Poetry Archive



A Flame on the Spanish Stairs :
John Keats in Rome

Douglas Barbour

I know now I always wanted to write, to
find a way to release the dreams
that spelled desire onto the page
I loved letters from the first for what they
cannot hide — their own palimpsests they
exist in multiple layers of time
without even thinking about it that is what
poetry means to me now          &
without desire nothing's written but     death
eternal to keep us apart.    Oh, there must be
poetry to remember beauty by     & for me at least
half that beauty is your body    flush with
the soul within      but never mine to hold
day or night you are but imagination's grace

at least that's how it seems       coughing the
last of my breath redly out in
the backstreets of Rome         then the very
idea that we could have shared our bodies
has an air of desperate folly      I have
grown much worse lately          & I dream
so much of you          yet I grow
monstrously weak       only my imagination soars
beyond the mundane details of
my slowly approaching death        all is a
seeming        & there you glow        the
power of your body, your eyes & smile
of welcome once       now lost to all
attainment     —      only my heart still wishes



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Douglas Barbour is a professor in the Department of English, University of Alberta, where he teaches creative writing, modern poetry, Canadian Literature, and science fiction and fantasy. His critical books include studies of poets Daphne Marlatt, John Newlove, and bpNichol (all ECW Press 1992), and Michael Ondaatje (Twayne 1993). Volumes of poetry include Visible Visions: Selected Poems (NeWest Press 1984), Story for a Saskatchewan Night (rdcpress 1989), Fragmenting Body, etc (NeWest Press 2000) and, most recently, Lyric/Anti-lyric (NeWest Press 2001). Greenboathouse published Doug's chapbook A Flame on the Spanish Stairs in 2002.


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