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'To the Tresspasser'

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David Barber is a Massachusetts-based poet and poetry editor at The Atlantic Monthly. For his collection Wonder Cabinets, from which the following poem was taken, he derives inspiration from the curiosity cabinets of the late Renaissance.

To mark National Poetry Month, NPR.org is featuring a series of newly published works selected by the Academy of American Poets. Learn more about this and other titles at the academy's New Spring Books list.

To the Trespasser

David Barber

A quiet akin to ruins—

another contracted hillside, another split-level

fretting the gloaming with its naked beams.

 

The workmen have all gone home.

The blueprints are curled in their tubes.

The tape measure coils in its shell.

 

And out he comes, like a storybook constable

making the rounds. There, where the staircase

stops short like a halting phrase,

 

there, where a swallow circles and dips

through the future picture window, he inspects

the premises, he invites himself in.

 

There he is now: the calculating smacks

of a palm on the joints and rails,

the faint clouds of whispered advice.

 

For an hour he will own the place.

His glasses will silver over as he sizes up

the quadrant earmarked for the skylight.

 

Back then, the houses went up in waves.

He called on them all; he slipped through walls.

Sometimes his son had to wait in the car.

 

So I always know where I can place him

when I want him at one with himself, at ease:

there, in the mortgaged half-light;

 

there, where pinches of vagrant sawdust

can collect in his cuffs and every doorframe

welcomes his sidelong blue shadow;

 

anywhere his dimming form can drift at will

from room to room while dinner's going cold—

a perfect stranger, an auditioning ghost.

 

Copyright © 2006 by David Barber. Published 2006 by TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press. All rights reserved.

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Wonder Cabinet

by David Barber

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