Poem of the Week | January 11, 2016

This week we offer a new poem by Charlie Bondhus. Bondhus’s second poetry book, All the Heat We Could Carry, won the 2013 Main Street Rag Award and the 2014 Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry. His first book, How the Boy Might See It, was reissued in fall 2015 in a revised, expanded edition from Jane’s Boy Press. His work appears in numerous journals, including Poetry, The Bellevue Literary Review, Copper Nickel, The Gay & Lesbian Review, CounterPunch, The Alabama Literary Review, and Midwest Quarterly. He is assistant professor of English at Raritan Valley Community College (NJ) and is the poetry editor at The Good Men Project.
Author’s note:

“The Red Barberry” came to me while I was, appropriately enough, watering the red barberry bushes in our front yard. Since we’d bought those bushes, I’d been thinking that there was something pleasing about the sounds that make up the name—the trilling r’s combine appealingly with the plosive b’s in the middle and the long e sound at the end. I had also been thinking about the odd declarativeness of plant names as poem titles—Louise Glück’s “The Mock Orange” for example, or Jane Hirshfield’s “Flowering Vetch”—and wanted to use similar materials to achieve different ends.
In terms of content, the poem ended up being a look at my weird, fluid relationship to my gender; sometimes I feel like a man; other times I feel like… something else. Hopefully, I’ve captured the tensions (and the joys) that come with owning a queer identity.


The Red Barberry


When you left me, I was tending
the red barberries


which bordered
the neighbor’s property


in an uneven row, like my two
bodies, the future one having


found ways to occupy roughly
the same space as my present,


so when you looked
at me, I was blurry,


flickering, a double
image, something resembling


a man, but
hybrid. This was further complicated


by my semi-transparency—
something to do with future


and present selves occurring
in the same temporality—


so it became difficult to tell
me from me from barberry,


my three-and-a-half legs red
and sharp, my belly a burning


bush, my hips like sticks. You said
you could never love


a half-man and I said you
could never deal with red barberry


because it attracts ticks
and increases soil acidity


and has been identified
by the Council on Plant Hybridity


as an evasive species.