The Town He Burned Down
so powerful his mien – his imaginary
face recalling mine, the predictive ghost
of ancestry. how the dead will catch
the living staring back across time.
I’ve never met that grandfather,
though he’s still alive, but everyone
I know on his side assures me I ought
not. why enlarge the circle of who
gets to hurt you? over the phone, his son,
my uncle, another man I’ve never
seen except on the internet
tells me, “we’re from bad people.”
I ask, “could you please be more
specific?” but he’s lost all
his details. his mind. those who know
us both swear we’re each other’s mirrors.
how I’m him, just paler. when he was me –
I mean my age – he was already
years deep into mania. too often I think
about the family diagnosis I’ve managed
to dodge for decades. it’s true I’m past
my prime for onset, a fact my dad
reminded me of the last instance
I saw him. so, he makes one man
in this poem I look like and know
in-person, though I’m resolute
to let him die now without going back
to visit. which says something
about inheritance and chance I can’t
quite work out yet. I’m not sure what
past means in my context. what’s line
of descent got to do with disposition?
all the men in my family are mad or addicts.
brain chemistry x alcohol + heroin /
cocaine. rage sustains them. I love
the ones I haven’t met. all the men
in the world hold power over me.
I don’t want to reduce this to an elegiac
ode to forefathers or the phallus,
but what do you call it when what
you want is what you want to abolish?
Birthday (Hollow Body Sonnet)
I went to see the house we lived in longest
and lay on the lawn that august heat
had paled to half the color of tea
under sugar maples same trees memory
declares its border I let sky in
through breath I no longer cared
about the symbolic order I thought
I could command thought like smoke
came as close to stopping consciousness
as anyone insomniac with grief
and in full view of the road I mean
when I was told mom had been turned
to ash I stayed awake numberless
days then slept numb for more
Daniel Barnum lives and writes in Columbus, Ohio, where they serve as the associate managing editor of The Journal. A former fellow at the Bucknell Seminar for Younger Poets, they are a 2019 Best of the Net and Pushcart Prize nominee. Their poems, essays, and translations appear in or are forthcoming from Pleiades, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Cutthroat, West Branch, The Offing and elsewhere. Their first chapbook, Names for Animals (Robin Becker Prize Series; Seven Kitchens Press), is due in February, 2020.