Wendy Barker

          ——In memoriam, Jeannine Keenan, 1936-2015

Pacing across the bamboo floor,
                    I stop inside each sunlit circle cast
by seven skylights in my roof,
                    marveling that all day these disks drift
across the room, and how
                    she would have loved to know of my
little ritual, but I can't tell her,
                    she's been gone for months, and for
months before, she couldn't even
                    step from her bedroom by herself,
her sentences so garbled I had to
                    guess at what she was laboring to say,
but I wish I could tell her
                    about the way light travels through
the day, and how I try to step
                    within each single round as if I could
hold onto the light, as if she
                    could fit within one of these spheres.

Sections of a grapefruit sliced
                    in half, fibrous rays fanned from its core,
a yellow glimmer she would
                    have relished, and now, six garlic cloves
around their stem, spokes of
                    a wheel, plump white bulbs nestled into
the center; and I see that an
                    apple core, sliced crossways, resembles
a rose window like one she—
                    as a child—would have knelt beneath.

In the parking lot of our
                    neighborhood grocery store, a grackle,
with its round eye, catches
                    mine till it lifts above the cracked asphalt,
and I think of Stevens, whose
                    lines she'd often quote, with his blackbird
flying beyond sight, marking
                   “the edge / Of one of many circles.”

The shock—the way she went,
                    together with her husband of sixty years,
the pair encircling their sagging
                    bed with photos of daughters, grandkids,
favorite books and the tigers and
                    lions she'd sewn, stuffed, plush creatures
she'd brought almost to life from
                    chenille and thread, and then—he gave
her the pills, and only after he
                    knew she’d left, sent one shot to his head,
leaving only a small circle of blood
                    on the pillow, but not before he'd called
911 to report what he'd done
                    and was about to do, and then—the news:
even on TV, and the phone
     calls among those of us who loved her, circling.

The star jasmine vine outside
                    our front door, a spiralling around
the porch, filaments clinging
                    to an upright post, and I’m swung
back to years when her sturdy
                    arms cradled a new gift, a woolen
shawl, a wooden bowl, a basket
                    she wove from reeds of a pond she
once loved but left, and
                    now her leaving tangles the coils
of my body's core, till I'm
                    left leaning on any post I can find.

I try to peel an apple so the skin
                    remains in one unbroken spiral,
but it breaks in pieces, as my blunt
                    knife, that she would have known
how to sharpen, slips from its path.

Under the lines of the cross,
                    beneath a horizontal slash through
a vertical stripe, far below
                    the towers of those medieval cathedrals
she'd visited so often,
                    the labyrinth, spiraled path mirroring
the old circles of our long
                    journeys, seeming repetitions, endlessness
of our steps, and yet, how
                    we keep on, one foot, the other, not
wandering, but a gradual
                    swirl to the center, small place to rest.

Always sunflowers she wanted,
                    for birthdays, any occasion, even saying
that, if somehow she could
     return after she’d died, she'd be a sunflower—so
after she left, we scattered
                    sunflower seeds over her ashes, and now,
by the roadsides on our drive
                    to the coast: acres and acres of seed-packed
heads swiveling throughout
                    the day, each round with its seeds following
Fibonacci's sequence, which
                    she knew, as she knew of Yeats’ gyres,
the way things turn, return,
                    a phenomenon—I’d almost forgotten—
she labeled "the spiral surprise."


Wendy Barker's sixth collection, One Blackbird at a Time, received the John Ciardi Prize for Poetry and was published by BkMk Press in 2015. Her fourth chapbook, From the Moon, Earth Is Blue, was published by Wings Press in 2015. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including The Best American Poetry 2013. Recipient of NEA and Rockefeller fellowships among other awards, she teaches at the University of Texas at San Antonio.