Poetry: Co-Operative by Sarah Barber

Poetry, at its best, engages the human body in whatever way it can. There is room enough for poems like this one by Sarah Barber—room enough to speak truth to the needles ravaging American families. Sarah doesn’t hide here, nor does she sermonize. & It’s respectable when a poem finds such a comfortable shape in a quatrain series—the late Derek Walcott said the simplicity of the quatrain eventually absorbed him as a poet.



I said a needle cannot do much hurt—
which is how I got stuck with two
in a Powerade bottle instead of the usual
plenty of cider or dill or half a bull,

fennel and horseshit and milkweed
blooms, the occasional roadkill venison.
I said I could handle a needle—
which is why we were edging down

Townline Road, Stephanie describing
how heaps of cash from smuggling drugs
and cigarettes are buried in backyards
on the Mohawk Rez, neither of us

admitting the irony that we were peering
at butts and grasping at soda straws
and all because Val stopped by Anne’s
because on her morning walk she saw

that even in Arcadia were drugs.
And then the grass did weep for woe.
And then the very leaves did wither.
You were not, needles, built to show

out on a granola belt road. This
is a beautiful place: between Birdsfoot
Commune and the Cornell Co-Op
good soil and air, good woods and water;

birds and fish don’t leap into our nets
but we dwell in an organic whole, man
and man in nature’s lap, paradise’s map
except for the fact of the needle—

which truly did not do much good to the girl
in the magazine article who knew how,
after years of medicating horses, to work
a syringe but not how many baggies

went in it. She was there so the writer
could say, you don’t think of Vermont
when you think full-blown heroin crisis.
I don’t see why not but I’m not from here.

Every sugar shack looks like a cabin
to me and at the party I don’t get the joke
about the rich folks who hired local kids
to pick their woods clean of sticks.

The needles, Anne tells me, need to go
to the State Police. She’s locking her doors
and taking the shotgun with her to bed.
And though I’ve always been suspicious

of the shacks up the road from the farm,
have always wished those ancient piles
of garbage and tarpaper down, I never
knew a cop to restore a golden age

in which they are different from us but far
enough away. Back home I knew
the neighbor boy before he was an addict.
I’ve been here four years and never met

to call by name the people in those trailers.
But I didn’t walk up there to say, take care
of yourselves, we found needles, we all
live together in this beautiful place.


(This poem was first published in Guernica, February 2nd, 2015.)



Sarah Barber

Sarah Barber’s poems have appeared in or are forthcoming from Ninth LetterPleiadesNew Ohio ReviewColumbia Poetry ReviewCrazyhorse, and Poetry, among other places. Her book The Kissing Party was published in 2010 by the National Press. She teaches at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York.

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