The Last Green Barn in Wisconsin

As we go back to the see the doctor for the third time
In as many weeks, you sit like prayer and stare, a passive
Receptor of scenery floating through glassy green eyes
Mild and meditative behind stylishly dark sunglasses,
The thousand shocks of reality swallowed within
The opaque midnight of their lenses.
You are not you,
Nor have you been for a while now. Your health hinges
On textbook facts and medical bills; these, your doctrine
And liturgy (alcohol, my sacrament) to pass the day.

The weather could not make up its mind either,
Exchanging fat snowflakes for an insipid spit of sleet
All frenzied in the whipping wake of a tractor trailer.
You flip up your sunglasses, like a knight’s visor,
Or a comic book vamp who knows her own powers…
You pull impulsively at your tissue-stuffed purse
For an empty pill-bottle, the minutiae of its prescription,
The warnings and administrations in colorful tabs
The secret source, hidden identity, undeciphered cypher.
Your lips consult words with crisp sounds, each consonant
A tack or hook on which to hang your strict schedules
Of medicines, analyst’s appointments and break-downs,
An Aztec calendar of what once was and isn’t now,
The sacrifices still warm but not so full of blood.
Your piety flutters and you scan down the labels’ arcana
Like a nun approaching the perfect barbituate of devotion,
But your breath strains, failing to fulfill the promise
Of each mumbled verb.

The windshield’s eye wells up, foggy.
The heater broke last winter, the defrost before that.
The source is a hard ghost, a something menacing
In the car’s innards, beyond reach of tool or mind,
A mysterious working which echoes fortitude’s trial
As I towel down the window with my hankerchief,
You hit radio buttons like scales on a grand piano;
Countered by monotonous beats of the dancing wipers
Rejoicing in the road-spray of a tractor-trailer
And grunt across the glass under the dryness of an overpass.

Impatient with Top-40 and talk that has no meaning
You kill the radio with a savage twist of the knob;
It is nothing music can sustain, or news can tell.
But weather is fine, as you like it, rainy, grey and cold,
Encouraging further layers against the world and self.

We pass a clearing beside the highway, more empty lot
Than open field, where workmen stand around,
Stomping and clapping, cradling thermos cups to keep warm,
Smoking cigarettes with sullen, mountainous expressions.
Lack of determined movement before earth-movers
And dozers parked in marshal rows say the job is done.
The men are looking at small depressions of rubble and dirt.
In a second, the scene will be gone from sight, but time
Allows the fullness of the moment to unfold —
As at a graveside, they look for what might remain behind,
In case that, too, should be buried along with the corpse,
Whoever’s it was.
We are driving now for the nth time
Back to re-diagnose the x and y of your mind,
A given unforeseen until now by you, and therefore, you claim,
Unforgivable until now by me.
‘Why are you crying?’
I ask, stripping the old paint of sympathy from my voice.
Exposing the weathered flatness of habitual disinterest
To passive restraint.
Expecting the answer even before
You open your mouth, or an intruding tongue depressor
Opens it for you, I put some speed between us as we come
To curve a bend of highway, a curative of its own
For my patience.
‘Why are you crying?’ I repeat, louder,
Purposely, too casually. No immediate answer, but mute you sit
As if cantering your thoughts across stubble fields,
Confirmed in a perfect place to plant facts and bury lies.

‘They just took down the last green barn in Wisconsin…’
You explain, unexplainably, to the windscreen, trembling voice
Establishing a challenge to the specks of fly-dirt smashed
And soggy, disintegrating against the bluish window.
You pull your thin legs and thinner arms in tighter
Around you and weep in small, discreet quantities;
Intervals allow you to say , “It was a good old barn,
Well built, full of aging show ponies. Not the kind you see ,
The kind being favored anymore.”
You know this, you say,
Because you saw them one day being loaded on a trailer
For Jenk’s slaughter house.
Through melted make-up
The stigmatic rust-stains of mascara, the pulped
Gash of lip-stick put upon a smothered, glacial smile,
You apologize half-heartedly. The other part are still sore,
Still holding out for soothing alms, accommodation.

Suddenly, you flip the mirror down and recompose.
You dab the wounds which once were eyes with tissue scraps.
Again, silence is waiting for me to build you a question
One on which to hang excuses.

“Crazy pills,” you say
With the strength of accusation pardoned by eloquence,
Dismissing your own stridency with breathless hate.
“Damn crazy pills — I can’t tell whether doctors tell me
To take them so I’ll be the one saying I am taking them,
Or so I’ll be the one saying they tell me to take them.”

