Preoccupied by the floorboards,

                        at a poetry reading

I saw a yellow-jacket,

                        or just a bee, struggling

with what I would call, in myself,


Wandering a bit, but never far,

                        indecisive and writhing

until lifted into the air.

                        Dragged, by a spider

hovering over it.

                        Not drunkenness then. Poison.

or just plain tangling. I don’t know

                        how a spider kills a bee.

I had heard engineers could not

                        improve a hornet’s form

for efficiency, and I imagined

                        that nimble elegance

dragging a tether equally

                        strong and light.

It struggled a bit.

                        The poet continued:

 Those with the time

                        for poetry don’t deserve it.

The poetry or the time—

                        I began to wonder in that

small moment of my life,

                        in that whole life of the bee.

                        After a Photograph by Emilien Urbano: The Bodies of Two Yazidis

                      Killed by the Islamic State, Sinjar Iraq, 2014
Did the killers, or at least

                        the men assigned

to dump the bodies,

                        consider composition?

How best for symmetry

                        and depth of field to heap

two corpses, carpet-wrapped,

                        amidst the brown field’s

furrow, its straw grass?

                        Did they think about the parallel

arch of tire tracks,

                        how they’d texture the earth

and flatten the sky?


                        No—not carpets,

blankets, fleece synthetics

                        gleaming contours of sunlight

among their wine-maroon tangles,

                        diluted gold, and lavender.


Blankets or carpets, regardless.

                      Regardless, the light—bodies

sloughed in a field then photographed.

                      In their repose

deserving more than this poem

                      and its portions

of sky framed by power lines.

                      Its telephone poles,

like tall crosses, receding.


A 2017 Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, Graham Barnhart holds an MFA from The Ohio State University and served in Iraq and Afghanistan as a medic with the US Army. He is the recipient of the 2016 Jeff Sharlet Memorial Award for Veterans, the 2015 Chad Walsh prize, and was a John Ciardi scholar at The Breadloaf Writer's Conference. His work has appeared in The Beloit Poetry Journal, Diagram, The Gettysburg Review, Gulf Coast and others. Some poems are forthcoming in Horsethief, Prelude, and Waxwing.