top of page

poemoftheweek poem of the week


Quan Barry



This is the journalist's mission from the Old French
for to carry back somewhere deep in the Congolese jungle
over the blond bridge sewn from sticks the green hills
with the twisting stalks of their serrating grasses each
fibrous blade pointillistic murderous historical quotidian


by pointillistic I mean the luminous rendered
from the individual by luminous I mean
the full shedding of light by quotidian I mean
the fragility of organisms or even systems
this is the journalist's mission to go there now


a full decade after and see what he sees anniversary
from the Latin for year and turning explication
from the Latin for to unfold then the carrying back
via satellite and fiber-optics cf. the mercantile ship
with its ragged flag waving its news hoisted in the sunlight

hundreds of nautical miles off-shore back through 
time and space back through the universal nothingness
cf. the indifference of the ocean to us
who complete the broadcast by viewing it
within the context of our knowledge cf. a white flag


means the goods were sold at a profit a black flag
means pestilence a red flag means someone is dead 
this is the journalist's mission to carry the thing
back to us how the word also derives from the Latin
for gate or door here the story he wants


is to find the rebels ten years after the physical annihilation
of eight hundred thousand to compare and contrast
lessons gleaned the journalist's heart is a klieg light
his white hair lustrous as ice now sitting in a chair
in the network's Washington bureau he tells the anchorman


that he the journalist has failed that the story
the network broadcasts tonight is all camouflage
for the failing the fact that he and his crew didn't get
the story they wanted over the blond bridge sewn
from sticks deep in the hills with their pointillistic stalks


in a voice-over a man is singing the melody delicate
like a bird made of paper someone is floating
face down in a body of stagnant water cf. a white flag
means the goods were sold at a profit a machine
rakes the earth open and countless frayed corpses


are bulldozed into the gash everywhere people
are sifting down a broken road the people
stretching all the way to the horizon the people
beyond the curvature of the earth many of them
with the agony gouged into their bodies


the head split like something ripe in the chaos
a toddler falls screaming in the road and the river
of people smoothly parts around the small stone
of his writhing as the cameraman judging from the angle
of the shot falls down to the child's point-of-view


the feet surging on like irrelevance by quotidian
I mean the fragility of organisms or even systems
again the African man is singing his voice
like a bird made from paper his song the story
of his Tutsi wife and the men who killed her


how the singing man himself Congolese paid them
to shoot her rather than dismantle her
with their machetes during the genocide the human
not even butchered like a calf its jugular slit first
for a minimizing I give money to have my love shot


the translator says in the background the man's song
fragile as a paper bird its green iridescent throat
overhead it looks like rain cf. the indifference
of the ocean this is the journalist's mission
I don't know when they buried you the man sings


I don't know where you are resting now in the studio
the journalist sits in a chair his white hair
lustrous as graft an old man who has seen
and come back the journalist's heart a gate
a door in the hills the rebels and the army


buy colds drinks in the same village though each in turn
is outfitted for the destroying of the other
this isn't a story of hope but rather of dormancy
I turn toward you but you are not there the journalist
stands on the edge of a small settlement many


of the locals evincing the disfiguring keloids

of the event here and there a glistening scar
twisted around a neck like a charm the journalist
is told a raid is coming but the raid never comes
cf. a black flag means pestilence and the no-justice


continues night falls orphans become adults

generational complication adults with guns
by a clay hut there is a square hole filled
with Hutu bones one with a small hole
straight through its frontal plate vengeance 

is mine sayeth the Lord this is the journalist's mission 
the disregarding of time in the service of narrative
eight hundred thousand murdered then the atrocity
of the refugee camps the killers slipping
over the border hidden among the fleeing population


ten years ago the journalist is a younger man
his unlined face smooth as gold this is his mission
in the last month eight hundred thousand dead
and hundreds of thousands more huddled
by the lakeshore the water septic as a graveyard


though there is nothing else to drink
in my thirty years as a reporter he says looking
into the camera from the Greek for upon and people
epidemic the journalist's heart is a flag
tonight the journalist and his crew have walked up


into the hills over the blond bridge sewn from sticks
in the studio the journalist sighs tries to formulate
a conclusion his hair lustrous as blood diamonds
the anchorman asks for the moral this is a story
of dormancy cf. a red flag means someone is dead


the journalist says it could never happen again
because the army is et cetera the world community
is et cetera though he is not immune to the fact
everyone hates everyone else he has come here
to see the rebel leader but in the end


the rebel leader will not talk to him will not
allow them to film overhead it looks like rain
a few parting shots of squalor men with machine guns
and it's back over the pale bridge sewn from sticks
and down out of the hills a square hole filled


with remains scraps of clothes in the studio
the lights are hot the journalist's white hair
shines like bone footage is forever
a small child lies screaming in the road
the singing man sings he will teach his children


not to hate he sings that if and when he sees
the men who shot his wife he will kill them
he sings that there are shards of beauty in the world
this is the journalist's mission he sings he will not


Black cricket in the doorway, on the ceiling, in

the air. Black cricket on the lip of the honey jar. 
Black cricket like backwash up through the drains.
Black cricket the longest length of a finger, the pistons
of its cocked legs like stringed instruments bleating.
Black cricket there when I open the window, 
black cricket on the high thread count sheets
like a mint. Black cricket like a fuse in the blood,
black cricket with all its ventricles pounding.
The hard rain staccato and pocking the fields.
Trochee and iamb. The heart's only note.
Cricket dark and perpetual. Cricket that shatters
the world. See? Taste the sky fall. See? Touch
the moon rise, the moon as if smashed with a hoe.
Black cricket with its black cricket mate,
their crickety copulation caterwauling all through the night
far away from the human with its human oils,
         far away.
What went on here? Which staircase is this?
Black cricket the only refrain in the dreamscape.
Black cricket semaphore, black cricket punishment.
Black cricket the proof of all this summer, us.
Black cricket ubiquitous, the sexual impulse.
Black cricket, don't leave. Black cricket, mon dieu!
Sing as you enter. Oviposit me in your arms.
Swarm the autumnal room with your black cricket love.
O black cricket on the lip of the honey jar!

              -from Water Puppets


BIO: Born in Saigon and raised on Boston’s north shore, Quan Barry is Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she recently directed the MFA Program in Creative Writing. The author of three books published by the University of Pittsburgh Press (Asylum, Controvertibles, and Water Puppets), her work has appeared in such journals as the Georgia Review, the Kenyon Review, Ms., and the New Yorker. Among her awards are an NEA Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize, and a Wallace Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University. Her first play The Mytilenian Debate was a 2011 finalist for both the Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference and the Lark Play Development Center’s Playwrights’ Week. She is currently at work on a novel.

bottom of page