From Eighteen Poems
Djuna Barnes


Does the inch-worm on the Atlas mourn
That last acre its not inched upon?
As does the rascal, when to grass he’s toed
Thunder in the basket, moved to measure;
The four last things begun:
Thrashing on the banks of kingdomcome.


As whales by dolphins slashed, bring on a school
Of lesser fins to passenger the blood,
So comes my general man, both my priest, and hood
To ask, “who drank baptism down in nothing flat?
Who cut the comb in half to see it quick
With buzzing backsides, quartered out of cells?
And sick
And staggered regents staling pedestals?”
I replied:
“What heard of Darkness oysters in your tide?”


When the kissing flesh is gone
And tooth to tooth true lovers lie
Idly snarling, bone to bone,
Will you term that ecstasy?

Nay, but love in chancery.
In the last extremity,
Duelling eternity,
Love lies down in clemency,
Compounding rogue infidelity


Lord, what is man, that he was once your brag?
A spawling job of flesh with off-set thumb.
Grown so insolent he lifts his leg
Upon de running sessions of his tomb.
And where’s the black purse was his mother’s bag?
(It coined his faces, both sides, good and ill,)
Why round his neck it bangs for begging bread,
Her Merrythought? The skipjack of the kill.

DISCANT (There should be gardens …)

There should be gardens for old men
To twitter in;
Boscage too, for Madames, sports
For memory, poor puff-balls of a day;
Soundless virginals laid on to ply
Suet to eat, and herbs to make them spin
Cuttle and custard on a plate, loud hay
To start the gnat—and then
Mulberry, to re-consider in—
Resign? repent?
Observe the haute meander of pavan
But never ask the one-foot snail
Which way you went.

SATIRES (Satires of Don Pasquin)

Man cannot purge his body of its theme,
As does the silk-worm ferry forth her thread,
High Commander, tell me what is man
And what surmise?
Is breastmilk in the lamentation yet?
O predacious victim of the wheel,
St. Catherine of roses, turn your gaze
Where woe is;
Purge the body of its dread,
As does the bombace from her furnance heave
To weave a shroud to metamorphose in?
To re-consider in
What bolt of havoc holds your dread?
On what cast of terror are you fed?

These six poems are from a series of eighteen previously unpublished poems by Djuna Barnes, from Conjunctions:31, Radical Shadows.