Today's poem is by Wendy Barker

Teaching 'The Red Wheelbarrow' the Thirtieth Time

I know I've explained how
            Williams didn't like tapping
tired old symbols, but
                      these sophomores are
            not convinced. They've
got that wheelbarrow hard
            at work: It symbolizes life, since
it's red, like blood; they've
                      got it carrying feed, back and
            forth from the coop to keep
those chickens alive so
            they can be busy laying eggs,
though they're white, which
                      stands for death. Susanna
            says the poem is about
her grandpa, up at four every morning to
            get out to the barn. I'm tired
of chatter, of words dragged
                      around to mean what they
            don't I'm tired of stories,
of somebody always doing something, or not
            doing what somebody
wishes they would. Tired of the whole
                      subject-verb-object paradigm. I'd
            even like erasing
the prepositions in the poem,
            deleting "beside" and "with." I want
only the barrow, feathers, and
                      water left from rain. Separate,
            not even in relation, as
with the elements of a Tang Dynasty poem,
            the kind Williams loved,
the sort he and
                      Rexroth translated. Just
            the Chinese characters
like drawings, the blank
            spaces breaths, each one
itself: Wheelbarrow, red, rain water, chickens,
                      white. There's
            a quiet I want that won't happen
in this discussion,
            a silence that comes after
long rain, the hush
                      when you swear you can
            feel the swirl of
planets, the shifting
            of rocks. I should lead
the class outside; we could
                      sit on the grass, look
            at a redbud
tree, an empty
            stone bench. But somehow
I end up telling a story
                      after all, the one about
            Williams the doctor
having just explained to a mother and father
            their child would die, or
was it the child
                      had died and
            he had to break the news. Then
he walked down
            the hall and stared out the window
at a wheelbarrow and a few
                      chickens. Now
            the whole class is with me. I don't
            remember where
I heard the story. I'm not sure
it's even true. The poem itself is
                      silent. You can't hear
            any clucking.

Copyright © 2009 Wendy Barker All rights reserved
from the Southern Review
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission

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