Poetry

Wendy Barker, photograph by Steven Kellman

The Gentle Force of Female Wisdom: A Memorial Tribute to Wendy Barker

Soon after Valentine’s Day this past February, I had the privilege of reading with Wendy Barker, my Persimmon Tree Poetry Editor predecessor, a renowned poet, and a teacher extraordinaire. Her spectacular reading dazzled us all, and stunned me, for I had fetched her from the airport and escorted her to the hotel and the reading venue. I’d seen close up how frail she was. She marshalled her energy that night, however, and as our gracious host, poet Sheila Black (Assistant Director of the Piper Center for Creative Writing at Arizona State University), put it, “she owned the room and brought the house down.”1 When I asked Wendy in the Q & A following the reading what she was writing these days, she replied, “I am writing about how grateful I am for my husband, and what a blessing our marriage has been.” As Sheila importantly adds, Wendy specified that she was writing the poems in syllabics, because “counting calmed her, gave her strength.”2 In retrospect, a remarkable answer.

 

The week after our reading, Wendy asked if I’d review her new book, Weave, from which the poems featured here are drawn. I suggested instead a feature in the fall issue of Persimmon Tree. She was excited, and had several other readings planned for her new book (including another with me!). I told her there was no rush, we’d work together over the summer, and it would be a delight to be in touch. No rush indeed. Within a week, she had canceled our reading. Two weeks later she died. The reading we were to do in San Antonio became the occasion for a huge celebration honoring her. As you see, her feature in Persimmon Tree has become this memorial tribute. 

The audience at that extraordinary reading in February couldn’t know they were hearing Wendy’s final reading. Nor could Sheila and I, both of us so concerned for her that evening, but everyone attending knew they’d heard a special performance. Wendy’s beloved husband, Steven Kellman, shared the text of an anonymous postcard, which arrived after Wendy died: “Dear Wendy, I’m grateful that you’re the first poet I’ve ever met. Your reading, imbued with passion and excitement and life, moved me. Thank you for the chance encounter with your art and spirit.” 

In so many ways, Wendy was a passionate and “fearless poet,” as Sheila Black has described her, whose poems were “multi-faceted, layered” by her far-ranging curiosity, research, and life. Wendy was as well a poet of brilliant associative “synaptic crossings” and—to the world around and within her—“attentive warmth,” as Alicia Ostriker aptly put it. Through and through, she was a teacher of poetry, “the prof who can’t help embracing literature, students, and life[.]”3 She reached out and made connections where there were none in evidence, her poems unfolding, expanding, swerving into insight. With fervent belief in equality for all, she embraced a sense of true equity, skewering arrogance, ignorance, and greed in her poems. It is no coincidence that she befriended me after a panel on the poetics of witness, which considered how to teach what is now termed critical race theory, including whiteness. “We need more of this,” she effused. “Let’s work together!” Wendy radiated energy and kindness, full of what I’ve elsewhere called “the primal force of female wisdom.” She startles us into awareness with the precision and power of her vision. 

Wendy received many honors in her lifetime, including NEA and Rockefeller fellowships. She published ten collections of award-winning poetry and chapbooks, a ground-breaking monograph on Emily Dickinson, a co-translated edition of work by Nobel Prize-winning poet Rabindranath Tagore, and influential co-edited critical anthologies. Too busy with the full life she loved to retire, Wendy served as the Pearl LeWinn Professor of Creative Writing and Poet-in-Residence at the University of Texas at San Antonio. There, as elsewhere in her long career, she touched many generations of students, whose lives she changed. She was beloved. I’d like to conclude this introduction to the selection of poems, curated by Steven Kellman, by quoting from Sheila Black’s memorial tribute, written for the Texas Institute of Letters on the occasion of her induction: 

[Wendy Barker] was a nurturer, a person who wanted you to love poetry as she did, a person who wanted—as she did in that room at her very last reading at a time when she was ill and struggling with immense pain—to fill the people around her with a will to pay attention, to discover the glory all around us, as well as to look head-on at the pain. Wendy shone by her example—never afraid to go there and, also, always willing to make time for a friend.4

