Three Poems by David Barber

Nightingale Floor

In the innermost room
Within the inner sanctum
Of nesting planes and turns,
An ingenious means
Of making enemies known:

In each hewn inch, in between
Each unseen seam in the grain
Where nails were driven home,
A nightingale singing in
Piercing strains, slipping in

And out of tune each time
A step is taken that can
Be mistaken for meaning harm,
And then a thousand and one
Of its kind joining in . . .

Or instead you can begin
To turn your own thin skin
Inside out until you’re the one
On the outside looking in

As you sound the alarm—
No asylum but the one known
To a lone sparrow blown in then
Out of a banquet hall from gloom
To gloom in a vision, that
Bright instant in between.


Big house little house back house barn
A farmhouse a homestead a little song

Form and function one and the same
One roofline one compound home sweet dung

Downhome vernacular rambling on
Going in one ear and out the other end

Sing it from the rooftops style is the man
Big house little house back house barn

A room is a frame is a scheme is a charm
Bless the hardscrabble we hunker down on

Round and around crack of noon stroke of dawn
An old children’s playtune a homespun sound

One by one going going going gone
Big house little house back house barn

Blue Man Song

Diagnosis: Argyria
Cause of death: Pneumonia
Bellevue Hospital 1923

All I can tell you is what I told you before.
It’s getting to where I can barely get air.
My heart keeps pounding like I’m a locked door.
I don’t know how much more I can bear.
But whatever I’ve got, it’s got nothing to do
With the shade of my hide. I was born this blue.

Call me a freak, but I know what I know.
It must be something else that’s laid me low.
I’ve always been tall, I’ve always been thin,
I’ve always been the bluest of men.
Blue tongue, blue lips, toes and fingers all blue,
And the whites of my eyes—see, they’re blue too.

Didn’t you know the circus was in town?
Haven’t you heard about Barnum’s Blue Man?
Now that you’ve got me stretched out and stripped down,
Can’t you see that I’m blue to the bone?
You must not know who you’re talking to
If you’re saying I’m dying to be blue.

All my pals told me, up there in Bellevue
They’ll know what to do, or nobody will.
But I’m starting to think you don’t have a clue
How to heal a fellow who feels like hell.
Whatever I’ve caught, it’s got nothing to do
With my ballyhooed hue. I’ve always been blue.

Go ahead, take it all down one more time.
No, I’ve never set foot in an old silver mine.
No, I’m not some kind of a darkroom bum.
No, I’ve never gulped down one bullet or coin.
No, no, no, it’s just like I’ve been telling you:
When my maker made me, he made me true blue.

I don’t have a thing to get off my chest.
I was a blue babe at my mother’s breast.
I grew up blue, and until I drop dead
Being blue is how I’ll make my bread.
They say even my shadow throws a blue glow,
Somewhere between azure and indigo.

Since when is being so blue such a sin?
Out on the Midway, I’ve blended right in.
There’s Rubber Man and there’s the Wild Man,
And me in between, serene in my skin.
It must be the pox or some foul ague
That’s got me in knots right out of the blue.

I must have heard every sick joke in the book
About blue ruin, blue moons, and blue balls.
I’ve been called an apeman, a spade, a spook,
And told to bunk down in stables and stalls.
But it’s a new one on me to be told to rue
The dark day I knew I had to be blue.

I’ve crisscrossed the country from sea to sea,
Staking my claim on this peerless blue sheen.
Way out West, I make the bluebirds turn green.
In Texas bluebonnets look daggers at me.
In Dixie the bluesmen give me my due
By riffing on how I got so black and blue.

If you say this is it, if the end is near,
I’ll sign whatever you want me to sign.
You can crack me open and lay me bare,
You can pickle my parts to see if they shine.
Do with me whatever you want to do
So long as you don’t rule I was too blue.

I’m fading fast now, but you’ve got to see—
If I wasn’t blue, I wouldn’t be me.
I’ve always been long, I’ve always been lean,
When I dream I dream in aquamarine.
Believe me, I’m one of the happy few
Who doesn’t need a strange brew to be blue.

I don’t know what to say to docs like you
Who see red when they see a man who’s blue.
I know how it looks, but I tell you it’s true:
There was never a day I wasn’t blue.
Before my last gasp, look and see how blue
A man gets to be when he’s got to be blue.