Two PoemS by Anne Barngrover

Play the Fool

The road was red again. I trespassed
and a horse with a rope halter

but no saddle followed me down
the driveway as would a dog.

I picked up my gait, started to run.
I didn’t want it to get too close,

didn’t want to lead it to the road.
Once somebody called me

a shit-magnet, though lovingly,
and I couldn’t disagree. I am prone

to self-injury, predisposed
to locate the most trifling man

in any room. Even when I try
not to host a party I host the party.

And three years later I think
I have finally figured out why

you didn’t want me in the way
I wanted you. You asked me

if I needed to hear the reason
and I responded don’t tell me

because I knew one day I would
find it in a place I shouldn’t be.

While foraging for blackberries
in the Tennessee woods, I came

across an abandoned shed rusted
olive, its walls stabbed through

with old tools, and on its deck
out front stood two goats

expectedly as if they were my
neighbors and I had stopped

by to borrow an axe or some eggs.
Animals have no reason to be kind

and really, neither did you. Ducks
will drown a chicken in its own pen.

A ewe will head-butt her own lamb
to feed. Don’t mistake obedience

for a gentle heart. I understand
now what you wanted. The horse

reached the fence post by the road.
I hid behind the tulip poplar

and when it couldn’t see me any
longer, it swung around as though

in two parts: first the gray neck,
then the dappled torso, and turned

back up the driveway to its home,
despondently, but with purpose.


You apologized to me in the passive voice

and when I pointed it out, you scrubbed me
from your story. I’m not perfect, but at least I try
to always make my voice direct: subject, verb,

object. One of the earliest lessons
in language, owning your shit. Even animals
know that. Sheep can’t eat copper

but they will. Chickens can’t eat apple cores,
potatoes or tomatoes. A flash of blood winks
in the yolk, grows cold, and won’t ever

become an embryo. Move on. Donkeys protect
the herd, will kill a coyote or a dog. Deer lie
down like dogs (have you ever noticed?)

and a donkey brays like a porch swing swung
too hard. When we were together, you did
things to me but never really saw me.

So you did things to yourself, your past
and your future, to another girl with brighter hair,
another girl who wasn’t there. Sheep can read

faces better than you. They know when it’s time
to feed or slaughter. A lamb bucked and ran
up the hillside, a pail’s metal handle looped

around its neck. I tried to chase it back down
but there was no give, no take. And I’ve read
that green eyes are the rarest, but people who look

at me directly are pretty rare, too. If you scare
away the herd, the lone sheep or goat will follow.
If you truly want to become a better person,

you should at least drink a different beer
than the one you had before. I’m so sick of you,
I don’t even like you, and we had to off

the rooster because it hurt three hens so bad,
their feathers torn out from their backsides,
pimpled skin glowing through. And now they have

to walk around opened up like that while the rest
of the flock stays whole. I remember how
you said to me, I’m sorry you got hurt. I’m sorry,

but the damage is done. The damage is always done.
I try my best to ignore you, but here you are
again, coming back to do me in. Old like nature.

Old like a country song. My heart’s only a skin
that’s bitten through, a young peach I mistook
for a nectarine. Sometimes animals sound

like they are speaking or rather mocking
the way people make animal sounds. Let’s see
how you like it: we’ll go on and have it your way.

You’re active, and I’m passive. I tried
to call you, but my phone was filled with water.
I tried to talk to you, but I was choked.