portion of the artwork for Rusty Barnes' poetry

Rusty Barnes’s Comments

These recent poems come from the internal struggle between truth, which is so attractive, and lies which are so prevalent. These poems confuse the two, sometimes deliberately and sometimes because my memory for anything other than phone numbers is suspect. My grandmother’s phone number is 717-537-2310. Why do I remember this, you ask? I watched her die 38 years ago this October 6th and if I dial that number once or twice a year, as I do, expecting to hear her, expecting to tell her that of all things, her grandson has become someone who lies for a living, I’m not sure what she’d say, which saddens me, because I want to tell the truth in these poems. But I have to lie to protect the innocent and the guilty both. Except for me. I can embarrass and harass and tell ugly things about myself. In fact, I prefer to.

So in some of these poems, I tell the truth, for example, about antipsychotic drugs. I invoke the Croatian poet Kresimir Bagic by taking the most boring line from the most boring poem I could find of his, and riffing on it while in the midst of a really scary psychotic episode. Which was difficult, the riffing, that is, because Bagic is a magnificently interesting poet, in what little I’ve been able to find, and I had to fuzzle my way around in his poem like a blind and deaf man before I could find a way out.

In others of these poems, I lie. I spent a lot of time in the Combat Zone in Boston in the early to mid-’90s, when the pressure of the seedier sections of strip clubs and hookers was giving way to hotels and colleges like Tufts and Emerson. The resulting tangle of drug dealers and hookers and porn shops, to me, who had grown up in the smallest of small towns, was where literature and life would be found. I was young then and I loved Lou Reed. Still, I was a grown-ass man and had no excuse, as I felt even then I was betraying somehow the woman I am still with 28 years later, but I tucked that money into the stripper’s G-string anyway, and howled in delight. And the excuse is, I was horny. Right?

I’ve changed all the details, except maybe how sweaty and uncomfortable I was, to get at the basic truth, which was that I was, I feel, taking advantage of my own naiveté to provide myself with material, because I wasn’t confident enough that the things I had lived through by then, small town life, watching someone die, hunting, fishing, hiking, discovering sex, I could make literature from. So I looked for them in a G-string, and I suppose there are worse places, but even writing that makes me feel stupid, and ill-at-ease for the man I was, and even for the man I am now. I mean, I still remember my dead grandmother’s phone number. I call it. I expect an answer.

I have written about many things over the last 30 years, but I don’t think anything I’ve ever written has caused me the anguish that my recent work has caused me. I have so much to talk about I’m never going to live long enough to get it down.

Fried Chicken and Coffee

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 53 | Spring/Summer 2019