Two poems by Dan Barton

Letter from Atlantis

after Mark Doty

What pulls us to still metallic
pushes back. You found it
endless, the rippling cord
grass buried in sun
-splashed tide. Standing
with muddied feet
before the same field of jade,
I want it to be more
than longing that makes
the inlet grey into evening,
a page empty
of language. You know
what I’d write there, you wrote
it too: the desire to be taken
in, held, irresistibly
lost and found. You wanted
escape, an end to loss,
to see water leave
the marsh a pane of glass
and light given back. I wait
to be emptied, to feel
the world ebb
and redefine. When
the water’s gone
and grass bends
pale in the wind
I turn to shore
and know—oysters blackened
by mud, mouths
like knives—I flood
to the quick.


Garden Fugue

by day we sift last year’s beds // fracture
old roots // ivy too dense for wildflowers
to bloom // wet globes
of hydrangea
strangled by green

you weave nests of leaves
to gild in the sun
I leave blue
petals scattered


speech unthreads us // words
turn spider silk
unspooled from the throat
and each breath spills
tangles of bees
mucus yellow and brittle
dark // throats bristle
with stingers


and if we’ve felt

relief in reaching

vines // it’s only they hide

broken earth too dry

for evening primrose and moon

-flowers that give their light in secret

when it’s too dark to see

what unfolds white // what floods the air

electric // and we

only know by absence

day brings collapse

threadbare stems


what remains of winter we concede
to compost // what opens
in bloom we bury

with sapwarm pine
chips molding from rain

the cutwood smell brings us
closer to feeling
the trickle from leaves

the guttering spring
behind the house is louder

now and despite the coming storm
you water the dogwood
planted years before

it has not broken
out in white flame

for years // we pick clover a
round its base
and wait

for branches to birth stars


Both of these poems arose out of an interest in the ways we appropriate the natural world for self-expression. “Letter from Atlantis” comes from memories of regular walks along the edge of the salt marsh, which I found compelling as a vibrant transitional zone made up of complexly interdependent life. Mark Doty attributes a sense of boundlessness to these fields of spartina and tidal creeks in his poem, “Fog Argument,” and I first wrote in response to such an imagining of the marsh, though “Atlantis” evolved to take on other dimensions. By contrast, “Garden Fugue” is inspired by readings of Georg Trakl and other expressionist poetry and combines interpersonal tension with gardening, an activity that assumes order upon plants that can grow or not regardless of how much we intervene.  


Dan Barton’s work has recently appeared journals such as Kudzu House Quarterly, Borderlands, and About Place Journal. He holds an MFA in creative writing from Texas State University, and, when he’s not getting lost in the woods, he teaches and works toward his PhD at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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