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Daniel Barnum

To Love Somebody

(after Terrance Hayes & with lines by the Bee Gees)

maybe because of love, or more likely because
her beauty was so certain, upon first seeing

the rust tone picture in a magazine I still keep 

at home, in which she sits at the wheel, clay 

vessels she’d convinced
into existence by the skin


of her cracked hands stacked in rows as neat as honey
comb behind her, dad drove the week’s
distance it took to find whatever desert mom was
hiding in. that’s how I begin. that story


only gets creepier
every time I tell


it. what happened after them? there’s a name
for when you can remember

a scene only when you see yourself depicted 

in its moment. I mean: seeing the photo-

graph of you

wearing a jack-o-lantern

costume on your third halloween, set on top 

of the real thing – one as big as your parents –

and think wait, do I know that pumpkin 

from somewhere? or something 

I’m too tired to look
up right now. pulled an all-nighter

again with my ancestors’ albums. books
I took from my dad and uncle’s upcountry
cabins years ago – said I’d return

but didn’t. envelopes-worth from family in the south-

west, sent in the early after-
math of my mom’s murder.


daniel, when will you get past that? I never wrote
back. in candids of my parents
on either side of when they met, far as the record
shows, there’s a certain kind of light

that never shone on me.
I want my life

to be lived without this constant
worry now about what’s happening the next
room over, who’s dying while I’m watching
old episodes of bad TV. the show where two brothers

crawl the country
in their black impala

looking for gods and monsters always
makes me think about my father and his best
friend on their trip to Arizona to break my mom
out from her corner of burnt earth. in this one picture

I can see her
waiting for what she doesn’t

know will hurt her. sprawls her leg far
out on the ground around a fire pit
built down in the canyons behind her mother’s desert
ranch. her brother’s body is cut off

at the waist by the print’s
dimensions. her face

lit by the blaze contained in the photo’s
bottom quadrant. everything is soft
as evening with the hazy effect of early '80s
film stock seaming her hair into the dark.

she is holding another
camera, unaware

of any capture. it’s difficult

not to think of her as a martyr saint. I thought 

I said stop that. shut up – you don’t know 

what it’s like when it comes back in my brain, 


I see her face again as I never saw 

past childhood: light 


stuck in its rush 

to delimit the image under her gaze – 

what sinks into an uncertain 

somewhere below the frame.

Daniel Barnum.jpg

Daniel Barnum lives and writes in Columbus, Ohio, where they serve as the associate managing editor of The Journal. Their poems and essays appear in or are forthcoming from Pleiades, Hayden's Ferry Review, West Branch, The Offing, Muzzle and elsewhere. Their first chapbook, Names for Animals, is out now from Seven Kitchens Press. More at: & @daniel__barnum

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