Otranto Poem by Barbara Guest


At sunset from the top of the stair watching

the castle mallets wrenched from their socket

fell from ambush into flame flew into hiding;

above the stoneware a latch like muscle hid

the green; he stood waist high under the rapt

ceiling and hanged the sparrow; where the kitchen

had been a mirror of eggs served in a tumbler he

saw the ring when a lancet pierced and threw it.

In a basket and lowered it where sails enter

the harbor over a parchment like dominoes;

the petrel-like eyelash.

To the sun and its rites were pulled the dried

banners; they flew past the ruins the tower

and window where ivory guided the mist on his back;

he rubbed his eyes and counted them kneeling

wrinkled as grass.

A ghost in their nostrils put a heel at their

forehead; they saw only the moon as it



If the ship meant anything if he heard a world

view in the midst of his rhythm or the spell

lustrous like hair on his arm; that groaned as

it struck near the tumble down or

combing hair; words burnt as they quickened.

The bitter they share crept into forage and

muster is in their skin; the grey

worked like a vise they brushed this

to turn arrows; they shut off the vast

cellar and the turret leaped to a pattern;

the mosaic blended was untouched.


The frankish hills and hummocks metered

the greed over sun and cloud; voluptuous

in the straits turbanned held scarves to the

water each sail embroidered;

who washed in their music a lattice.

A major or borrowed sky this aspect provides

the lily stalk inside the frame; a gesture the lily

pointing north as if the wrench from sky decides

cold rain or change of tide; the lily

she chooses.


Waking in must the high pierced window dew on

the furnaced bar the poaching hour the cup

takes smoke from the tower; they drink

in the smoke the print cradled; cut in dark.

The siege made cloth a transfer

learned from invaders who craved it;

spindle thieves.

She sang high notes and pebbles went into her

work where it changed into marks; in that room

the armor-like wrens:

rites turned with thread a dower

begs lapis; eglantine on a spoon; the castle

breeds tallow.


A change of tide might delay the run

they watched as if by simple water;

read magisterially whatever the book decided;

night outside covered with filmic screen

ghosts they store; then bring an experimental

wheel out of hiding.

Even the Nile wind; fortune cards

jugglers a remedy from old clothes;

to appease the fable—pearls

rolling in straw.

The way a cowslip bends

they remember or Troilus as he stared;

they agree on brighter covers; looser

shifts fluent tower to tower.

More ephemeral than roundness or

the grown pear tree connected

with vision a rose briar.


There was only a rugged footpath

above the indifferent straits and a shelf where the

castle lay perhaps it was sphered like Otranto;

there the traveller stood naked and talked

aloud or found a lily and thought a sword;

or dragged a carcass upon blunt stone like a

corded animal. In weeds in spiritual

seclusion a felt hand lifted.

Barbara Guest

Barbara Guest

Wilmington, North Carolina, United States
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