    said something about memory,
    the way it slips when

    you remember, liquid
    between covers, a spine, and drops

    into place on the shelf, there, so
    you can forget it.

Assisted Living

    The Mill Basin Sunrise Facility's doors
    open to galleries of soft-focused

    reproductions: The Rosy Wealth of June,
    The Painter's Daughters Chasing

    a Butterfly:
Gainsborough, Pisarro
    framed in elaborate patterns of gilt.

    Once through these doors, you have no choice
    but cheer, the waterless vases fountaining

    improbable clusters of manufactured
    peonies, irises, sweet peas, chrysanthemums.

    For breakfast it's whatever you want, as long as
    you like sunny side, over-easy eggs, your fruit

    canned — prunes, applesauce, peaches floating
    like goldfish in a sugary juice.

    What you can't have from now on out
    are bare walls, spaces in which

    to focus on the long and twisted
    corridors of the years that carried you

    here where the flowers need no water,
    are designed so they won't fade

    like the frail heads around you
    bent like overblown roses

    nodding into their shallow bowls.
    No mirrors anywhere in sight,

    no way in any of the public rooms to see
    what it is you've begun to stare into.

Closeted Indigo

    It's the full moon we notice, not the night sky.
    The white cat, not the shadowed grass.

    Almost invisible, slipped between blue
    and violet: Newton sensed it was there.

    A color is only waves, motion we can't hear.
    Veins near the skin run blue, bleed red.

    We barely see the blueberries plucked in the night
    silence when a loon cries on the lake.

    There are ways of bludgeoning so the bruises
    don't show, closets with walls no one can see.

    It's the light glinting on leaf shapes
    that dazzles us, the shimmers on the river.

    What color is the wail of a horn uncoiled,
    a saxophone's moan through the door?

The Shadow

    (Jesús Escobedo, 1939, Lithograph,
    Philadelphia Museum of Art)

    You're alone in an alley, a solitary street lamp behind you
    half a block down as you turn to the chalky grid of the wall
    on your left to fumble in your pocket for — glasses? a smoke?
    the address you're trying to find? — but here they are, spilled

    on the sidewalk like somebody's guts, someone who's just
    been knifed open, still raw, but they're your own guts, these

    twisting heads and bones jammed into the slit-open sack
    you've carried through the years: the clinging hungry baby,
    the gaunt-eyed mother, a set of disembodied fleshless ribs,
    the curled-up children hugging their sagging bed, the gnarled

    thick-jointed fingers wrapped into a fist, and the single
    uplifted hand — what could it do? what could it ever do? —
    and bulging at the bottom of the splayed-wide sack
    mirroring your very shape is a heavy-lidded eye that
    won't close, so even if you button up your jacket,
    turn and walk back, facing right into the street light's

    glare, you're still carrying all this weight flattening you
    into blackness, a cardboard silhouette, impotent ghost.

Sin Título

    (León Ferrari, 1964, ink on paper,
    Blanton Museum of Art)

    Needles tangled in wisps of thread?
    Five distinct rows, like a musical

    stave. Eighth, sixteenth notes dropped
    into nests of string. Or knives, these

    jagged black marks on framed white
    paper I can't move past? Daggers

    blunted by intricate knots twisted
    around them. And why this terror

    facing a piece without a single human
    face, with no mouths stretched

    wide in pain or eyes confronting
    some gargantuan specter. Could this

    succession of black darts, or stabs,
    be our cries when surfacing from

    a nightmare, struggling to be heard
    yet smothered by blankets? No,

    this is code for wails, moans aimed
    at webs of lies, spiralings to trap

    the tongue. See how these
    splutters begin in the first row,

    minuscule, then lengthen into
    lungfuls, shrieks? But by the final

    line's end, only two barely
    audible whispers, shrouded. Gagged.

Apologia for Brown

    A good picture, like a good fiddle, should be brown.
    — Sir George Beaumont (1753-1827)

    Half light, candle light, window
    to a street awash with slop.
    Sienna, ochre, burnt umber,
    Cassel earth derived from peat.
    Bister: soot from birch bark.

    Roof and mantel, fallow field and
    pumpernickel (a word formed
    from "pumpen," "fart"), roasted
    beef, saddle and shoe, potato skin.
    Pitchy murk they dug from soil.

    Least glamorous of pigments.
    The impressionists got rid of it.
    Oozings of the lower gut,
    a meaty sauce, a sobering glaze.
    Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Van Dyck.

