Two poems by Karin Wraley Barbee



The Use of History


Two stools and a man on one,

his hands burned smooth and numb, printless.

There’s free popcorn.

The bartender fills his class with porter -- black beetles

in an unearthed tomb.

He shifts in his seat, plants his boot heels on the bar step.

In the bathroom, a woman smudges a timeline on a stall wall with lipstick.

It’s a violent string of events, priests, battles for land and faith.

The evolution and catastrophe intersect, overlap.

She draws a red circle at the end of the line,

checks herself in the mirror, her eyeliner a smudged miner, and leaves.

Back at the bar she joins him, moves her stool closer and rests her head on his arm.

She grips her keys, scratches their names into the bar top, his, hers, another,

the thin reckless letters emerging from the beer-soaked oak.

Is there time? she asks.

One more, he says. And motions to the bartender.

She scratches deep this time, plump chunks of wood quickly carved. A boy.

Last call. They cover it all in napkins. Finish quickly and pay.

On the car ride home, he rests his hand on her thigh,

still burned, still numb.




My Favorite Animal


The goats in the page of a nature magazine

climb a tree.

They balance on the too thin limbs,

look about as if assessing the exact slope of a hill.

The small mouth, still chewing something chocolate,

gapes wide as he turns the page.