This week’s poem is from “Bye-Bye Land” (BOA Editions, 2017), this year’s winner of the Isabella Gardner Poetry Award. It is difficult to excerpt from a book-length poem like this one, which is a collage of voices – some overheard, others taken from literature, news reports, Guantanamo detainees and popular culture, and still others gathered from arguments with the self. Taken as a whole, the book eloquently and unflinchingly considers who we are as a country and where we are headed.

The excerpt below is from the end of the first section of the book. It riffs off a quote from White Eagle, on being shown his new reservation, from “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” (Bantam, 1972): “And so we went there to the Warm Land. We went to the terminus of a railroad and passed through the land of Osages and on to the land full of rocks, and next morning we came to the land of the Kaws…and we saw how the people of that land were…and we thought those two tribes were not able to do much for themselves.”

Christian Barter lives in Bar Harbor, was named the first poet laureate of Acadia National Park during 2016 (the park’s centennial year), and has for many years supervised a trail crew at the park.

From ‘The Warm Land’

By Christian Barter

And so we went there to the Warm Land.

We passed by the projects and the Quickie Marts

and we wound through the looping miles of suburbs

where every house and hairdo looked the same,

and I saw how the people of that land were

and I thought they were not able to do much for themselves –

they were forced to leave their homes all day

and their children played behind metal fences.

And I saw how the trees were

and how the ground was covered with black tar.

And I saw the looks on the faces of these people.

We passed down into the hollows of a train station,

into a cave where the trains jarred the floor

and I saw how these people were,

how close they were pressed together,

how afraid they were to smile at each other,

for the killers walked among them

and those who would sell the tally machines

to count up the souls in the camps

and those who waited for the others to get sick

so they could come for their houses walked among them

and those whom anger had touched too deeply,

who had crouched deep into the foxholes of themselves

or crawled deep into the wooden horse of sadness

and those who would watch you gang-raped from the window

and those who saw the demon everywhere

longing only for one chance at its throat –

Gibson Fay-LeBlanc is Portland’s poet laureate. “Deep Water: Maine Poems” is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Poem copyright © 2017 Christian Barter. It originally appeared in “Bye-Bye Land” (BOA Editions, LTD, 2017) and appears here by permission of the author and BOA Editions. This column is accepting submissions through Oct. 31. Poems must be written by Maine poets or about Maine. Submissions must be made online. For more information go to mainewriters.org/program/deep-water.