Rusty Barnes is a rugged and honest poet. He is a student of Frank Stanford and Larry Brown. His language is pure Americana, deeply entrenched in the everyday, in family and in place. The poems in Jesus in the Ghost Room, pay homage to memory, and are an ode to his late father, but with lines such as “Oh Father / I wish I could invoke your smell, / the way your cigarette ashed onto / the sick-filled carpet on the edge / of what we could readily say,” it is clear, that this collection is about salvation, an epic prayer for the human spirit and for an increasingly tumultuous world. Even when the poem is about pissing out a fire, Barnes raises his voice to what could only be a Higher Power: “Long live the resin- / filled pine and the twigs I used for tinder.” Rusty’s poems are like the man himself, large and gentle. He’s a man who loves his family, especially his wife and four children. He’s the type of man who, within his own quietness shakes his head and wonders how he ever became so lucky, and a man who doesn’t take his luck for granted, but within poems gives thanks and praise. — Joshua Michael Stewart, author of Break Every String
Excerpts from Jesus in the Ghost Room
Sky red as sunburn,
the garden blooming lush.
I’ve been chucking rocks
out of it all day long, mom
digging out potatoes with
her bare hands. Dad comes
home from work hands
still greasy, cigarette packs
rolled into both sleeves like
epaulets. He picks up
the potato and tells me
to wash it off in the crick.
I do, and he cuts off half
and gives it to me with
a salt packet from Mickey D’s.
He shakes the salt on the raw
potato and tells me to bite
into it like an apple. The sun
is just there through the trees
and the wind picks up a little
as it flutters through the garden
like a hummingbird. The taste
is dirt and a little bit of grease
and that wonderful salt which
now leaks out of my eyes.
My father stood tall in his Dickies
and khakis, holding his hands
behind his back as if at rest when
I knew at once he would not rest
until I was through, his cigarette
twitching the ash from his fingers
like a reverse Ash Wednesday.
I was asking his boss for free fill
in order to build the baseball
field that served as my Eagle
Scout badge project. Every smirk
and smart remark the man had
ever made to him must have
kept him livid inside but still like
a proud man he kept his counsel
and I got my dirt. How it must
have galled him to let me do this
but it was important for me to see
the more than occasional pride
that must conflict with the love
one gives to a child that probably
doesn’t deserve it but gets anyway.
Jesus in the Ghost Room Talks with the Father
Jesus fills the cancer room with stuttering
ghosts. It’s something about salvation;
if you don’t achieve it you can never speak
afterward so all these spirits float around
and manifest themselves as balls of light
or knocking doors or the cold feeling you
get in a room empty of light and singing.
The people alive in the interferon glow of
chemo have much the same problem. They get
tired and go to sleep in their son’s bedrooms
while the whirling stars of immanent chaos
warm their bodies with heat generated from
the nearby coppiced souls. Let’s not kid
ourselves. The things you say here don’t
matter a bit. God in his eminence gave you
Jesus to serve as middleman and it’s been
two thousand years of terror and failure. The idea
of God – forgive me father – brings me only pain.
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Rusty Barnes grew up in rural Appalachia but has lived in East Boston and Revere, MA for the past twenty years with his wife, poet Heather Sullivan, and their family. He’s published his work in more than two hundred journals and anthologies. His poetry chapbooks include Redneck Poems and Broke, and his full-length poetry collection, I Am Not Ariel, appeared in 2013. His latest novel is Knuckledragger. On Broad Sound, Nixes Mate’s first book, was published in 2016.
Copyright © 2017 Rusty Barnes
Cover photograph from the collection of Lauren Leja
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review or scholarly journal.
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