Barbara J. Orton


Amazing what you can get away with:
debts forgiven, friends who still call,
parents who visit you in the hospital
though they remember what you did.
Love is tenacious as a weed:
I've tried to root it out, wanting my death
to leave me, if not unremembered,
at least unmourned; but it's hard to kill.
Now that I want to live,
I suppose I'm grateful for it, though
it's hard to bear so much forgiveness,
as if each day I had to kneel and give
thanks, not to the God that left me, but to
each old friend's weary, unforgetful face.


a mouth that makes whirlpools     a mouth
that eats narwhals    a mouth that no longer
kisses   speaks   or cries     a mouth of hunger
a mouth that never pauses to take breath 
a mouth that sucks in whole sailing ships
and swirls them like raw wine     a mouth that tastes
the salt of bodies     the sharp points of masts
and spits out shattered hulls like olive pits
a mouth that never tallies what was lost
a mouth lipless     tongueless     a mouth that was
devourer of cattle     a mouth hurled
deep into the sea     a mouth so vast
we cannot pity it     a mouth that says
Shhhhh      shhhhh      loud enough to drown the world

Barbara J. Orton's work appears widely in such journals as Ploughshares, Pleiades, The Laurel Review, Sou'wester, and The Yale Review, as well as in four anthologies (The New Young American Poets, New Voices, Under the Rock Umbrella, and volume 7 of In Our Own Words: A Generation Defining Itself).  Her chapbook can be accessed online at The Literary Review ( She received her MFA in writing from Washington University in St. Louis and is pursuing a PhD in English at Tufts University.



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