    Eyes looking out like inner
    rings within the cores of trees.
    Hard maple, spruce, carved and
    varnished till a violinist draws
    a horsehair-fitted bow across

    the belly of an instrument
    that, strung in those days with
    the dried intestines of a sheep,
    might, even now, wrench us
    beyond our fetid rooms,

    the way a spotted moth will cling,
    a dark stain, to the wall of the garage,
    till it wafts its small
    hand's width of weightlessness
    through transparent air.

Composition in Gray

    Dust to dust, but it's not that: dirt is yellow, brown, or red.
    Ashes, not even that, for these are also chunks of bone.

    Desaturated light, the volume turned below our vision.
    Her pulse at twelve, then under seven beats a minute.

    Throat-choking fog through night and noon, a pall that blurs
    angles of walls, the street signs turned to fuzz, illegible.

    Our senses can't discern the subtler shades
    of avian plumage, the various grays on chickadees.

    Not even that. As though her ashes in the jar had drifted out
    and, lofted by the air, have sifted over everything.

    And now the lake has died, the parasites, giardia, the scum
    of algae multiplied, loons abandoning their nests.

    Buried within the Munsell Color System's inner core,
    achromatic, oxymoron, color of no color.

    And still she stares at us from photographs.
    A cinema in black and white, continously reeling.

    At the end, I stroked her toes, bare of their familiar polish.
    Within the room, not even shadows, even shade.


    Even cooked, onions are never.
    Slice after slice, half

    moon after quarter moon.
    Or a meeting's report, paper

    thin sheets of an old bed.
    Only at a certain angle, with

    the light just right:
    bottom of the lake, moss-

    feathered stones.
    But you, I can't see through.


    Was it his feathers, drift of beige on brown,
    loose-woven tufts crowning his head?

    The circular eyes, large-pupiled, topaz,
    haze of sun on my hair, the heat beating.

    Or the way his handler's arm held
    the claws gripping a padded leather sleeve?

    That beak: a single talon curled and hooked
    for prey — an absence present in our midst.

    And the crowd of us, our scattered reasons
    for driving to our city's Greenfest in the park,

    abandoning our cluttered piles of laundry,
    mail, accumulations of upholstered dust,

    chattering as we rummaged among pamphlets,
    booths — cosmetics without cruelty, solar power.

    Was it the heft, upright column of his body,
    gaze that locked with mine, unwavering?

    And was it rapture, this press of tears?
    This inability to speak, caught, seized

    by a clean ferocity — without a syllable
    to swoop across a field, focus

    eye and claw and beak, on
    whatever it is that keeps us breathing.

Apology for Blue

    Don't prate to me of divinity ... but of blue.
    — William Gass (1924-)

    A form of black, said the Greeks,
    cousin of gray, species
    of darkness, opposite of light,
    not a mention in Homer
    with his wine-dark seas.

    Even the Bible doesn't note
    the celestial vault is blue.
    We've three times more synonyms
    for red — cerulean lacks
    the force of blood's vermilion.

    And yet Cennini's quattrocento
    brought back lapis lazuli
    from Badakshan, ground
    the heavy, gray-veined stone
    to paste, kneaded it like bread,

    sieved, melted, strained the stuff
    through linen, then mixed in lye
    and slapped the lump with sticks
    till the blue drained off, a powder
    stored in a leather purse.

    Reserved for the Virgin's lap.
    Color of meekness and profound
    piety, the heavenly spirit,
    that woman's body cool,
    unsullied by carnality, wrapped in

    blue more dear than gold.
    But nineteenth-century scientists
    observed, in the Bunsen burner's
    flame, the highest heat is blue.
    The hottest stars are bluish white,

    and objects hurtling near light speed
    show bluer than the slower ones —
    in physics, blue's the color
    of collision, fire, the laser's beam
    that centuries of artists showed

    streaming to a mortal woman's lap:
    fulcrum of our heated lives,
    hinge and spring of our renewal.
    Hard to see what's closest.
    From the moon, earth is blue.


    Hovering, the word,

    a ball batted so high
    the sun blots it

    from sight, so far
    there is no reaching

    for the shape of the word,
    letters scattered

    till they all, a, c, h, t, c,
    fall to earth, my open hand,

    where I order them
    onto a page, and breathe

    the relief of one who
    hasn't lost the game.

