Conjunctions:31 Radical Shadows

Eighteen Poems
This selection comprises six of the eighteen previously unpublished poems by Djuna Barnes published in Conjunctions:31.

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.


Lament for Wretches, Every One

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

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


Laughing Lamentations

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?

Djuna Barnes (1892–1982) is best known for her novel Nightwood (1936), a tragic novel about the gay expatriate life in Paris during the 1920s, which was acclaimed by T. S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas and others. Barnes's many works also include Ryder and The Antiphon. She was also an accomplished journalist, artist and playwright. Djuna Barnes, "Eighteen Poems," copyright © 1998, The Authors League Fund as literary executor of the Estate of Djuna Barnes.