 

Acknowledgments

 

As readers can perhaps imagine, I approached the sad task of creating this tribute with great care, and I would like to extend my warm thanks to those whose timely aid was essential: Sheila Black, former Executive Director of Gemini Ink writing center in San Antonio, who kindly shared her own tribute with me, and Wendy’s husband, Steven Kellman, who provided the selection of poems we include here, as well as corrections, considerations, author’s photo, and Vimeo clip of Wendy reading, with permission of the Vimeo’s owner, Nancy Membrez, colleague of both Wendy and Steven at UTSA.

1. Sheila Black, “Memorial for Wendy Barker.” Program for the induction of Sheila Black into the Texas Institute of Letters on April 8, 2023. n.p.
 
2. Sheila Black, email note to the author, June 21, 2023 (emphasis added).
 
3. Alicia Ostriker, “Foreword,” in Weave: New & Selected Poems (Kansas City, MO: BkMk P, 2022), 10, 11.
 
4. Sheila Black, op.cit.

 

 


Wild Water Reflections #1, one of a series of photographs by Merry Song

 

 

 

ABOUT CHOCOLATE

 
 
Hurricane Irma is hurtling into the Caribbean 
 
and on into Florida, as India, Nepal, and Bangladesh sink  
 
under water with 1,200 already dead. Meanwhile, 
 
our friends in southeast Texas are mopping up in the wake 
 
of Hurricane Harvey, so why am I reading 
 
about a new kind of chocolate, red chocolate, as if dark, 
 
milk, and white chocolate weren’t enough. Ruby 
 
chocolate we’ve got now, but all these come from the same 
 
cacao plant the Olmec people used even before 
 
the Mayans. I grew up on it. Hershey bars, Snickers, and
 
brownies, in my lunch box, after school, and 
 
after supper. Cocoa before bed. Chocolate, like touch, 
 
releases oxytocin, the “love hormone” that reduces 
 
stress. Easter Sundays my sisters and I would hunt down 
 
chocolate eggs, peeking behind bookcases and 
 
the TV. Candy bunnies, fluffy chicks. And all the chocolate, 
 
oxytocin. But how much could a carton of Mars Bars 
 
help folks floating in their front yards? And truckloads of 
 
Baby Ruths couldn’t rescue little kids harvesting 
 
cocoa beans in West Africa who, I’ve now learned, are 
 
routinely—even with “Fair Trade”—kidnapped, 
 
handed machetes to cut bean pods from the trees, often
 
slicing their own flesh. They couldn’t have 
 
seen the ads for chocolate: “Comfort in every bar.” “Get 
 
the sensation.” I just finished Sacha Batthyány’s 
 
memoir. In 1945, during a party with Gestapo bosses  
 
in a castle near the Austro-Hungarian border, 
 
at the nearby train depot two hundred Jews were digging
 
a pit. After dinner, the guests were handed 
 
guns. Some drove, some walked to the station. They filled 
 
the pit. There had been wine, followed by  
 
cognac, with chocolate. Now I’m remembering the time 
 
when my sisters and I were visiting our 
 
grandparents, they served us a chocolate cream pie that—
 
we found—swarmed with black ants. 
 
 
 
 

