Sarah Barber

Interesting Acrylic

Even the ebay listing frames it
as a problem painting, this Winter’s Tale
signed, in good condition, dated
Feb. 1975. Beside his name
my uncle—dead these forty years—
had written 322 Oak Circle,
Wilmette, his address, which is how
I knew it was his. It sold
a month ago for 24.99. Of course
it breaks your heart, outsider art,
but this is different from all
the landscapes our great-grandmothers
painted. It might be the bear
before whom the man in red
cravat and red-black jacket—
is it velvet? double-breasted? I count
three coin-buttons, gold—exits
as if pursued by what might not be
a bear at all, not furred or faced
but sure a headed shape
on which the sun though visibly
behind them casts both shade
and golden glaze along the flank
of what increasingly I’m sure was heavy-
footed and unsteady: that charming
manic marriage, and they were broke
though he was regionally
collected. Of course it breaks,
the fever of a king who’s all but
killed his wife and child—
but this is not a play. In the far
background, blue mountains.
In the near, a purple house
with deeper-purple roof, teal pines.
Its shadow—so it must be sunset—
drips, mauve-pink, away
into the middle distance of a field
pale as corn or wheat or sand:
and how is he running through it,
this fat-chinned balding man
whose hand limps toward his heart
as if he feels it break?


Originally from St. Louis, MO, Sarah Barber now lives in rural upstate New York. Barber holds an MFA from the University of Virginia and a PhD from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Since 2010, she has taught at St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY where she is Associate Professor of English. Her poems have appeared in journals such as New Ohio Review, Columbia Poetry Review, Crazyhorse, and Poetry. She is author of two collections: Country House, winner of the 2017 Pleiades Press Editors Prize for Poetry; and The Kissing Party, published in 2010 by the National Poetry Review Press.