Rick Barot

Many Are Called

to burn at least one thing they once owned: she tears
the page from his book and sets light to whatever
she said to him there, words to smoke, paper
to black snow. She would like a sleep as big as
a building, whose key she firmly keeps in her hand,
its teeth writing into her palm. Be as nothing
in the floods
, I read yesterday on the bus home,
which was a way of saying that in the dimmed glass
all of us and none of us could be found. But one
face was like sun reflecting on ice, lit by what
the Walkman poured into it, its champagnes. One
made me think of the mushroom in the woods
like a face pressed to a photocopier’s flash,
the face and its goofy pain. Many are called to save
what they can: he rolls up his pants and wades
into the fountain, where the gull has its leg caught
on a wire. The bird flaps away to join the wheeling
others, their strokes on the air like diacritical
marks over the sentences uttered below them.
A friend writes about how cold he had been, nearly
drowned in the spring-melt river when the horse
tipped over. It is months away now, but still
I have him there, in the darkening field, the fireflies
a roused screensaver. Many are called to close
upon themselves like circles: Kafka, waking because
a dog is lying on him. He doesn’t open his eyes
but he can feel its weight, its paw smelling
faintly of hay. Or the woman crying in the park,
her shopping cart tumbled, shoes and cans spilled out
like junk from a shark’s stomach. Or the man
walking home along the houses and the lawns
of his sadness: If there must be a god in the house
Under the new trees and the new moon of his sadness:
He must dwell quietly. Many are called to form
a deity out of what they know: he quizzes me
on the capital of every African country, he paints
his toenails silver because I ask him. A friend writes
about the church where a fresco will always show
them: cleanly naked at first, then full of the blame
of their own guile, then clothed, worried with age,
the woman in her room setting fire to something
she had, the man in the meadow, wishing his rib back.

Rick Barot
Many Are Called is from the collection Want (Sarabande Books, 2008).