Three Poems by Rachel Barton

These three poems by Rachel Barton use the sestina and abecedarian as a path to discovery: buried feelings, the search for wisdom, and the liminal space of dawn…

by: Rachel Barton

Song for Eos

Sometimes there’s nothing to catch it. Precious
essence slips through a fissure in the psyche
like a dream through the shimmering crack of dawn.
First light too bright a candle to hold subtle
energies in liminal spaces--vapors
nary a wish can anchor. So you get up,

go down to your kitchen in slippers, reach up
for your favorite cup and grind your precious
beans to brew some hot coffee whose vapors
rising from the rim tend to lift your psyche
from the pillow’s drear--nebulous, subtle,
sweat-stain-on-pillowcase--banished by dawn.

It can take many years before it might dawn
on you that what’s dogging you is high up
in the rafters, hiding in cobwebs, subtle
bits of shadow tinting what is precious
and nurturing to the fragile psyche
grey, in a gauzy veil like a vapor’s

nightgown. Syncope, man, you’ve got the vapors!
--at dusk beneath the bougainvillea? But dawn
is no place to abandon the psyche.
Recharge yourself with the light of day. Fill up
the interstices of your cells with precious
sunlight. Take a step forward with your subtle

bodies aligned. A sweater stems the subtle
loss of warmth, nothing in your cup but vapors.
You cannot hold a candle to the precious
golden glimmer of hope--the break of dawn
that sidles over the windowsill and up
the wall, a honeyed balm to your psyche.

Perhaps first light is brought to our psyche
to awaken what we thought we’d lost. Subtle
in its creep, it seeks, it strives to lift us up
from the chaff and dross of our dreams, those vapors
that niggle through the night, like a tide. At dawn’s
light, unyoked, we remember what is precious.

Time to wake up, man! Attend to your psyche
whose precious membrane is besieged by subtle
phantasms, those vapors that vanish at dawn.
Heading Home

No matter how you wrestle with the idea, it comes down to just a few words
which may elude you like milkweed when it’s airborne or the flit of butterfly wings--
those things you only glimpse as they drift out of reach. It makes you wonder
if your mind was made to bend to such contortions in your pursuit of wisdom--
something you hope to extract from a life well-lived-- even just a whisper
of wisdom. Not everyone is a gymnast in the traveling circus, but this is our world.

I am not so limber now, though yoga asanas still live in my memory. But in this world
I’m more inclined to exercise the mind, explore the inner life in a puzzle of words.
Often, the dreamtime acts as a wormhole to essential truths that whisper
in imagery and deep resonances, lifting me to examine the span of my wings
more closely. How have I restrained myself unnecessarily? What is the wisdom
in that? Surely, we are all here to do more than survive. It makes me wonder.

We can gather to share a cup of tea, a loaf of bread, a conversation—the wonder
of friendship. It can pull us out of our little bubbles and launch us into the world
again. Each interaction, a mirror or reflection. From self-knowledge, a path to wisdom.
With room for silliness and permission to repeat oneself! Some stories use words
that call us home. Let’s tell those stories often. Let’s call them myth. On the wings
of our extended dining table, a place is set for you. (If you are shy, you can whisper.)

Pillow talk is a challenge for the hearing-impaired. Forget about a tender whisper.
More of a shouting match with refrains of “say what?” But touch is a wonder,
a quiet language. Lots of tenderness here—your heart takes wings
as the stress of the day falls away, no news of more chaos, no outer world
to interrupt nor impose nor demand, just soothing touch where no words
are needed. And if a match happens to ignite, revel in a path to wisdom.

I have lived a full life which is not to say I am finished, But I do have the wisdom
to ask myself if what occupies me is with purpose. Sometimes in a whisper
I might hear a call to veer right, or left, or to stay the course, a mere handful of words
to provide a compass. Or I might feel a vibration from my center which is a wonder.
a resonance of truth bigger than my little self, bigger than the whole tumbling world.
And as I speak in my soft voice through this Bigness, I quake, I spread my wings.

We long to fly; we are only human. And if the universe does not provide us with wings
we must fashion our own, at least enough to float in the air like Chagall, his wisdom
a vision of loveliness--and a giant rooster! Ha! Surrealism. This troubled world
could use a good dousing of love and humor. Let’s look to the stars and whisper
our deepest hopes—that’s the way home, the way back to the garden, the wonder.
Everything else? Distraction, chaos, ego, or (god forbid) busywork—just a bunch of words.

We live in a curious and magical world where birds have wings
and we humans have words and each other. Some wisdom
(when we are lucky) comes to us in whispers, buoyed by an air of wonder.
My Mother Pencils Her Eyebrows (an abecedarian)

About the good Dr. Kildare played by Richard Chamberlain
Before he became a shipwrecked prisoner of the Shogun’s Samurai, a role he played
Complete with mascara--as if that would help him to blend in? It
Didn’t. He would always be Dr. Kildare to me.
Even though the romance of John Blackthorne with his cultural attaché
--Fraught and mostly unfulfilled—did manage to drag me through one
Good evening after another of high drama on the screen.
How could I surrender my attachment to the character who had
Inhabited 191 episodes in five seasons which I didn’t see all of but whose reruns
Joyfully carried me to a saner world where medical dilemmas and personal dramas were
Keenly crafted to resolve within one hour every afternoon? I
Loved to watch with my mother when she set down the tasks of the
Moment of which there were many (Major Domo to a family of nine)
Neatly finger-pressing a seam or pinning a hem, easing the excess of an A-line
Over the ironing board, she kept one eye on the Black & White. I guess she didn’t
Pretend to stop working. I don’t think she ever
Quit until we were all out of the house. On our own. Successfully launched.
Regretfully, she had, by then, turned to drink, tired of
Stifling her own voice to fit a role she had assumed for what would be thirty seasons.
Tease of resentment took residence in the arch of her manicured brow,
Underscored her non-verbal communication, stained the former lilt of her
Voice with bile until her children ran from her to
Wander like orphans, well-fed, but . . . no ordinary
X-ray could expose the withering, the withholding of tenderness
Year after year. No, not even Dr. Kildare could
Zip her heart (or ours) back together again.

Rachel Barton is a poet, editor, and writing coach. Her book, Jacob’s Ladder, is forthcoming from Main Street Rag Press, This is the Lightness was published in 2022. Her poems have recently appeared in Common House Magazine, Sleet, and the Poeming Pigeon. For more information:

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