“…Barnes, who died in 2000, at the age of sixty-eight, seems to have written a poem only when he had something to say. The occasions are mostly personal and local, the personal being, often, skirmishes and truces in the war between men and women, and the local being the “other” Southern California—the mountains and the desert east of Los Angeles. This is where Barnes grew up, and where he spent his career, teaching at Pomona College.
His poems are lightly spiced with mysticism, though mysticism in the way of the Beats—an honest man’s recognition that the world is a little weird. What makes them extraordinary is something else: the naturalness of the voice, a vocabulary and a tone so “spoken” that the minute you finish a poem you want to read it again, just to see how he did it.” —New Yorker
Within the immense circle of the horizon
only the two of us on two legs
that didn’t have feathers on. Hello,
horned lark. Hello, loggerhead shrike.
Hello, dove-sized bird with black fan-tail
fluttering along the ground, a jackrabbit
would jump as high. And for the vast
absence of our own species,
thanks, thanks, thanks. Not that you
didn’t dig the mines and make this road
to them; but it’s your absence
today that earns my gratitude. Thanks too
for the monument and bronze tablet
marking where Ragtown was, and the railroad
down the hill to Ludlow, so I can rejoice
that it’s already all disappeared
with hardly a trace. Thank you sky
for speaking only after lightning. Hello, jackrabbit,
hello groundsquirrel, good luck raven,
I never saw you hover like that.
Thank you, rain, for flavoring our jaunt
with a hint of danger, and for the splashy mist
when you lashed the desert hills
hard wrought to show what you
can do when you mean business.
Thank you, other two-legged bare featherless creature,
for sharing the jagged horizon of my life.
Thank you, rainbow over the East Mojave
low to the ground, so early in the afternoon:
thank you for being there with us.
December 22 1987 Earth First!