A Poem by John Wall Barger

PC Song

“The moon over Auschwitz”
was the original title
of this poem. I stared at it
so long I lost track
of what that moon
shone upon. I thought
I can’t write that,
I’m not Jewish,
I’ve never even been
to Poland! I did not mean
harm. Moon
can mean sorrow:
as in, I read how the dark
side of the moon
is actually turquoise
which glows like ice
over the barracks
of Birkenau. Oh!
I did it again.
Now you are googling me
to confirm that I am,
as you guessed,
a white dude. You doubt
that bad things
have happened to me.
I doubt it too. So many
bad poems are litanies of
personal trauma
peppered with trope,
one would think
stepping into daylight is enough
to terrify us all
but isn’t it? How different
is the Auschwitz moon
from the moon over
Disneyland? Each drifts over us
like a clod washed away
by the sea. I did walk
the Villa Medici in moonglow
between goddess statues
which like clouds have no face
or is that La Dolce Vita,
or Zatoichi: Blind Swordsman?
Yes it’s Zatoichi
touching the lovely face of
the sister of a yakuza,
they are falling in love,
Zatoichi’s fingers
in the language of movies
are aspects of the moon.
Have you ever seen the moon
on a sunny afternoon
out of nowhere?
Like a watermark in the desert,
like an old man
I washed dishes with
who kept taking breaks
to play harmonica.
When you’re drowsy
or stoned, when you’re really
not looking — 
then the moon comes,
its kidskin grin,
the Padre Pio cuts
in each of its palms,
while far below
down here
fire rises upwards
water flows downwards
love spirals
& hour after hour
we carry our dead out of its light
like ants.

John Wall Barger’s poems have appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Rattle, Subtropics, Cimarron Review, the Montreal Prize Global Poetry Anthology and The Best Canadian Poetry. His third collection, The Book of Festus (2015, Palimpsest), was nominated for the 2016 JM Abraham Poetry Award.

The Poetry Section is edited by Mark Bibbins.