Barefoot and Listening, by Margaret Bashaar

Barefoot and Listening cover
Ah book without ISBN, uncharted territory! Ah sextant. I Odysseus was a crayon on the wall, I spidered my way onto the belly of a sheep and slept uncounted through a one-eyed giant’s dream. I watched nymphs and sibyls remake themselves in clay. Things always turn surreal in the retelling, don’t they, like bodies seen from the inside, pulsing with spirits of hunger. Take away the adventure story and what do you have?

In this case, I got my breath back. I lay among fresh-picked thyme and violets and listened to other people’s myths: Sita found at a construction site, a Norseman without a longboat, “a missionary who spikes trees,” and the giraffe woman counting “brush strokes on the ceiling.” Don’t make a haruspectacle of yourself, I told the neighbor’s cat, but it was too late. I knew better than to call the alien incubus a tumor, and so did the poet: “It is a thorny thing, a thing full of metal and holes./ It digs in — a hundred angry claws, and she is sick with it.” How can you tell arms from claws from tentacles if you don’t know their rightful owner? How can you tell the future anything? It never listens. “When she tells stories/ to herself, she is the color of mud, wants a space/ to write down her prophecies, a place to make them unknown.” As she should.

Things harder than syllables still rattle in my pouch and seed the heavens with hunters and their hounds. When Kalypso touches me, “her fingers are threads/ of pulled sugar,” and she lets me extract her crooked teeth like some kind of swashbuckling orthodontist. It’s not what I wanted, but O.K. Evidently my own “mouth/ will become wax, breaths/ numbered like eyelashes.” The poet mentions cicada shells, and I am reminded she’s probably too young to have seen the 17-year ones more than once. As for the other “Things of the Earth,” I am relieved to know about a seven-year drought in secrets out of the ground — I thought my hearing had gone. I was beginning to worry that we might have to surrender Ithaca to the psychoanalysts. Ah speech, ah mind: sisters running barefoot over the rocks.

For a straight review of this chapbook (which I loved), see The Scrapper Poet.

(I’m reading a book a day for National Poetry Month. Click on the book cover to go to its page in Open Library.)

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