BEYOND A CERTAIN AGE, I LOOK FOR PARIS IN PARIS

 
I know about le Syndrome de Paris, triggered when a greenhorn’s 
 
rosy-lensed image turns muddy, but I’m no wistful 
 
Francophile neophyte, so why am I 
 
feeling like my British uncle who’d sniped as I left for my first trip 
 
to Paris: “Why bother with that filth?” When 
 
my friends heard I was heading 
 
again for the City of Lights, they said “Paris? oh! yes!” in a breathy, 
 
pre-orgasmic voice, as if they were picturing my 
 
lounging outside a café on 
 
the Boul’Mich over a café au lait or glass of chilled Sauvignon Blanc 
 
as prelude to a blissful night with my husband in
 
a cramped but oh, so charming 
 
chambre double, forgetting that I can’t do caffeine or alcohol, and 
 
that, as I’d also forgotten, in mid-July the sidewalks, 
 
the Métro, and the galleries would 
 
be chock-a-block with chattering Brits, Italians, Yanks, Germans, 
 
and Brazilians, along with—since it’s the week 
 
of the Tour de France—clusters
 
of steel-bodied cyclists, so we’re jostled by tee-shirts emblazoned
 
with slogans like “Endurance Conspiracy” and 
 
“Tourminator.” The outing we’d
 
planned to Giverny is canceled, too much traffic, when for months 
 
I’ve been yearning to peer down into the waters that 
 
spawned Monet’s Nymphéas: 
 
those rounded walls in l’Orangerie, depths that lead to more depths,
 
dissolving boundaries. Where is the Paris of my mother’s
 
rebellious cousin who painted with 
 
Max Ernst, or the Paris of my grad student and her new husband, 
 
noses nuzzling before la tour Eiffel on their
 
Facebook post? Or the Paris 
 
of my twenties, when I first floated into Monet’s water lilies, when 
 
the Seine glimmered like a thousand liquid candles 
 
as I sauntered across Pont Marie 
 
at midnight. On l’Avenue de Clichy, on Rue de Rivoli, I see only 
 
dog poop, crumpled plastic bags, and unfiltered 
 
butts. A two-hour wait to enter 
 
Notre Dame, the façade blocked by tawdry bleachers. Pebbles
 
from the Tuileries have collected in my sandals 
 
though I keep jiggling my feet  
 
to shake them out. Maybe I have actually become my British 
 
uncle. Samuel Johnson said if you’re tired 
 
of London, you’re tired 
 
of life. I’ll bet he’d put Paris in the same category—after all, didn’t
 
he say French faces shine with “a thousand 
 
Graces”? I can’t begin to 
 
keep up with my mountain-goat, marathoner husband who’ll 
 
cover seven arrondissements on foot at 
 
a greyhound’s trot. Yet
 
now, on the day before leaving, I’m fueled by a breakfast of hard 
 
boiled eggs, and he says, how about Sacré Coeur, 
 
it’s only a ten-minute walk, 
 
we’ll take our time. So we do, and the hill with its rounded, gleaming 
 
white cathedral is washed with breezes. Inside 
 
les Jardins Renoir, we are 
 
alone in the courtyard, red poppies brimming at green edges of 
 
stones, a silence glistening through sudden empty 
 
space. And here it is: not Giverny, 
 
but a round pond, and, oh! yes! pink and white water lilies, their 
 
shimmering pads like clean hands open to sky, 
 
stems trailing into the barely 
 
visible muck, and tiny speckled fish burbling to the surface, then 
 
spiraling back down to the silt, murky depths, 
 
the dirt that underlies us all.
 
 
 
 

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? 
 
 


Wild Water Reflections #2, one of a series of photographs by Merry Song

 
 

