Biography of Catherine Barnett
Catherine Barnett is an American poet and educator. She is the author of The Game of Boxes (Graywolf Press, 2012) and Into Perfect Spheres Such Holes Are Pierced (Alice James Books, 2004), winner of the Beatrice Hawley Award. Her honors include a Whiting Writer's Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She has published widely in journals and magazines including The American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, The Iowa Review, The Kenyon Review, The Massachusetts Review, Pleiades, The Virginia Quarterly Review, and The Washington Post. Barnett is an instructor at New York University and The New School and has been the Visiting Poet at Barnard College. As poet-in-residence at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, she teaches writing to young mothers in New York City’s shelter system. She also works as an independent editor and recently collaborated with the composer Richard Einhorn on the libretto for "The Origin," his multimedia oratorio about the life of Charles Darwin. In addition, she is a member of the Alice James Books Cooperative Board. She received her B.A. from Princeton University and an MFA from Warren Wilson College MFA Program for Writers.
Catherine Barnett Poems
So who mothers the mothers who tend the hallways of mothers, the spill of mothers, the smell of mothers,
The Modern Period
When Gutenberg figured out how to make letters that could be rearranged he changed us all. Once upon a time I laid my head on books and was surrounded by books and bought books and rescued books reminding me I had only finite years in the book of my son, whom I almost left for books, to whom I leave my books.
Apophasis at the All-Night Rite Aid
Not wanting to be alone in the messy cosmology over which I at this late hour have too much dominion, I wander the all-night uptown Rite Aid where the handsome new pharmacist, come midnight, shows me to the door and prescribes the moon, which has often helped before.
From the Doorway
The night is covered in books and papers and child and I like having him here, sleeping loose and uninhibited. The room fills with sleep and the poor dummy heart already straining at my seams makes the tearing sound. Fear. Or laughter. Love, the strangest of all catastrophes.
Categories of Understanding
I'm studying the unspoken. "What?" my son asks. "What are you looking at?" But there is no explaining, I can only speak the way light falls, the way the cotton sheet lays itself over his sleeping or resting or dissolving body, touching him with its ephemera, its oblivion.
Living Room Altar
Except for the shirt pulled from the ocean, except for her hands, which keep folding the shirt, except for her body, which once held their bodies, my sister wants everything back now- If there were a god who could out of empty shells carried by waves to shore make amends- If the ocean saved in a jar could keep from turning to salt- She's hearing things: bird calling to bird, cat outside the door, thorn of the blackberry against the trellis.
Sweet Double, Talk-Talk [iv.]
iv. I know agape means both dumbly open and love not the kind of love that climbed the stairs to you.
Textbook & Absence (Anatomy)
At school he studies the human body: aorta, valve, muscle, vein. At home he redesigns it out of cardboard and twine until it looks like a coat he might hang on a hook with other missing coats.
This evening I shared a cab with a priest who said it was a fine day to ride cross town with a writer. But I can't finish the play I said, it's full of snow. The jaywalkers walked slowly, a cigarette warmed someone's hand. Some of the best sermons don't have endings, he said while the tires rotated unceasingly beneath us. All over town people were waiting and doubleparked and making love and waiting. The temperature dropped until the shiverers zipped their jackets and all manner of things started up again.
My son took a picture of me jumping the cemetery wall. Do it again, he said, as if I'd got out too fast. Pretend you're really climbing. In the retake my lazy eye is half shut, and the other is smiling or crying.
The August Preoccupations
So this morning I made a list of obsessions and you were on it. And waiting, and forgiveness, and five-dollar bills, and despots, telescopes, anonymity, beauty, silent comedy, and waiting. I could forswear all these things and just crawl back into the bed you and I once slept in. What would happen then? Play any film backwards and it's elegy. Play it fast-forward it's a gas. I try not to get attached. But Lincoln! I see stars when I look at him.
Turns out my inner clown is full of hope. She wants a gavel. She wants to stencil her name on a wooden gavel: Esperanza's Gavel. Clowns are clichés and they aren't afraid of clichés. Mine just sleeps when she's tired. But she can't shake the hopes. She's got a bad case of it, something congenital perhaps. Maybe it was sexually transmitted, something to do with oxytocin or contractions or nipple stimulation, maybe that's it, a little goes a long way. Hope is also the name of a bakery in Queens. And there's a lake in Ohio called Hope Lake where you can get nachos. I'm so stuffed with it the comedians in the Cellar never call on me, even when I'm sitting right there in the front row with a dumb look of hope on my face. Look at these books: hope. Look at this face: hope. When I was young I studied with Richard Rorty, that was lucky, I stared out the window and couldn't understand a word he said, he drew a long flat line after the C he gave me, the class was called metaphysics and epistemology, that's eleven syllables, that's hope hope hope hope hope hope hope hope hope hope hope. Just before he died, Rorty said his sense of the holy was bound up with the hope that some day our remote descendants will live in a global civilization in which love is pretty much the only law.
Mostly I'd like to feel a little less, know a little more. Knots are on the top of my list of what I want to know. Who was it who taught me to burn the end of the cord to keep it from fraying? Not the man who called my life a debacle, a word whose sound I love. In a debacle things are unleashed. Roots of words are like knots I think when I read the dictionary. I read other books, sure. Recently I learned how trees communicate, the way they send sugar through their roots to the trees that are ailing. They don't use words, but they can be said to love. They might lean in one direction to leave a little extra light for another tree. And I admire the way they grow right through fences, nothing stops them, it's called inosculation: to unite by openings, to connect or join so as to become or make continuous, from osculare, to provide with a mouth, from osculum, little mouth. Sometimes when I'm alone I go outside with my big little mouth and speak to the trees as if I were a birch among birches.
My father scolded us all for refusing his liquor. He kept buying tequila, and steak for the grill, until finally we joined him, making margaritas, cutting the fat off the bone. When he saw how we drank, my sister shredding the black labels into her glass while his remaining grandchildren dragged their thin bunk bed mattresses first out to the lawn to play then farther up the field to sleep next to her, I think it was then he changed, something in him died. He's gentler now, quiet, losing weight though every night he eats the same ice cream he always ate only now he's not drinking, he doesn't fall asleep with the spoon in his hand, he waits for my mother to come lie down with him.
Acts of Mind
What's funny about this place
is us regulars coming in with our different
accoutrements, mine usually the little void
of space I call honey, days
I can barely get through I'm laughing so hard,
see? In the back a woman squeezes oranges,
someone presses the fresh white bread
into communion wafers or party favors.
In the window the chickens rotate blissfully,