William Barnes

Issue #
October 3, 2017

The Tulip Sacrament: A Tribute

Dear ‘Annah—

I will always think of you,

          Sitting again at the corner
          table in the Café Figaro where MacDougal Street meets

          windy Bleeker, just exactly where
                    winter gets mitered into spring…

That edge place, where the pigeons coo wait with me, wait with me slowly, and the raw wind blows, and the flowered curtain billows out intimacy, with “all/the invisible gestures behind…” and you at the café window, writing and writing.

Dear ‘Annah, I found these lines by Helene Cixous that I wanted to share with you. She says: Writing is learning to die. It’s learning not to be afraid, to live at the extremity of life, which is what the dead, death, give us. It feels a kind of permission. A strange unasked-for gift. No one wants this, but now, your book trembles a little, filled with your voice, with your wonder and sadness, your questions.

            Wait with me for what?

                                             —as if the meaning

           of afternoon light in April is now

           rain with evaporation, spring with its wobbly ankles, its

                        fireworks—Spring with its ominous-shaped trowel—

Dear ‘Annah, your poems live at that extremity, luminous. Lonely. Full of risk.

           I feel scared and small again in the City of
           young cat whimpering in her basket. Where are my

If some of us are still here, still learning how to die, learning to be less afraid, we have your poems, so full of surprise, and beauty, and light. And look how they talk
about you!

                                   —even the grayness
           of the April street beneath the exhaust feels

           to her like lemon chiffon on top of all the shoulders of all the people passing
                      by her in a direction

                      of yellow-light-sun sound glazed with air

I see you there at the café, writing still. Unafraid.


                 measurably, my body’s been taking up less and less of the air.

Yes, but… dear ‘Annah, if you were learning to die, even if we didn’t quite know, what we felt, what we still feel, is your courage and your love and the wild joy, of you, gentle, always moving toward beauty. Still.

                   When the flame and yellow tulips
                   begin dying in the air on top
                   of the coffee table, I move across the room to kiss
                   their insides. They’re completely
                   opened today bending over
                   their own shoulders, the rim
                   of my grandmother’s cut glass vase,
                   and I’m thinking a thing becomes its death—
                   that beauty goes past
                   itself into its finishing with such force
                   it seems to come from nowhere straining

                   to end.

The Tulip Sacrament Wesleyan University Press 1995

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