I HATE TELLING PEOPLE I TEACH ENGLISH

 
Like last August, after they’d finished my bone scan, 
 
this combed-over mid-sixties guy starts chatting about the novel 
 
he’s written in his head, he only needs someone like me 
 
to work it up, he never liked punctuation, parts of speech, all that junk
 
from junior high, and I couldn’t get my print-out fast enough 
 
to take to my GP, who likes to quote from his inspirational speeches 
 
to local luncheon clubs. He’s determined to collect them 
 
in a book, though he’d need a good editor, do I know any, and meanwhile 
 
I’ve been waiting fifty-seven minutes for help with recharging 
 
my sluggish thyroid, and I haven’t met any doctors who like giving 
 
free advice about your daughter’s milk allergy or your friend’s 
 
migraines or the thumb you slammed in the stairwell door, splitting it 
 
open so badly your students interrupted your lecture on 
 
pronoun agreement to note you were dripping blood from your hand 
 
and wow, what happened? But it’s mostly at parties I hate 
 
admitting I teach English. I’ve never been quick enough to fudge, 
 
the way a Methodist minister friend says he’s in “support 
 
services” so he doesn’t get called to lead grace. I guess I could dub myself 
 
a “communications facilitator,” but since I’m in the business 
 
of trying to obviate obfuscation, I own up, though I dread what I know 
 
is coming: “Oh,” they say, “I hated English, all that grammar, 
 
you won’t like the way I talk, you’ll be correcting me,” and suddenly 
 
they need another Bud or merlot or they’ve got to check out
 
the meatballs or guacamole over on the table and I’m left facing
 
blank space, no one who can even think about correcting
 
my dangling participles. Once when the computer guy was at the house,
 
bent over my laptop trying to get us back online, 
 
he asked what it was I wrote, and when I told him “poetry,” said, “Ah—
 
fluffy stuff,” and I wasn’t sure whether he was kidding 
 
or not, but I figured at least it was better than his saying he hated poetry
 
or that he had a manuscript right outside in his Camry and 
 
could I take a look, no hurry, but he knew it would sell, could I tell him 
 
how to get an agent for his novel about his uncle 
 
moving to Arizona and running a thriving ostrich farm until the day 
 
hot-air balloons took off a half mile away 
 
and stampeded the birds, till all he was left with were feathers and bloody 
 
tangled necks on fence posts, the dream of making two million 
 
from those birds a haunting sentence fragment—but then, I think: 
 
I would never have wanted to miss the time a dentist, 
 
tapping my molars, asked if I’d like to hear him recite Chaucer’s Prologue
 
to The Canterbury Tales in Middle English, which he did 
 
while I lay back in his chair, open-mouthed, pierced to the root. 
 
 
 
 

REMEDIAL READING

The smallest classroom in the ninth-grade school. Yellow walls, and the ceiling seemed too high. Boxes lined up in bright colors on the tables, each a different level. This class for retards? This a toony class? The kids swaggered and straggled through the door, unwilling. To be seen here. Laminated cards, one at a time. Second-, third-grade skills for fourteen-year-olds. Mostly boys. I’d been assigned to help the reading teacher, her thick gray hair bunched and slipping along with hairpins and combs. Ruth organized field trips, took her own beat-up station wagon. Once she drove us up the coast to the great blue herons’ nesting grounds. We walked up and up until we could look straight down into the tops of the big trees. She showed us how to spot the saucers of nests resting in the branches.

I never got the kids to move beyond a level or two. Nobody stayed on task. Once I was pronouncing vowels with Lester Sims, light-skinned, freckled, a skinny little dude. O: okra, Oakland, Coke. And o: butter, supper, dove. His eyes shone. He was standing beside me. Doves, he said. We can talk about birds? Sure, I said, and told him about the finches I was raising at home in as big a cage as I could afford. Man, why didn’t you say you wanted us to talk about birds? And he was out the door. Before the bell rang for the next class he was back. I was putting cards away in their boxes, red tipped ones in the red box, brown in brown, folding the lids closed. You like pigeons? he grinned. I do, I do, I said. He unzipped his jacket. I don’t know how many wings flapped out from him, ruffled my hair and fluttered all through that yellow room, a sound only feathers can make, as Lester told me every one of their names.
 
