The Secret Reader: 501 Sonnets
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Barnstone is Distinguished Professor of Comparative Literature at Indiana University and a scholar, translator and poet who has written more than 40 books. Suggesting here that formalistic poems "dance in chains" they try to slip, he tests sonnet structures as he uses them. Thoughts are closed mid-line, unusual end-rhymes occur and some of these 501 offerings seem good short poems rather than pure sonnets. Arranged in five groups (History I-V), the poems constitute a "public history and private biography," as Barnstone notes in the introductory material. The personal poems are among its best: of father and brother, two suicides; mother, daughter; places he's lived. His range of knowledge informs powerful social, religious and political commentary as he writes about philosophers, poets (especially but not solely Hispanic and Chinese), death from AIDS, Tibet, a Stone Age mummy found in a glacier and, of course, himself ("Do I hurt? No. I'll be/ a will-less barn stone cool and on my own"). This prodigous effort offers rewards to grazers and those who read the sonnets in order.
pulsing with supernovas. Angels sweat and their wings drip with oil and steam and salt into those Village junkie mouths who curse at walls and retch darkly into the vault of poison day! It's hot till we forget. Page 26 My Brother Enters the Earth on May Day Stillness inside the box where Howard lies. Carrying you to the grave I hold the tree as long as I can. Last weight of you cries in my arms. If there is nobility in suffering, you are the prince of pain,
Against biology, of phoenix blood His talking ink, and hover in a land Invented constantly like sun or hell Or love. But I'm in you. Like new spring mud, Alive in you who make my maggots gleam. George Herbert I wrote a letter to my Lord But couldn't spell the holy Name: "What can I do against the Sword Lost in my flesh I cannot tame?" The Lord answered (although I never Posted my word to Him), and said: "The Sword is nothing if whenever You rave with Lust you let the lead
that has no time or cosmos, and I hold to terror of that disappearance. If I were the world, were I a selfless thing, no solitude, just you, I could drop cold to Buddhist all or nothing. But I sniff the air, alone, with hunger for the spring. Page 214 Fearful Clock My clock ticks death, ticks death, or is it life, ticks Life? I hold this German instrument of song with worry. Thales claimed that strife was the world stuff: hatred and love was pent up in the atoms' godless air. I get
under his flashing sandals. With blue lead under my heart, I ride off to the beach, my cycle dangerously unfit, and hit some sand, flipping, a minute from the shore. The Honda pins me to a bloody pit of rocks. I sit upon the bleeding floor in Babylon, the warm sea out of reach. Apokálypses/Lambi Wounded Hero After the accident I am surprised to be alive, and proud of being hurt. Hopping into the water, I have sized the wounds with salt. Ouch! Sting! I am alert to gravity. It's lovely here. I eat
when I was twenty. Now I smell that coal- dust of the afternoons. I met a Jew from India, looking for a kosher meal. "Can you direct me, sir, to a restaurant for Hebrew students?" Gosh, come to my room and I'll fry you a fish. He came and sat on the bed eating oatmeal. Polite gloom was how his face was. Poor guy. I am still a lousy cook. That night I found a girl to feed me Persian fruit. We chewed and kissed, and high in her small attic she said, "Fill