John Barton has published nine previous collections of awardwinning poetry, six chapbooks, and two anthologies, including Hidden Structure; West of Darkness: Emily Carr, A Self-Portrait; Sweet Ellipsis; Seminal: The Anthology of Canada's Gay-Male Poets and Hymn. He has won three Archibald Lampman Awards, a Patricia Hackett, an Ottawa Book Award, a CBC Literary Award and a National Magazine Award. Born and raised in Alberta, he worked as a librarian and editor for five national museums in Ottawa, where he also co-edited Arc Poetry Magazine and Vernissage: The Magazine of the National Gallery of Canada. John Barton lives in Victoria, where he edits The Malahat Review. For the Boy with the Eyes of the Virgin is his tenth book.
In the great hall of mirrors,
among the cut crystal and the gold
and the angels painted on the ceiling,
you flung out your arms all at once
and began to spin in circles,
in wider and wider circles
across a marble floor where Dom Pedro
had danced with Dona Maria, his future queen,
and I could hardly believe my eyes,
though you danced in every mirror
and on every facet of glass and on each
of the marble tiles on the floor
and in the gold, and the best angel
slowly peeled away from the ceiling
to fly, after long years of waiting
just for that moment (it was before noon
on August 3, 1986) and no matter
how I pinched myself or rubbed my eye,
he did not stop swinging you round
in wider and wider circles,
as I stood by, stupefied, stupid,
only watching helpless, and your feet
slowly rose from the polished marble
and you floated, in a straight line now,
out of the hall with the angel,
toward one of the smaller chambers,
which not even the king's own servants
had ever been allowed to enter,
toward a room without glass or gold
where, mercifully, I could not watch you.
from One Cook, Once Dreaming
`The visiting poet's just kissed me on the ear,' the cook's wife tells her husband.
`Don't let it go to your head,' he tells her, aware of the dangerous thoughts to which a barbed poet's actions can give rise, thoughts she would do better to reserve for her most intimate journal. But then he considers that little harm can be done by a whiskered kiss on the ear, more elusive than a clandestine word uprooted from a poet's world, a trope high on the pyramid of language, in such a rarefied air that not even a worm could survive there, not even the millipede his wife shuns because it rolls itself into a noxious ball when threatened, because its reproductive organs are located in front. Yes, he understands well these fears of his wife's, for she has no lock to protect the intimacy of her journal. Not everything makes him jealous.
`He wants me to sit still for him,' she says, not thinking about pyramids or millipedes. `He wants to capture my essence in approximate dactyls. '
`Poets have always had ideas,' the cook tells her, remembering his own adolescence. He balls his hand into a fist to remain in control, nibbles on the nape of her neck in such an artful way that she whispers, for his ears alone: `Let's go home just as quickly as our four legs can take us. '