 
 
 

IN PRAISE OF STUMPS

 
Dumb as a stump, they say. My neighbor 
 
hates stumps, and, after sawing down half 
 
the trees on his manicured acre, wants all
 
the stumps removed. Eyesores, they take 
 
up space on his lawn. Not an easy job, 
 
stump removal. Grinders cost at least 
 
a hundred bucks a day to rent, and he’d 
 
need goggles, a chain saw, a pick mattock, 
 
digging bar, and a shovel. Potassium nitrate 
 
works, with a drill and kerosene. Years ago, 
 
I’d planned to rid my yard of its scraggly
 
stumps, till I learned the roots of trees feed 
 
each other, pump sugar into a stump 
 
to keep it from dying and the stump will 
 
send out new sprouts that can lift into 
 
saplings, and then, in time, into full-sized 
 
trees. I hadn’t known that stumps offer 
 
nesting sites for chickadees, titmice, owls, 
 
and woodpeckers, shelter for chipmunks, 
 
shrews, salamanders, and foxes. But my 
 
neighbor’s not the only one in this 
 
suburban enclave with codes more rigid 
 
than a concrete slab: grass over six inches 
 
high bordering the street and you’re in 
 
for a big fine. I’m thinking of Hopkins’ 
 
“Long live the weeds.” I like our grasses 
 
tall enough to ripple in the wind, 
 
so native salvias can bloom and feed 
 
the butterflies and hummingbirds. Sick 
 
of tidiness, the desire to emulate British 
 
country estates with our faux scaled-
 
down mini-mansions floating on green 
 
carpet no one ever touches, other than 
 
a hired man on his ride-em mower who 
 
keeps the outdoors outside, keeps anyone 
 
from taking too deep a breath, from any 
 
Whitmanesque desire to go live with 
 
the animals, which I’m fantasizing I might 
 
want to do, but right now, I’ll go out, 
 
speak to my dead trees, tell them I know 
 
their roots are alive, connected to all 
 
the leafy trees nearby, and I know they’re 
 
signaling each other through an 
 
arboreal internet, their intricate fungal, 
 
mycelial network, maybe warning 
 
about our thick, dumb-as-a-ditch skulls. 
 
 


Wild Water Reflections #3, one of a series of photographs by Merry Song

 
 

IN THE GALLERY 

 
All the faces on the canvases, and all 
 
the moving fleshy faces facing the ones flat and framed 
 
on the walls, the living faces shifting 
 
to a glimpse of a hooked nose, wrinkled chin, or one black 
 
eye with a drift of braided hair covering 
 
a cheek, and others full-faced, but never for long, as these 
 
gallery-goers move about, facing one 
 
frame and then another, as I sift among them, just another 
 
face, and then, suddenly, before me: 
 
the largest canvas in this wide room, one of Monet’s early 
 
Nympheas, the water lilies’ petals seeming 
 
to shift among rounded leaves, their stems submerged in 
 
layers of murky water, almost as if 
 
moving the way we are, the way faces from the past sift 
 
into my dreams at night, of some 
 
people I’d rather forget, and of people whose loss I grieve, 
 
like the woman I sat beside in this same 
 
museum five years ago, the two of us never shifting while
 
speaking of our long dead mothers, 
 
and now, that woman, decades younger than I, has died 
 
too, and how her face drifts to me 
 
late in the night, and now, right in front of my own face, 
 
a portrait of a man who looks so like 
 
a man who once held me, his face engraved in the frames
 
of my mind, his brown eyes sifting 
 
through this space of so many gallery-goers drifting in this 
 
white room, the way water lilies, their 
 
colors, shift across a pond’s surface, before they go under. 
 
 
 
 

LATENT IMAGE

 
Before she died, Mom pulled that photo out of the album, tore it to shreds. The one that showed her at seven, naked, posed like a nymph, a statue on the lawn. Grandfather’s insisting she strip in front of the servants and sit like that, her legs folded to one side, her head bent in the opposite direction. His little nymph. 
 
Stilled, in that photo, caught by silver particles, the standard black and white photographic process introduced in 1871. A photo’s final image: metallic silver embedded in a gelatin coating. 
 
