Another Barbara by Penny Arcade


Howl! Happening is pleased to present a poem by Penny Arcade as part of Petrarch in Love, an evening to celebrate Spring and honor the April 6, 1327 meeting of Italian poet Petrarch and his beloved muse Laura. Featuring Penny Arcade, Anthony Haden-Guest, Nemo Librizzi, and Ilka Scobie. With Video Projections by Luigi Cazzaniga.


Another Barbara


Walking in the kitchen,

the terrace doors

are locked

against the sun

against the gypsies

The bowls of dried fruit, the cranberries, the candied ginger,

the apricots and raw cashews

arose suddenly

a din in their bowls

I distracted, then focused

 looked around

It seemed a greeting, trumpet to attention

Then I felt a slight girlish presence,

and I apologized wordlessly,

because while I had considered her

I had never really thought of her

A giddiness rose in the air between her and I

just momentary,

the crack between the other world and this

wordless though dense with information

It is definite even I,

 a stranger

Late to the party by decades know

That you will never find Barbara again.


You come to my bed

Giddy, childlike and open in the morning

I am shrouded in aloneness from the night before

when you like the Prince in East of The Sun and West of The Moon,

who at night turned into a wolf or bear,

retreated to your room

wordless and heavy, 

to be alone with yourself


I cannot send you away when you come to me

The woman in me must receive you

must comfort you

must give you what you silently require

eventually when you have had enough

the toe dip into the water of intimacy

You leave

You do not want to go further and I say nothing.

Sometimes you kiss my mouth hello or goodbye and I let you

Just as I see you kiss the mouths of everyone you know

I do not receive your kiss indifferently

Yet to turn you away would hurt you and I know that

You say “This is hard for me” and 

“You don’t know how hard this is for me”

Because I am sensitive this takes a toll on me

I am open

permeable to you 

I cannot close to you

That is the way it is.

When you say again

“I met her four times in the same day”

It bursts out of me

I say it laughing but I mean it deadly serious

“Yes, Yes,” I say, “I know!

Four times in the same day!”

what I don’t say is:

Between your children and your dead wife

there is no room for anyone else.


This is what the wraith said to me in silence

“Don’t give up on him”

And then

“I don’t like being used as an excuse”


I told you expecting to be scoffed at

instead all you said was:

“Barbara can be meddlesome”


What ever lies between you and I is a leap

I don’t know if I want to make it either

My role as the submissive female

Might be  fun during sex

but there is no sex, there is only submission

Sometimes I rail against this role

What you call hostile is the storm you set off in me

across those rocky waters

I fail to communicate across the gulf

between us

You call me from the other room

after telling me that I am brutal, unkind

head down, hurting and mute

I am unable to express what is so complex

and includes among other things

a woman who died 20 years ago

who bore you two children.

You call and I come

grudgingly, but I come

bloated with tears that

don’t , can’t fall.

(mad with tears)

You anoint me with 15 essential oils

(or more)

I can only manage a weak:

‘So you annoint people you think treat you with hostility?”

 It is my attempt to show you that you are wrong about me, 

wrong about my motivation.

You kiss me

And I am hungry for that kiss

Yet you are holding back

or have no interest

or little interest

I can’t tell

And while it feels sad

I take what joy I find there

Later I say

“I liked kissing you “

And you reply

“It wasn’t much of a kiss.”


Take this poem to your therapist

It could save you a lot of money

Maybe you do not know

that there are different kinds of hostility,

different kinds of brutality

Maybe you are unaware of yours towards me.

I am sorry I make you want to be more open

or make you to want to change your life

Sorry I make you want to open closed doors in your heart.

The tears stand in my eyes

I know that I have created this painful relationship

that promises joy and fun and completion

but delivers only resentment

and drips and drabs of sweetness

I know what a psychiatrist would say:

“Why do you allow this?

These are his problems”

You say

“This is hard for me”

That is not love

Love is easy

It is easy to love.


Penny Arcade 2011