Djuna Barnes

Djuna Barnes drawingIf you’re like me, you don’t know Djuna Barnes as a poet. But as you can see on the left, she was also an artist. And a prose writer and many things more. However, unlike in Paris at Midnight, where I discovered her, there is no evidence that she was a serious jitterbugger.

I read through quite a lot of Barnes’ poetry, trying to find something that would be easily digested by my hungry readers. The good news is that unlike serious modern poetry, her work is pretty easy to scan. I understand it on a first reading, which says a lot. Just the same, it isn’t that easy; it isn’t like song lyrics.

This poem is “Seen From the ‘L’.” I don’t know exactly what it is about. There are a few themes that seem to be floating around. There is nakedness as a symbol for communication. There is rumination on the process of becoming and being. But mostly, it is a lovely word picture with a wonderful rhythm:

So she stands—nude—stretching dully
Two amber combs loll through her hair
A vague molested carpet pitches
Down the dusty length of stair.
She does not see, she does not care
      It’s always there.

The frail mosaic on her window
Facing starkly toward the street
Is scribbled there by tipsy sparrows—
Etched there with their rocking feet.
Is fashioned too, by every beat
      Of shirt and sheet.

Still her clothing is less risky
Than her body in its prime,
They are chain-stitched and so is she
Chain-stitched to her soul for time.
Ravelling grandly into vice
Dropping crooked into rhyme.
Slipping through the stitch of virtue,
      Into crime.

Though her lips are vague as fancy
In her youth—
They bloom vivid and repulsive
As the truth.
Even vases in the making
      Are uncouth.

Now that you’ve been all cultured up, you can continue with your day.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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