Writer’s Workshop: Barry Sanders
Selections from Barry Sanders at the writer's retreat at Lee Kelly's studio
What Comes in the Mail
Lee sent off for a tree or two,
In the mail, no less—
Trees! In the mail! A marvel!
And the mailman, startled,
Announces: Forest for Mr. Kelley.
Please come down to the main branch.
And I, less majestic,
Want only a decoder ring
From Captain Marvel.
I cut box tops,
And wait by the mailbox
I wait and I wait by the mailbox
Left alone by a super hero
For one lousy ring.
The mailman holds our fate—
Greetings Mr. so and so, the United States Army
Wishes to invite you…
Dear so and so, the
IRS has chosen you for an audit
My sweet so and so, I am not returning…
Only connect! My ring finally decoded something
After all these years, the code comes clear:
I sit in Lee’s mail-order forest
And write my heart…
How marvelous! To see the forest For the trees.
Sweetness and Light
In the beginning
I remember honey poured over
Strange looking characters,
Odd black marks
On crisp white paper—
And we were told to bend down close,
And to lick what we liked,
The sweet sense of meaning—
An eye now
A new sensation.
Could this be called reading—
Reading as the ancient Hebrews read,
Knowing nothing, candle clear,
A world of aleph and bet,
From the bees—
A true beginning?
How to name this?
I do not know.
But the word still lives on the tip of my tongue.
We All Ask Death to Drop Dead
In the pages of the New York Times,
The paper of record—
(Believe it, you can believe it; you must believe it)
The names rattle on—all the names that are fit to print—
Peter Orlovsky, Louise Bourgeois, Dennis
Hopper, Sigmar Polke—
Death at 24/7, to put an end to it all.
My father, riddled with cancer, groaned:
“They’re dropping like flies.” (I dreamed of flypaper.)
In a workroom, in a shop, in a studio,
A poet, a painter, a sculptor,
Picks up his brush, her hammer,
Draws a ring around Death—
Not so goddamned fast, Mr. D—
My blowtorch against your scythe,
My pencil versus your bloody
An aesthetic showdown
At forty paces.
My seconds will call your seconds.
What if it actually worked?
What if this were not a poem,
And death himself doubled over
In despair? What if my shot rang true?
What if he found not one more victim?
What then of our mettle,
Of the sculptor’s metal?
What then of cadmium and cerulean and cyane?
Would they burn less bright?
Would the steel still stand so tall?
What of fame? And of things that endure
Past our time?
We breathe in time because of time,
In the face of certain death, we embrace
And hold on so much harder,
With so much more strength. We kiss off death.
The soul secretly laughs.
And sometimes, in brief moments,
We catch the joke.
Sometimes, we can even understand the punch line.
When the bills come in the mail,
Pile up on the little tile table
In the lobby,
Fall through the mail slot,
Sail in and over the transom;
Bills that pile up on every flat surface,
Tables, chairs, bits of
Once uncluttered floor;
Bills from PGE, PEP, YMCA, LA Fitness,
The Police Department, the Library,
From The Nation, Harper’s, New Yorker,
Blue Cross, Red Cross, Hot Cross,
Amex, Visa, Master and
From restaurants, gas stations, bakeries,
The Goodwill, landlords, State
Tax Boards, Excise Boards,
My God—that’s all there is, bills.
An occasional wedding invitation or two,
But overwhelmingly, 99 percent of the mail
And I love every one of them,
I kiss and finger each envelope,
I love love love United States
And foreign bills.
At least that’s what Louise Hay says
I should do. If I want to heal my life, I have to kiss
Thank God I have bills.
Thank God I can first put them in
Promising myself and telling The Good Lord,
No more fucking late fees!
I love debt.
I love bills.
I want more and more bills.
I welcome them.
I make them feel at home in my home.
I love the fact that I can still breathe
And say out loud
Something so healing and something so absurd:
I LOVE MY BILLS!!!!
Because it means that
I am still sentient.