White Girl’s Sonnet for Barack Obama
I come from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, from Donegal, from Croatia,
from Mont Saint Michel, from Troy Hill, from a long line of immigrants,
from steel mills, racists and bigots, from the city of bridges, the Mon
and Yough rivers, from egalitarian blowhards, from an infant left
in a basket in Dubrovnik/from the note attached to her blanket:
we are opera singers and can’t care for her. I come from a century’s arias,
from untraceable orphans, from Robert E. Lee and Honest Abe Lincoln,
from American might and wrong-headedness, from white Catholic
churches and mostly white neighborhoods, from the canonized privilege
of dialect, from the syntax of Caucasian ignorance−and like a vine I can
never eradicate it creeps in-between slats, cracks my pavement, pull it up
by its roots with both hands, turn away, and it creeps rifely back.
On Election Day 2008 I worked the polls, signed an affidavit for a ninety-
two year-old white woman−she was blind, you see. I had to enter
the election box to witness as she cast maybe her last vote for democracy.
(previously published in Mudfish, Vol. 19, 2016)
Finding My Bearings in Picasso’s Blue Period
When I am sad I return to your Blue Period
and rest there. I read and walk
on blue sand, swim in melancholy, drown
my longings in brushwork
and white caps, press myself between your
Poor People on the Seashore.
I turn to your mother
first, her arms crossed and head down,
wrapped in the cape of herself,
unified in blue monochrome.
I give her some bread,
which she takes never looking
into my eyes. She doesn’t acknowledge me, doesn’t
your abrupt and smooth sea. I turn to your father,
hold his elbows, offer him shelter.
Back to the shore, he faces her, faces emptiness,
faces me too, but our eyes
never meet. Their young son faces them both,
a force and a presence,
one hand rests on his father’s dark thigh,
another floats free,
grasps my offering. Arm-in-arm we turn
toward your blued sea,
find our bearings in the thick even strokes,
in your constancy.
(previously published in Aesthetica, 2014)
Tess Barry was shortlisted for the 2015 Manchester Poetry Prize (UK). Twice a finalist for North American Review’s James Hearst Poetry Prize and Aesthetica Magazine’s (UK) Poetry Award, she was also shortlisted for the 2014 Bridport Poetry Prize (UK). Most recently her poems appeared or are forthcoming in Mudfish Vol.19, Cordite Poetry Review (Australia), The Woven Tale Press Arts and Literary Magazine (UK), and online at Manchester Writing School’s (UK) website. Her most recent prose is available online at North American Review’s blog, where she has been a featured blogger. Barry is a Fellow of the Western Pennsylvania Writing Project and Mentor/Editor for Carlow University’s Madwomen in the Attic writing workshops. She teaches English, literature, and creative writing at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Twitter @tessbarry88