Featured American Poet

Marylin Lytle Barr

The following poems are taken from Unexpected Light, Marylin Barr's new book of poetry. They are a celebration of a lifetime's living close to nature and family. Her poems are composed of closely observed objects, moments, and emotions that her readers will understand immediately, even though they may not be poets themselves.
Wonderful images fill these pages where the visual character of Marylin Barr's poetry is linked to her other talent as an artist: she "sees" intensely and makes the reader understand more and see better. To read her work is to have oneÕs own appreciation of nature and the richness of life enhanced, which is one of the genuine marks of poetry.
Frederick H. Shriver

The Cutting Board

Unexpected Light bookcover I watched my grandmother's flashing knife
first honed on the soapstone sharpener
slivering butternuts we'd gathered
in the first frost of an autumn eve.
Shelled as we sat by the warm log fire
sharing tales of childhood or ballads
these nuts became as kernels of life.
Some were dropped whole in sterilized jars.
Others were sent to the chopping board.
Nubbins were saved for oatmeal cookies.
The aromatic powder of nuts
swept up from the maple cutting board
topped applesauce on hot gingerbread
we ate slowly by red-eyed embers.

Now I own the hardwood chopping board.
It is as soft to touch as velvet.
Two generations of women have
halved their sandwiches on this old wood.
It has stopped a hundred thousand knives.
Women old and young have shed their tears
as onions have been decimated.

My grandmother chopped her life away
little by little on this hard board.
I see her now cutting and slicing
to reduce every problem to size.
I take down the raisins and nut jar
chop up the fruit for oatmeal cookies.

I remember when grandfather died.
The rhythmic chop, chop went on all night.
Wrought iron grill grates in my bedroom floor
carried kitchen odors, sounds, and warmth
into my room. I fell asleep late.
When we went downstairs in the morning
we found trays of sliced citrus candy
paper-thin carrot coins, stove-ready
wedges of crisp dried apple slices
chopped nuts, chive and onions jarred and cooled
thin-sliced cucumbers marinating
and grandmother asleep in her chair.
The cutting board had been rubbed clean with
salt and set back of the sink to dry.

Winter Garden

In winter I plant a small seed called "hope."
Bright-hued catalogues shine in every mail.
My garden blooms though frozen to the slope
of the hill, and I know I cannot fail
with celery or salsify this year.
Cauliflower, kale, and broccoli appear
next to a throw of beets, leaves veined with blood.
There I see Brussels sprouts and garlic buds.
In the misty haze of turning pages
I dig and rake and sow, mark the long row
imagine each seed in final stages
filling trays and baskets, hot pot-au-feu
even a colorful collage, steaming
ready for the fork or winter dream.

Late Winter In The Catskills

Sunset sky reflected from old snow
spreads lavender haze in maple grove.
Cold northwest winds clear winter's bleak skies
in tune with longer days, warmer sun.

At night sap freezes in the maples.
Squirrels leave their burrows, search the trees
for glittering icicles of sap.
I recognize familiar signals.

I collect covered pails, spiles, hammer
then hike to the sugar bush at dawn
to start the new season of gathering sweets.
My boots break the crust, leave melting tracks.

Sap thawed in warmth of winter sun drains
down through my taps filling all the pails.
It's time to set out the woodburning
stove, heat its yawning maw with old logs
gathered and stacked high in the woodshed.

When night falls jugs of maple syrup
candied walnuts, sap, maple butter,
are ready to store with memories
of another winter in the Catskills.

Flight

Cold Catskill valley
holds silence
a clear transparency
through which one slim wild duck
flies easterly
disappearing over mountains.

Slight silent
silhouette accents
delicate blush
of sky at dusk.

A Timely Accounting

Polished canning kettles now stored
out of reach on the highest shelf
announce another harvest's end.
The house garden is stripped except
for parsnips' green lace on brown earth.
Baskets of leaves cover parsley.

Rubbed potatoes are piled in dark
cool cellar like coal in a bin.
Green and yellow squash are seasoned.
Carrots and beets fill pails of sand.
Cut cabbage salted down in crocks
stands fermenting in its own juice.

Sprays of dill cover cucumber
marinating in smaller jars.
Shelves shine with jars of greengage plums
thimbleberry jam, and spiced pears.
Applesauce and quince puree gleam
near clear jellies and ripe peaches.

The freezer has neatly labeled
packages of blue, black, and straw
berries next to cut, red rhubarb.
Knobby bags of patterned beans nudge
ocher kernels for succotash
omelets, or winter corn pudding.

Winter nights around the table
we'll pass the sunshine and the rain
relive long summer afternoons.
With hot apple cider we'll eat
green beans and spiced sausage patties,
whipped mashed potatoes and sauerkraut.

The hours are long, the pay is short
but the results are unequaled.

Yes, the season has been good to us.
We'll have time this winter to write.
To make a timely accounting
of all that has been given us.

Mortality

My planting time over
I give Mother's picture
to her first great grandson,
getting married next fall.
When he was an infant
she stretched out to hold him
in experienced arms
Boston rocker tipping
just ever-so-slightly.
"You are my life, my blood
my reach to distant time.
Where you go I shall go.
Your doings will be mine.
Good luck, God bless my child."

When his first pet died
I remember he asked me
"What is ‘dead,' Grandmother?"
"‘Dead,'" I said, "is living
in someone else's mind,
being there forever.
It's being born again
in someone else's life
or in another field."
I picked a dandelion
next a downy seedling
whitened his tawny hair
in showers of feather dust.
"Dandelions all die
but you come here next spring.
There'll be a golden crop."

Marylin Lytle Barr


Marylin Lytle Barr Marylin Lytle Barr lives in Grahamsville, New York. Her poetry has been widely published in literary journals. Described as a twentieth century traveler in time and space, she engages the reader in her own search for "light" in exotic places she revisits in her poetry. It is a journey that begins here at home in the Catskill Mountains, the watershed of the eastern seaboard, and carries her readers far afield to discover the realities of life and existence are, finally, to be found at home.

Unexpected Light may be found on Essex Press or on Amazon.com with excerpts, reviews, comments of readers and information for purchase.


Editor's note: These poems were chosen for this first edition of our web site as Marylin Barr's theme of nature so closely resembles the work "Nature" by Olga Kobylyanska.

Essex Press has agreed to make a limited number of copies of Unexpected Light available to bi-lingual Ukrainian poets who would like to translate Marylin Barr's work into Ukrainian. Please send brief biography and short poetry sample in English: myretreat3@aol.com


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