Wendy Barker: “In the Gallery


All the faces on the canvases, and all

     the moving fleshy faces facing the ones flat and framed

on the walls, the living faces shifting

     to a glimpse of a hooked nose, dimpled chin, or black

eye with a drift of braided hair covering

     a cheek, as these gallery-goers turn to one frame and

then another, as I sift among them, just

     another face, and then, suddenly, before me, the largest

canvas in this wide room, one of Monet’s

     early Nympheas, petals of the water lilies shifting among

rounded leaves, their stems submerged

     in layers of murky water, almost as if moving the way

we are, the way faces from the past

     sift into my dreams at night, of some maddening friends

I’d rather forget, and of those whose loss

     I grieve, like the woman I sat with in this same museum

five years ago, the two of us speaking

     of our long-dead mothers, and now that woman, decades

younger than I, is gone too, though how

     her face drifts to me before dawn. And here, right in front

of me: a portrait of a man who looks

     so like a man who once held me close, his face engraved

in the frames of my mind, his brown eyes

     sifting through this space of gallery-goers drifting in this

white room, the way water lilies, their

     colors, shift across a pond’s surface, before they go under.

Wendy Barker‘s sixth full-length collection, One Blackbird at a Time (BkMk Press, 2015)received the John Ciardi Prize for Poetry. She has also published four chapbooks and a selection of co-translations of the last poems of Rabindranath Tagore, among other books. Individual poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including The Best American Poetry 2013. Barker has received an NEA and a Rockefeller fellowship to Bellagio, among other awards. She teaches at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

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