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.



“Many Are Called” is from the collection Want (Sarabande Books, 2008).