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From the archives

The Trust Spiral

Restoring faith in the media

Dear Prudence

A life of exuberance and eccentricity

Who’s Afraid of Alice Munro?

A long-awaited biography gives the facts, but not the mystery, behind this writer’s genius

Festus, Hansel & Grendel




Live music

from a storm window


What gardens, these?

What Victorian mansions?


Past a memory

of Saint Paul dying

in John Doull’s Bookstore


What City is this what street river square?

What plan?


A seagull gorges on a starfish

beside the casino funhouse

arching its mouth

its neck full

of chronicles

of harbour


idiotic laughter drifts

from inside


Lo, the Citadel a skull,

a ship carrying us


away from dreams


us beggars

us Lebanese falafel vendors

us charlatans

us strung-out mothers

us parricides


treading lightly

where once were landmines

hearing the steady heart-

beat of the good Town Clock

east side of our hill

Golgotha of the Maritimes


I stand

at the City’s highest point

locked out



Then came all the troglodyte tribes of Supernova Scotia

to festoon’d Festus, digressive descendent

o’ George Dunk (videlicet, Lord Halifax,

sponsor to Edward Cornwallis,


— spake they,

“Behold, O Festus,

we are thy bone & thy flesh!”


“Nay!” saith Festus mallslayer.

“My bone & flesh are memory.”


The populous howled:

“In this apogee of the age of Festus

have we taken refuge in you,

our captain, as streams of water

gushed from the sun & moon,

as Park Lane married a streetlight,

fertilizing the void with kinescopic sight,

as inconceivable tattoos unfolded

in the sky over Bayer’s Lake. Now,

again, lead us across this fog of memory!

Protect us & help us & feed us!

Where have the cows gone, our cattle

that once grazed on Citadel Hill?”


Festus bullshithater

made this answer —


Zealots, I am as scared as you, blown

by the wind of the poem

to the backside of a river,



on the night

of a new constellation

— so familiar

but I don’t know what it means.

When, zealots,

you set out on my journey, a caveat:

your heart is an amulet you carry

through the forest of memory.

Hold the amulet to your naked chest

or the trees will show themselves to be devils

& the owls on their branches

will speak your dossier to them.


Do not trade your amulet for gold

or love or hamburgers. Close your eyes —

see how it glitters?


John Wall Barger’s third book of poems, The Book of Festus (Palimpsest Press), was a finalist for the 2016 J.M. Abraham Poetry Award. Work appears in American Poetry Review, Rattle, The Cincinnati Review, Poetry Ireland Review, and Best of the Best Canadian Poetry. His poem, “Smog Mother,” was co-winner of the Malahat Review’s 2017 Long Poem Prize. He is currently living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and is on the editorial board at Painted Bride Quarterly.