A Crowd, A Host

    (Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, May 2003)

    The magnolias, narcissus, lobelia,
    birches, hay-scented ferns, bayberry,

    and now: an opening field —
    bluebells under beeches and oaks,

    forty thousand. Someone has counted,
    printed the sign on the path,

    forty thousand of a hazy sky-lit
    blue as if a brush had dotted

    each flower from the same tint
    of paint, each cluster a staff,

    blue note on blue note, a song
    in unison, unaccompanied,

    unlike the pruned garden of roses,
    every labeled clump of stalks

    struggling to produce
    a single perfect bloom, for show.

    Here is no question of hierarchy —
    each blossom alone

    adding a blue curl to the procession
    we follow, held in our mind's eye

    even on the path
    to the street, to the subway

    station a block away, the stained
    stairs leading underground to the long

    cars clanking through the dark
    tunnels, rocking the faces within,

    faces more various than
    all the blossoms in the gardens,

    even without the man in the royal
    blue-brimmed hat, singing along

    with his headphones, music
    he alone can hear.


    Chickens are loose.
    The fence won't stop them —

    feathered rumps up,
    bony beaks down,

    claws askittering the leaves.
    When the neighbor's guinea hens

    march up the drive
    early afternoons — pea head

    follows pea head, a wobbling
    line of black and white.

    Zen mendicants after the bell,
    yoked in meditation

    before they return
    to squawk an old mantra,

    settle into stillness,
    that fertile, resonant round.

Light Pink Octagon

    (Richard Tuttle, 1967, Canvas dyed with Tintex,
    Blanton Museum of Art)

    Like nobody's skin. Or skirt, blouse.
    Nobody's flounce, neither ruffled nor scalloped, nobody's ribboned

    basket. Or bonnet, or roses. No carnations, no half-sliced roast
    beside the wine glass, no ruddy

    cheek of a maid shouldering wheat,
    no dimpled buttocks of Venus or Bathsheba, no thundering

    Jehovah-splintered sunset, no velvet-tassled curtain, no fizzy drink.
    Not like skin, no veins traversing

    flesh, no one begging to be touched.
    I could move into this unadorned, open, plain-woven canvas,

    a pastel simplicity, an unclouded fabric billowing
    rugged as a mainsail uncurled,

    heading out to the wide ocean
    with the wind, this aerial cotton swath, unsplashed by any paint,

    uncluttered by any pen or brush, this unframed shape — arresting
    as a full breath.

The Irises

    lined by the pond
    must have been planted
    by a traveled eye

    since the stripe of yellow
    on the mud-brown bank
    mirrored in rippled water

    recalls a time in France
    when canvases, wide
    as the room, precipitated

    an immersion of floating
    petals and depths
    of paint more ephemeral

    and wet, more dazzling,
    translucent and dark,
    closer to stars

    we can never see
    than this tidy replica,
    planted imitation,

    a postcard I won't send
    as I'm headed home
    to you, sunning — I know —

    this moment amid
    the rampant and untended
    grasses, the tangle

    of our unpruned trees, unruly
    hair on your forehead,
    your undisturbed focus,

    glance of your face,
    its brown, and — flecked
    with yellow — irises.

High Yellow

    (Ellsworth Kelly, Oil on canvas, 1960,
    Blanton Museum of Art)

    This is it. All you need. Though nothing
    resembles anything you know. It's neither
    star nor flower, this imperfect oval more
    like a fat yellow cigar floating in blue so dark
    and bright it couldn't be any sky that's ever
    filled your breath. And the bottom third
    of the canvas: pure green. You don't have
    to do a thing. Can stop the churning of your
    desire to turn this high-flying ovoid into an
    ear of corn or a squashed halo. This is only
    about color: yellow, blue, green. But your
    mind is still recalling that the first two can
    make the third. Like sun and sky make grass.
    You keep trying to put names on these three
    shapes, though they have nothing to do with
    names. Yet you can't leave, for in the high
    sky above this bright lawn, a widening sun is
    about to drop the egg of itself into your lap.


Excerpted from From the Moon, Earth Is Blue by Wendy Barker. Copyright © 2015 Wendy Barker. Excerpted by permission of Wings Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


The Lost Book,
Assisted Living,
Closeted Indigo,
The Shadow,
Sin Título,
Apologia for Brown,
Composition in Gray,
Apology for Blue,
A Crowd, a Host,
Light Pink Octagon,
The Irises,
High Yellow,
About the Author,

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