by Barbara Guest

I just said I didn’t know
And now you are holding me
In your arms,
How kind.
Parachutes, my love, could carry us higher.
Yet around the net I am floating
Pink and pale blue fish are caught in it,
They are beautiful,
But they are not good for eating.
Parachutes, my love, could carry us higher
Than this mid-air in which we tremble,
Having exercised our arms in swimming,
Now the suspension, you say,
Is exquisite. I do not know.
There is coral below the surface,
There is sand, and berries
Like pomegranates grow.
This wide net, I am treading water
Near it, bubbles are rising and salt
Drying on my lashes, yet I am no nearer
Air than water. I am closer to you
Than land and I am in a stranger ocean
Than I wished.

From The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest, Edited by Hadley Haden Guest, © 2008 Wesleyan University Press

Barbara Guest (1920 – 2006) is one of the most impressive and inspirational poets of this century. By the time she passed away at age eighty-six she had been writing poetry for sixty years. She stands out among the group of American poets born in the 1920s, a generation various enough to include poets as dissimilar as Allen Ginsberg and James Merrill, Adrienne Rich and Robert Creeley, and was associated with the New York School, including poets John Ashbery and Frank O’Hara. Guest’s bibliography is extensive, including several books of poems, plays, and prose, and cannot be captured in this space alone. Her primary task in writing poetry was, in her words, “to invoke the unseen, to unmask it.”

Editor’s Note: Barbara Guest is, to me, one of the most influential and important poets of all time. Her place among 20th and 21st Century poets cannot be overstated. This Saturday Poetry Series would not be complete without a shining spotlight upon her and her work, and this particular poem is my personal favorite.

Want to read more by and about Barbara Guest?
Barbara Guest Author Home Page
Barbara Guest on
Barbara Guest: Fair Realist by Peter Gizzi
Ceaselessly Opportuning: On Barbara Guest by Barry Schwabsky

About Sivan Butler-Rotholz

Sivan is the Managing Editor of the Saturday Poetry Series on As It Ought To Be and holds an MFA from Brooklyn College. She is a professor, writer, editor, comic artist, and attorney emerita. She is also the founder of Reviving Herstory. Sivan welcomes feedback, poetry submissions, and solicitations of her writing via email at sivan.sf [at] gmail [dot] com.
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