“Stills,” we say, stopped action, a single frame of a film. Yet I never knew Mom stilled until she died, her trim body beneath a sheet. Always moving, vacuuming every crumb of dust to be sucked into the guts of the Electrolux, its bag emptied into the garbage and gone. After dinner, Ed Sullivan on TV, her hands working a needle or scissors, her feet joggling, toes wriggling. Daytime, her sewing machine’s roar, her fingers zipping the fabric toward the needle, her foot pressing the pedal, full speed. And driving, always over the limit, as if to say “get me out of here.” 
 
Silver atoms, freed when silver salts meet the light, form an image that’s stable. Once the film’s developed, it’s bathed in a chemical fixer. Clean water clears the fixer from the print, and the latent image becomes permanent. 
 
The story she told me long after I’d moved away: how, when, at thirteen, she asked her mother what she should do about the black hairs spiralling in her armpits, Granny said, “Father can help you with that,” and he did, in the shower, every week, shaving her. 
 
 
 
 
 

LIFTED 

 
Cardinals, finches, chickadees flock 
 
to our feeders. Up to four thousand feathers
 
on each bird’s little body. On a tundra 
 
swan: twenty-five thousand. “Light as a feather,”
 
we like to say, as opposed to “this 
 
too too solid flesh,” or my stiff and creaking 
 
joints. But even dry feathers aren’t 
 
so light. Headdresses Las Vegas show girls 
 
wear will hold two thousand plumes, 
 
weigh twenty pounds. All the rage, feathers, 
 
especially for hats in the late nineteenth 
 
century. Women’s toques were even topped 
 
with stuffed whole birds. In 1886, 
 
on the streets of New York, Frank Chapman 
 
counted over forty species of feathers 
 
on bonnets, caps, cloches, down brims. I guess 
 
we earthbound humans have always
 
yearned to fly. I’m no Icarus, but oh, how I wish 
 
I could transform my flabby arms 
 
into wings. Last June as I stepped onto a Gulf 
 
Coast pier, I stopped. Two yards 
 
down on the wooden slats stood a great blue
 
heron. We stared at each other for, 
 
I swear, ten minutes, before he opened wide his 
 
long wings and, shrieking, flew off to 
 
a hill beyond, a sight staying with me wherever 
 
I drop my feet. Sometimes when I’m 
 
happy, I’ll flap my arms. Just feeling that motion 
 
makes me smile. During Brahms’s Fourth 
 
Symphony last night, as I leaned my aching back 
 
against the concert hall’s padded seat, 
 
the violinists’ bows rose like feathery quills, and
 
a thousand listeners sprouted wings. 
 
 


Wild Water Reflections #4, one of a series of photographs by Merry Song

 
 

