Rick Barot

It must say something wonderful about my life

that my first meal in America was a bucket

of chicken from Kentucky Fried Chicken.

I was ten. Hours before, the arrival at the airport

to the cacophony of relatives, then the drive

to my uncle’s house in the new winter cold,

where the bucket waited, like America itself.

For once, that one memory is not like the tattered

band T-shirt you only wear to bed, but like

the crisp task the teacher gives to her students.

She hands each of us a mason jar full of black,

white, red, and brown rice. She tells us

to pour the rice on the table and sort it

by color, however long it will take. In this way

the counting and accounting, like the work

of memory, is its own abundance, along with that

of the gorgeous rice. All my life I have been

drawn to exercises in patience because so many

of the things I love don’t love me back,

a claim that, to borrow a line from Miłosz,

I make not out of sorrow but in wonder.

The patience of bending over a table, counting.

The patience of hunger. The patience of love

clinging to an image of sunlight on a hazel eye.

That day, we lay on the summertime grass

of the park and looked up at the maples

the sun ruffled through. He told me about

the stern way his grandmother had taught him

how to play the violin when he was a child.

I told him about my childhood newspaper route,

walking the neighborhood’s sleeping streets

at dawn, my hands black from newsprint,

stung by the rubber bands that always snapped.

When we weren’t talking about those things

we were talking about poetry, beside ourselves

when reading out loud the Larkin poem

about how parents fuck you up, whisperingly

amazed reading Dickinson’s poem about

how things fall apart in an exact, organized

decay. Reading the poems with someone else,

I had the thought that it was best to always

read poems this way, like the trains in Europe

where you have to sit facing each other.

I had the thought that the space between

the lines in a poem was like the space between

two people facing each other on a bed,

the space of breath. In the park, the maples

we lay under were Norway maples, a species

considered invasive because it out-shades

everything around it. I didn’t know this

when I fell in love with the geometry of each

astral leaf, or fell in love with the chorus

the leaves made when the breezes conducted

them. Often I am moved by all the information

I’ve gathered but don’t know what to do with.

That the needles used for upholstery are curved

like parentheses. That there’s a star somewhere

two hundred times bigger than our sun.

That far back in its etymology the closet

actually meant a space of intimate privacy

where you might welcome others, not a place

of shame you’re supposed to leave behind.

The abundance of that closet, crowded now

with my fierce friends. The abundance

of having a new truth in the mind, the bloom

in your senses like biting into a fennel seed.

The abundance of America, its orchards

and its libraries, its cemeteries and its airports,

the circle of people praying in the basement

of a church and the muddy field after a festival,

the boy counting the sixty-seven rings

of the fresh-cut log washed up on the beach

and the girl wearing red sunglasses on the train

in the morning, startled awake at her stop,

then, like all of us, walking into the day,

into the one thing there’s plenty of: the future.

Rick Barot is the author, most recently, of The Galleons, which was longlisted for the National Book Award. His work has recently appeared in The Adroit Journal, The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Orion, and Poetry.
Originally published:
June 10, 2024


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