July 17, 2015

Ekphrastic Challenge, June 2015: Artist’s Choice


Photograph by Alisa Golden

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Justin Barisich


The plump, elderly woman beside me
sleeps with chin to her distended chest.
She rouses from a road bump,
spots me reading a book of poems,
and assumes me to be educated.

She asks me to help her spell “shepherd”
for the bible verse she’s looking up on her smartphone.
After three tries, we finally get it right,
and with the fine letters of the good word
arranged properly once again,
she’s back to letting herself
be herded by the good lord.

We make a brief stop
to exchange westward passengers.
A man squatting on the bench
flicks his half-smoked cigarette at me,
the orange butt kicking my shoe
instead of searing my aimed-for shin.

I refrain from questioning,
having learned from hands both first and second
of the baggage we all carry—
that his might be loaded
with something I don’t know how to unpack.

The bus rarely undergoes a shortage of characters,
but if it can take almost any with reservation
and all without judgment,
then who am I to do any different.

Ekphrastic Challenge, June 2015
Artist’s Choice Winner

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Comment from the artist, Alisa Golden, on her selection: “I walked by this scene in downtown Boston, and after five blocks I was drawn back to take the picture. The lines, colors, and shapes struck me, but so too did the strangeness. I had many questions. I hoped that I would find a poem to populate the bench and compel me to return to it, this time for words and answers. ‘People of the Megabus’ drew me back to linger. Guided by the writer’s empathy and good humor, I was able to stop, settle in, and to contemplate the characters in the complex, vivid scene. The collaboration with a stranger reminded me of familiar human failure; the flicking of the cigarette butt was that anonymous insult we’ve all felt at one time or another. The writer also captured the moment when we realize that a person doesn’t really know us. Perhaps that’s the answer: We often feel like that skewed sign—able to be read but with parts hidden or misinterpreted, the picture only partial. With the narrator’s understanding ‘of the baggage we all carry,’ the writer played with words and touched my heart. A contemplative present to carry away.” (website)

For more on Justin Barisich, visit his website.

Note: This poem has been published exclusively online as part of our monthly Ekphrastic Challenge, in which we ask poets to respond to an image provided by a selected artist. This June, the image was a photograph by Alisa Golden. We received 141 entries, and the artist and Rattle‘s editor each chose their favorite. Timothy Green’s choice was posted the subsequent Friday. For more information on the Ekphrastic Challenge visit its page. See other poets’ responses or post your own by joining our Facebook group.

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