Welcome to day three of Teen Sequins 2016! Today’s poem is “Barium” by Ben Read.
In Ben Read’s “Barium,” the good-bad joke is about death, and laughter is followed by crocus-lined graves in “necklaces of purple and blue” and by a grave turn, as the speaker notes that “Barium is the element / that doctors feed you to see your organs.” Read’s syntax ties the pieces of the narrative together, the poem emerging with each recurring image, Read forming his own necklace. “It is spring. I imagine the flowers / taste like morning, and I remember”–the poem emerging from this remembering too, because what else can be done with the past? Write it down or bury it. — Robby Auld
In chemistry class, we told bad jokes and laughed.
What do you do with dead elements? You barium.
The crocuses in the front yard line the graves—
necklaces of purple and blue. Barium is the element
that doctors feed you to see your organs. Swallow,
and show them your body. For discovery.
It is spring. I imagine the flowers
taste like morning, and I remember
the morning I learned the murmur of a creek,
how it sounds like secrets. You were there; you told me
about vulnerability. I looked at you. I am always thinking
about childhood. The world where we met
looks so small now, built from bricks and windows
that won’t close. I am thinking
of the time we went to the playground,
sat on the blue swings, staring at the seesaw
in silence. We already knew. We were children.
Barium is highly reactive; it doesn’t want to be alone.
It is spring, and I sit on the porch, watching
the birds in the trees. I chart their paths
from branch to branch to telephone
wire. They are drawing. It looks like a skeleton,
a face, a body, maybe. Like a barium x-ray.
Who can tell what I used to see before the illusion
disappeared? What I thought I had? What do you do
with old memories? Barium is heavy in your stomach,
in the earth. The crocuses come again every year.
Sometimes I step on them, and sometimes
I stop to pick them, hold them in my palm,
and smell them. I am thinking how easy it is
to forget. How I have to think to remember the sky,
the time we climbed a mountain, running
each switchback, breathless, and each time,
we had to rest. At the top, we looked out
and thought the whole world was ours, and everything
looked enormous, because we were there.
Ben Read lives in Spokane, Washington, where he is a junior at Lewis and Clark High School. His work has been recognized by RiverLit, Eunoia Review, and The Adroit Journal, and he was named a 2015 Foyle Young Poet of the Year by the Poetry Society of the United Kingdom. He recently co-founded Ponderosa Literary Journal at his high school. Other than writing, he likes to participate in speech and debate, attend and read at local poetry slams in coffee and burrito shops, and listen to music like the Juno soundtrack. His favorite muse is the river.
Honorable mentions: Margot Armbruster (WI), Ella Boyd (Falmouth High School, Falmouth, ME), Emilee Burridge (BASIS Phoenix, Phoenix, AZ), Paul Elaire (Northside High School, Lafayette, LA), Farah Ghafoor (Vincent Massey Secondary School, Windsor, Ontario, Canada), Katie Howell (Bishop Guertin High School, Nashua, NH), Christina Im (Sunset High School, Portland, OR), Elizabeth Johnson (Fike High School, Wilson, NC), Alonna Kilpatrick (Chattanooga High School Center for Creative Arts, Chattanooga, TN), Sarah Licht (West Boca High School, Boca Raton, FL), Grace Marion (Neshaminy High School, Langhorne, PA), Megan McEvoy, Matteo Moretti (Newark Academy, Livingston, NJ), Abigail Walker (Milton Academy, Milton, MA), Topaz Winters (Singapore American School, Singapore), Alisha Yi (Ed W. Clark High School, Las Vegas, NV)