The Mean Game

The Mean Game

by John Wall Barger

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The Mean Game—John Wall Barger’s fourth book-length entry in what might be called, collectively, a savage comedy—bristles with allegories that explore human cruelty and suffering. Gathering narratives that feel both ancient and modern, Barger forges an apocalyptic vision without sacrificing poetry’s underlying sense of joy, humour and revelation. Part comic book translated from a dead language, and part nightmare dreamscape, The Mean Game is a must-read from one of Canada’s most kinetic writers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781989287118
Publisher: Palimpsest Press
Publication date: 05/01/2019
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 96
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

John Wall Barger is the author of three previous books of poetry: Pain-proof Men (2009), Hummingbird (2011), and The Book Of Festus (2015), which was a finalist for the 2016 JM Abraham Poetry Award. His work has appeared in journals such as American Poetry Review, The Cincinnati Review, Poetry Ireland Review, Rattle, and the Best of the Best Canadian Poetry. In 2017, Barger’s poem “Smog Mother” was co-winner of The Malahat Review’s Long Poem Prize. He is currently an editor for Painted Bride Quartlery. He lives in Halifax.

Read an Excerpt

This This is the EndAnd when and when my snaggletooth wifeBacks out of the driveway beside a grinning foolI think this this is the endI drive all night I run over a catHer kitten clawing scrabbling blind in the dirtI scoop her up she purrsIn the hook of my arm for a yearAnd when and whenMy mother my impossibly kind motherHolds an X-ray of her skullHer finger upon a crabapple lumpAnd she no longer talks and she humsThat is no song I say and her eyes are stonesI think this this must be the endI speak to the ocean at duskI say dear ocean am I not the worst thingThe spinning world has ever madeThe waves drink my hairThe waves urge me like a leaf to my bedAnd when and when I am kissed by a busThe crystal bowl of my ribcageBursts and the ripened fruit within itBurns to fossil and to ashMy father stands in a forest a Vicodin moon aboveAnd my few close ones hold handsAnd when and when a war eruptsFor the water of my countryAnd survivors decamp in the ruins of mallsThawing their souls at bonfires of booksStill the women walk slowTo the virulent river the rapturous riverTo wash their hair at dawnAnd when and when the last bird shuts its eyesAnd the flesh of the last whaleDrifts like pollen in turquoise inkAnd dust devils are lords of the squaresAnd trees reclaim the stairsStill the stars glister like sparklersAloft in the hand of a girlStill the earth our grave hurdles with grace in the darkUtøyaYou have sung us down.Middle of the island you whisperedthe treasure-bearing goblin song, then howled it.To escape the lines, some held their ears,some gnashed their teeth, some ran,some drowned swimming out of earshot.There are nightmares a human enactswhich are the work of gods. Hatred swirls in the earthlike the polluted sea gyres. Some jötunn,lonely demon craving an ally,slid a thorn in your side deep below the ribs,a death-in-life wound. Pawn,you were implanted in a uterus.Out of the Navel of Heaven you emerged,kid with a fucked-up plan in his overalls,scrawled by a god of war.You were a virgin pharaoh limping the desertin a coat of snarling dogs;a grim princess crushing a serpentbetween your fingers, gathering venomin a bowl; a physicist hauntedby an atom humming in a microscope.You fled to the bawds of the valley.You appealed to the progenies of chaos.None could remove the thorn.One day you woke singing the hemorrhaging song,as if it were yours; the Mein Kampf song;the; the sandman-over-your-bed songof the tongue-tied wound in your rib,which choked the kid with the deaf sisterat five in the afternoon. Your song suffocatedthe kid with head lice; smotheredthe pumpkin pie eater; asphyxiatedthe kid with the ham radio;strangled the kid with the potty mouth;throttled the cigarette-smoker put back a yearwhose mother keeps ending upyou-know-where; gagged the girlstoo young to kiss who had never kissed.You sang us down in the sunlit forestwhile golden plovers sang. You sang us downin the fresh cut grass. Time is a bleachedjawbone wind howls through, yawning a melody.Bodies were hauled out by searchlight.I cannot look at the white sheets laid across them.A few stumbled from caves, shivering,humming the tune, petrified.I would like to sing your magic backwards.

Table of Contents

Urgent Message from the Captain of the Unicorn Hunters 11

Your Suitors 12

The Wonderful Hat 13

The Stiltwalkers 14

The Problem with Love 16

At the Front 18

Ash Baptism 20

A Briefe & Marveyllous Hystory of Franklin 22

The Two-Headed House 25

A Scorneful Image or Monstrus Shape of a Wondrous Strange Fygure, Presentyng the State & Condicion of This Present World, Containing Many of the Moste Sundry Strange Things, Seming Monstrus in Our Eyes & Judgement, Bicause We Are Not Privie to the Reasons of Them, which Includyth Secrets & Wonders of the Worlde of Leda, & Inespeciall the Detestable Sodomye of Leda, that Have Beene Within This Land 26

Voyeur 28

The Bureaucrats 29

Undelivered Letter (To: Capt. Henry Darger, Janitor, Alexian: Brothers Catholic Hospital, Chicago-Land) 30

My Houseguest 32

Penitentiary 33

Tale of the Boy & the Horse Head 34

Hammer 36

The Death of Jolly Dolly 37

Prometheus 39

Chernobyl 41

Having Read The Book of Coming Forth by Day, I Constructed a Diorama in Hopes that Death Might Visit 43

The Headaches 44

Swarm 46

The Confession of Chunosuke Matsuyama 49

The External Lung 50

Inconceivable Mansion 52

The Swans Flew Out of the Sun 54

Deus Ex Machina 56

On the Curiously Sinister Hearts of Donkeys 58

Utøya 60

Infinite Grief Song 62

Last Words of the Old Man with the Photographic Memory 64

Robbing a Bank & Suddenly Fingers that Gripped My Throat: My Whole Life Let Go Song 66

Last Book of the Last Library on Earth 68

The Thief 70

The Fathers of Daisy Gertrude 71

I Am a Cell 73

The Prince with No Asshole 75

Cuthbert's Plan 77

Crow & Fox in Love 79

Rear Window 81

The Last Death 83

This This is the End 85


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