Jessica Baran has a BA in visual art from Columbia University and an MFA in poetry writing from Washington University. This fall, five of her poems appeared in the new journal Harp & Altar, thus marking her first publication. Originally from Cedar Lake, Indiana, she is very pleased to now call Brooklyn her home.


Three Poems by Jessica Baran


THE NARRATIVE OF NAGEL MESSENGER OF ACME, IN.

Late at night, in the dim pin-light of stars, he took over his hometown's skating rink. Workers came and blanketed the rink in black silk, while shiny black rocks, volcano-made, were trucked in and staggered atop the fabric. The site was then flooded with a thin veneer of water, a sea of black ice, and became a kind of negative-image diorama, an after-hours zoo where no animal breathes. The third memory he called it, the memory combined of his diary-penned plots and of the snow-torrid pole. To the townsfolk, who stood back, watching curiously through windows, his presence began to feel too sinuous, his work too probably endless. Often when he spoke now, he spoke to himself: “The terrain, why it was nearly Martian; it continues to move me farther and farther elsewhere.” He'd say, "There are ways of stitching a tent that are more durable than machining it straight. Consider a capsule so capacious that in order to step inside, you must enter from below." The dark silk stretched wider, removing factory and exit-ramp alike. As the whole town was rapidly fading to black, he cupped his hands to his mouth and shouted, “Dear bird?” grinning and looking around as if to find it, “How, once, did you arrive?”

I assigned myself a mission that seemed especially designed to fail: to journey deep into the Antarctic, to search for the elusive albino penguin. At home, I was a regular man, if mildly sought-after; I spoke charmingly of my hoped-for journey, my notions of the polar terrain, my mental sketch of the pale, pink-eyed fowl rarely seen in the wild. My neighbors enjoyed me as a frequent dinner guest. And I did my homework, interviewing ornithologists, inquiring about the most probable domain for the bird. When, at last, hidden inside an inflatable bubble on a remote island at the planet's tip, I sat face to face with my quarry, I said "Tst-tst-tst" to it, imitating the sound of the bird's feet on the ice.


BESTIARY

With the boars being whipped
by terrible hares, and the bison even more
unmoored by deer, it's no wonder we go
x-marked, heavy-limbed,
heavy-lidded to him, to his house, strange
less for what it holds than how
certain rooms lull tigers
and snakes, with the signs always there
mutely ushering the path of safe passage
by daedal plots golden-drawn
on leaves and dropped to direct our way
past the tall brass-locked doors, the dark
but admissible quarters he makes
in an instant fire-kindled, evening-turned,
intimately menued for his guests, we
who have crept just deftly
past pumas, slithered balefully
into the most monstrous claws, and been
held hostage, made servile by some other and left
too weakened to say, with his place
dimly flickering between far branches,
the fervid cat-lick in the night that is
hope, kindness,
my coarse sense of still needing more.


THAT OBSCURE OBJECT

Shadowy creature, bare black branch, mechanical limb. Helter-skelter. It all depends on how you look at it. In his carnival tent, the lonely vampire perches on his ornate gilt throne and ponders: blood is all I crave, sweat is what I get, but what I hunger for is—. O love, the menace of wild children, of what can become abject bric-a-brac. Monstrous heaps made by hand, boxes stacked but empty: again dawn breaks, and the best kept secret in the world has yet to be conceived.