Anne Barngrover

Künstlerroman

In the beginning, I kept waiting for you 

to leave. Here’s the rising action: I’m just pointing 

out a pattern along my journey. Once, I was left 

over swirly bagels, left over making his bed. 

A friend walked out during happy hour 

and I never saw her again. Now I can’t bear 

the smell of grapefruit and gin. My family split

over gluten. Ever since, people keep trying 

to take what is sweetest from me, what I want

most to have. Left over a yoga bag. Left over 

a bundt cake I burned then taste-tested with my hand. 

For the party, the hole was covered by a strawberry. 

I am choosing to write in the passive voice 

because there is nothing left after leaving. That’s a lie. 

They’re always coming back, and there’s this place 

two inches below my belly button where 

if you press down, it brings release. It’s a rope 

being yanked, a knot in necklaces and string. I cramp 

at the sound of so many names. If you follow someone 

but refuse to speak, that’s called orbiting. I keep 

getting served those articles online. There’s this place 

in my neck like a tiara of seedlings. I want you 

to grab me there and never let go. Writing is hard

on my nerves and on my bones. Why did they raze

that blue trailer to the ground? And why did they set

fire to the no-longer-walls and no-longer-doors? 

Because there’s always something new and living 

by the side of the road: sandhill cranes and their chicks, 

the color of custard and soft as calico; three guitars 

for sale, painted and propped against a pickup. 

But who would throw a perfectly fine cooking pot 

onto the shoulder? Years ago, I burned my wrist 

stirring chili after he said my only job was to help him 

get into heaven. I told the therapist he made me see 

if I wanted to stay together, I’m not sure if I can trust

my own reality anymore. Shouldn’t that have been a sign?

This was the shrink who referred to women as brides. 

We are arriving at the part where I’m supposed to 

either find some acceptance or turn away in arrogance.

And wasn’t I already scorned for doing both? 

My art has always worked like this: I make it 

for you and I give it away. It hurts and you leave.

It hurts and you leave. We’ve reached the end now. 

We’re back at the beginning. You’re still here.

The Lamp Inside

In my past I lived upon a hill

present as a jar

of light and snow, the woods empty
 

as ideas—impossibly, the ochre soybean fields

fenced in white, owned

by a CEO whose barn housed
 

a zebra, off-brand, striped the color

of coffee. I was young and in love

with my own doomed sense

 

that I couldn’t belong anywhere

or with anyone. Early winter

evenings at my dormitory window,
 

I brooded in the liturgical

blue over the inherent tragedy

that I’d never transcend the walls
 

of this body. Spellbound,

I followed the sacred geometry

within snowflakes kissing the glass pane.
 

Worlds and worlds

glimmered below in the houses

down the hill. The woods parted
 

so I could see the lamp inside every room,

families moving through hallways surely

as rivers. No one
 

bed-struck by panic. No one alone

in the terror of syntax—

it is possible and also very likely, it is possible but very
 

unlikely, it is impossible, for it is in the unreal past

that haunted my future, years away. Still,

I must have known it had marked me.
 

Maybe twilight and winter

are synonyms the same way a pocket watch

and a clock tower both keep time.

And I am an I, falling off. Forevermore, light

unfurls darkness, snow warms the bare trees.

I see only what I want to see.

 

Anne Barngrover is the author of Brazen Creature, published with University of Akron Press in 2018. She is an assistant professor of English at Saint Leo University, where she is on faculty in the low-residency MA in Creative Writing program, and lives in Tampa, Florida.

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