Two Poems by John Wall Barger

New Work

Donkey Epic

You should not have cut off the donkey’s head.
That seems sure. You can’t recall,
but there it lies on this country road
by the shucked corn: his floppy ears,
his long tongue. A gory diving helmet.
Stripes are painted on his back
so he’d look like a zebra! You put down
the machete. You lift the head, examining it.
You place your head inside it.
Then the donkey thoughts begin.
You bray rhetoric over bleating multitudes.
They stomp cobblestones with hooves.
You squint grandiloquently, shaking your mane.
You wear a swanky uniform, cluttered
with medallions. You call out for favours,
for their souls, for the souls of their daughters.
Your suspicion grows. Teachers are ruiners.
Lovers saboteurs. To the glue factory!
You confide only in the stuffed human head
on your wall. This makes sense.
Your loyal servant is an elegant ass
named Rahul. He clip-clops in, a bucket
of brandy in his teeth, & pours it—
with difficulty, spilling some on the rug
—into a silver trough. His last duty
of each day. He clip-clops down
a red staircase. In the servant’s quarters,
he removes his fine collar & halter
& stands before the many mirrors naked.
His body is strong. His fur shines.
Between his hooves, a vial of arsenic.
“A wise donkey does at once
what a jackass does later,” he brays.
His eyes, cruel, repeat infinitely.


An Apology to Bruce Church

When I think of her mixing up
her w’s & v’s (Wacuuming
the rugs!) the world seems so nice
my stomach hurts. So I take
these late night walks.
Howdy, calico cats.
You approach me, tails up,
as if we were kin.
Howdy, Oxford School.
Behind chain links
in the moonlight
you are a concentration camp.
On this spot in 1983
I walloped Bruce Church
in the gut. Sorry, Bruce!
That was no way
to make you like me.
There is no sound left on earth.
Howdy, no-sound.
You descend like
a terrible music.
What a petty man
stands below
your glittering window.
A sore loser,
with a cat purring
on his foot.

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John Wall Barger

John Wall Barger’s poems have appeared in many journals and anthologies, including The Best Canadian Poetry in English (2008 and 2015) and The Montreal Prize Global Poetry Anthology (2011 and 2013). His third collection is The Book of Festus (Palimpsest, 2015).