A forced laugh clutches at my own silent refusal to reply.

“The pills make my body cry,” you say. “But I try…”
And you do try — but doubled over in sheer exhaustion
From the pain, your mind cannot.

There was such absolution in sleep, once our grace,
The perfect pause.
In the darkly held space of night emanating
And expanding infinitely between us,
Your cry was hopeless
And mine would ache with loss akin to paradise.

Driving home, we pass places where you laid down
This past morning’s claims to truth, in urgent crush,
Hard and light, a yearling fawn’s bedding summer grass.

Where was that last green barn in all of Wisconsin?
You pull your purse like a baby up to your small breasts,
The new plastic bottle of pills tucked safely inside.

The windshield begins to blur again; you lean your head
Against the shatter-proof glass. Your tired eyes close
With the green of barns collapsing in them. Sleep returns.

Slipping gently behind your mind in a strong embrace,
It comes to you for the first time in days. With a last ounce
Of strength, you declare surrender’s forgetful whisper:

“Make the ponies go; I hear them cry, but make them go…”


  1. Churchill says

    There might be a serious point behind this, but at the risk of offending a new writer, which I doubt, I can’t read it!

  2. Churchill says

    please get rid of last comment which is heartier than my mood

  3. Churchill says

    Please delete last two comments.

    This time you are satirising me. Perhaps you always were!

  4. Quin Finnegan says

    Okay, I guess I have to do Churchill’s job, since she doesn’t seem to be up to it herself.

    Who painted the picture?

  5. Quin Finnegan says

    And who painted the barn in the picture?

    • Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

      One evening, when I should have been grading papers, I got lost in Camden and wandered into an exhibition of landscapes by a Lithuanian painter. Some people mistook me for her, and I didn’t correct them, I just smiled and nodded, and though it was funny at first, I was terrified during the bus ride home.

    • Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

      The landscapes were ugly, though the compositions were good. There weren’t any green barns.

    • Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

      Also, the artist was Latvian, not Lithuanian. But you knew that all along.

  6. Quin Finnegan says

    Green, it must be said, is also the color of envy. Envy that I couldn’t write such a beautiful poem.

  7. Quin Finnegan says

    Best lines:

    “‘Why are you crying?’
    I ask, stripping the old paint of sympathy from my voice.
    Exposing the weathered flatness of habitual disinterest
    To passive restraint.”

    Especially the rhyme of “paint” and “restraint”, which I hadn’t noticed until now.

    Or maybe: “Damn crazy pills — I can’t tell whether doctors tell me
    To take them so I’ll be the one saying I am taking them,
    Or so I’ll be the one saying they tell me to take them.”

  8. Churchill says

    It’s a terrible poem [unless it was written by a newcomer], but in Dappled Things the poems are good but the stories too satirical.

  9. Cubeland Mystic says


    I read this on Sunday, but pressed for time. Both the poem and the painting need deep consideration. Always a good job. Soon we are going to need a Norton’s Anthology for your work. You really need to get this stuff in a book.

  10. the Duffer says

    Loved it.

  11. Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

    It’s a story boiled down and concentrated — one that’s much too easy to recognize from first- or secondhand experience. Just enough loveliness to make the pain palatable.

    • Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

      By saying, ‘much too easy to recognize…’, I meant to criticize illness in real life, not your apt and artful description of it in this poem.

  12. Thanks, all – even you, Churchill (and, no, I’m afraid I’m not a newcomer, or at least only relatively speaking).

    To paraphrase Wilde, ’tis better to be read than not read…

    It’s an oldie but a goodie, Churchill, and may be the reason why your superfine antennae have picked up on the flaws…

    But if you can, do spell out what you see as so poor in delivery/craft that I may attend the patient properly.


  13. Jonathan Webb says

    Fine poem, but why doesn’t the blog have more cheerful, homey poems in the style of Edgar Guest or something. And what about those humorous stories about Lake Wobegon, or true adventure stories like “Shark Attack!” or “Grizzly Attack!”. What about a story about a plucky recovering war veteren. We could publish some ads for The Franklin Mint and Publisher’s Clearing House.

  14. Matthew Lickona says

    In through the alcove’s wall of windows,
    The light become a translation of rainbows.
    A throat cleared, the table cleared of lunch.
    I hum a snatch of something from childhood.
    It’s almost a prayer…
    The light from the lake conspired with my joy.

  15. Jonathan Webb says

    That is quite a fine painting.

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