THE LAST TIME I TAUGHT ROBERT FROST 

 
I shuddered when Olivia, who is writing her dissertation 
 
on dialectics of the self in Gloria Anzaldúa, announced she found him
 
lovely. “Lovely?” I cried, professional composure shot,
 
my image of Frost collapsing suddenly as the Great Stone Face 
 
on Cannon Mountain, the craggy Old Man fallen in shards 
 
to the ground. True, this was not on par with the vandalizing
 
of his house in Vermont, Homer Noble Farm’s wicker chairs, 
 
wooden tables, dressers smashed and thrown into the fire to keep 
 
the place warm while thirty kids swilled a hundred and fifty 
 
cans of Bud with a dozen bottles of Jack Daniel’s, and threw up 
 
on the floor. After all, Olivia wasn’t saying she didn’t like 
 
the poems, but lovely? A word my mother detested as phony, 
 
like someone holding a pinkie straight out while drinking tea, 
 
the sort of word my grandmother used when vaguely praising 
 
a Bartók piece, or a play she didn’t understand. Like people
 
saying, “How interesting,” when what they really mean is, “Spare me 
 
the details,” or, “Could we change the subject.” So when 
 
I asked Olivia what she meant by “lovely” and she talked about 
 
the lush, long vowel sounds, I wondered why I’d felt stabbed, 
 
until I remembered my father’s lying in the ICU, the fat respirator
 
tube jammed down his throat, the whoosh of forced breath 
 
fogging the glassed-in-room, and my stroking his forehead while 
 
my father, whom I’d never seen cry, began to leak tears down 
 
his chiseled face. Finally, not knowing what more to do, I stood
 
by the window staring out at the New Hampshire pines
 
and began reciting one of his favorite poems: “I must go down 
 
to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky.” He started 
 
to jerk, whole body spasms under the sheets, more tears carving 
 
runnels down his cheeks, and I knew he wanted me to recite 
 
“Stopping By Woods,” his most-loved poem and maybe mine too, 
 
but I couldn’t. I couldn’t turn from that window looking 
 
out at the trees beyond the parking lot, the words to the one 
 
poem I’ve known by heart for decades buried somewhere 
 
below my throat. He died the next day. Maybe that was why 
 
I asked the class if we could recite it, if perhaps some of them 
 
even had it memorized, and Denise and Lupe and Nathaniel actually 
 
said they had. So we chanted it, the other eight of us 
 
reading from the Norton’s crisp, white pages, but when we came 
 
to the ending, not a single student needed to look down
 
as we sang the last stanza all together. I can’t explain it, but for once
 
something dark and deep entered among us in the overly 
 
air-conditioned room. As if we were all one self and yet still alone 
 
in the cold, and wanting to stay. When we spoke again, 
 
we talked until I had to stand up, open the door, and tell them 
 
to leave, say it was past time for their dinners and 
 
all the lovely, nagging promises waiting for them to keep. 
 
 
 
 

WHETHER 

 
one of us breathed 
the sky or skimmed 
 
lake shimmer, we didn’t 
ask of light that wove us, 
 
keel and pool, air 
and water. We never 
 
asked if one of us
was an illusion. 
 
We lived as the calla 
lily’s tongue lies 
 
embedded in the creamy 
bloom, full sail.
 
 


Wendy Barker at the San Antonio Poetry Fair 2009

 
 

Bios

Cynthia Hogue’s most recent collections are Revenance, listed as one of the 2014 “Standout” books by the Academy of American Poets, and In June the Labyrinth (2017). Her tenth collection, instead, it is dark, will be out from Red Hen Press in June of 2023. Her third book-length translation (with Sylvain Gallais) is Nicole Brossard’s Distantly (Omnidawn 2022). Her Covid chapbook is entitled Contain (Tram Editions 2022). Among her honors are a Fulbright Fellowship to Iceland, two NEA Fellowships, and the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award from the Academy of American Poets (2013). She served as Guest Editor for Poem-a-Day for September (2022), sponsored by the Academy of American Poets. Hogue was the inaugural Maxine and Jonathan Marshall Chair in Modern and Contemporary Poetry at Arizona State University. She lives in Tucson.

Merry Song began creative writing at the age of six and started in on photography at 14. Now, as she heads toward the age of 70, she has found new, exhilarating energy for both fields. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing and a BA in Broadcasting and Filmmaking. Merry Song is a spiritual teacher for The Center for Sacred Sciences in Eugene, Oregon.

3 Comments on “The Gentle Force of Female Wisdom: A Memorial Tribute to Wendy Barker

  1. Α wonderful tribute to a wonderful poet! So sorry I was not aware of Wendy Barker’s poetry when she was alive. Thank you!

  2. Thank you for this beautiful tribute. I was not familiar with Wendy or her poetry and what a special experience to read her wonderful work. It gave so much insight into her heart and soul. Yes, what a loss but what a legacy! And Merry’s photographs were a stunning accompaniment.

    Thank you again for the women’s voices and visions you put out into the world.

  3. “There are ways of bludgeoning so the bruises
    don’t show, closets with walls no one can see”…OMG! Wendy Barker. Poet seer. Poems that do bludgeon. And the bruises do show. But the wry wit and black ants and red chocolate snd death and glee at being alive …until… A poet’s poet. Grateful for her and for this offering of her raw, upsetting, and wise woman gifts. With care…and memory. Xxx m

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