A Way of Being

By Barbara Guest 1920–2006 Barbara Guest
There we go in cars, did you guess we wore sandals?   
Carrying the till, memorizing its numbers,   
apt at the essential such as rearranging   
languages. They occur from route to route   
like savages who wear shells.

“I cannot place him.” Yet I do.
He must ascend indefinitely as airs
he must regard his image as plastic,
adhering to the easeful carpet that needs   
footprints and cares for them
as is their wont in houses, the ones we pass by.

Such a day/or such a night   
reeling from cabin to cabin
looking at the cakewalk or merely dancing.
These adventures in broad/or slim

                                     Yet the cars
do not cheat, even their colors perform in storm.   
We never feel the scratch, they do.
When lightning strikes it’s safer to ride
on rubber going down a mountain,
safer than trees, or sand, more preventive   
to be hid in a cloud we sing, remembering

The old manse and robins. One tear,
a salty one knowing we have escaped
the charm of being native. Even as your glance   
through the windshield tells me you’ve seen   
another mishap of nature

                                     you would willingly forget,   
prefer to be like him near the hearth
where woodsmoke makes a screen of numbers and signs   
where the bedstead it’s not so foreign as this lake.

                                     The plateau, excursionist,
is ahead. After that twenty volumes   
of farmland. Then I must guide us
to the wood garage someone has whitened   
where the light enters through one window   
like a novel. You must peer at it   
without weakening, without feeling   
hero, or heroine,

                                     Understanding the distances   
between characters, their wakeful
or sleep searchingness, as far from the twilight ring   
the slow sunset, the quick dark.

Barbara Guest, “A Way of Being” from Selected Poems (Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Press, 1995). Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Source: Selected Poems (Sun & Moon Press, 1995)

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Poet Barbara Guest 1920–2006

SCHOOL / PERIOD New York School

Subjects Travels & Journeys, Activities

 Barbara  Guest


Barbara Guest rose to prominence in the late 1950s as a member of an informal group of writers known as the New York school of poets whose membership included Frank O'Hara, John Ashbery, and James Schuyler. Their innovative approach to poetry was influenced by modern art, especially surrealism and abstract expressionism. Guest drew on her own background in art (she worked for Art News magazine in the 1950s) to create poetry . . .

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SUBJECT Travels & Journeys, Activities

SCHOOL / PERIOD New York School

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