Old red barn

Old red barn
testament to ingenuity
the rust in your coat
counterintuitively
preserving against decay

Still standing today
on your windswept plain
amid long amber grasses
continually bowing
their homage

Like sun-cast gold at your feet
despite encroaching shadows
ever-shifting with clouds
under the benevolent blue
striated sky

A skeleton tree
veils your face
attempting to conceal
the emptiness behind
your window-eyes

You’ve no weathervane
pointing heavenward
with its rooster of betrayal
—can you hear geese calling
fly on fly on fly on

Old red barn
vignette of yesterday
rustic testimony never reduced
—I will not think of you
as desolate

*******

With special thanks to Margaret Simon for the prompt in “This Photo Wants to be a Poem,” her journalist friend Jan Risher for sharing the photo of the old barn, and to Tabatha Yeatts at The Opposite of Indifference for hosting today’s Poetry Friday Round-Up.

26 thoughts on “Old red barn

    • Thank so much, Rose – I am glad to know the lines that you like best. I felt the tree needed mentioning and I imagined the old barn being abandoned – no life within (at least not livestock; maybe rodents…).

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    • Bridget, thank you for noting “word photo” – I was, indeed, trying to write in the vignette style, relying on strong scenic description – plus symbolism, hence the “spirit of the old red barn.” Love this line in your response. In the poem’s last stanza the words “vignette” and “never reduced” tie directly to photography. Thank you so much for your insightful words!

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  1. This is such a beautiful poem! I too like “the skeleton tree”. There is something enchanting about these old red barns. So many stories all they have seen. Thank you for sharing!

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    • I am rather amazed that the “skeleton tree” lines have grabbed so many as their favorite! Wouldn’t have predicted that. You’re so right, there is something enchanting about old barn, and as you mention I believe it’s because of the old stories. Somehow they still live as long as the barns stand. Thank you so much for your words, Rebecca!

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  2. Well, I don’t deny, I love the verse with “the skeleton tree” too, Fran. This is such a love poem to this “Old red barn”. My husband’s family had an “old white barn” and my daughter now owns its weathervane, bringing us all memories of hanging out in that barn. (By the time we were there, the house was gone, but we visited and walked all over the fields, listening to the grandmother’s memories.) Thanks for this and that gorgeous picture!

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    • I’m fascinated by how many people love the “skeleton tree” stanza! I wouldn’t have guessed that. How barns evoke stories, memories, times past – no wonder we love them. They’re Americana, remnants of our agrarian history. I bet that old white barn was beautiful – what a treasure, your daughter having that weathervane! Does it have a rooster? I read about the history of the rooster on the vanes, which started with a Pope in the 9th century who mandated that all churches incorporate it as reminder of Peter’s betrayal. The old red barn doesn’t seem to have a vane … but I decided geese are calling, and geese are a holy symbol (I adore layers of symbolism, if you haven’t guessed! ). I was delighted by this photo when Margaret shared it this week; knew right away I’d write to it. And I am delighted by your words and memories shared here, Linda – thank you so much.

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  3. Near my former home in Mississippi, there was a barn with a rainbow painted on it. My sister and I imagined we would have our weddings there. Alas it was lost to a tornado. But barns hold stories of time passed. Your poem is an ode to the old red barn.

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    • Margaret, I would have loved to see that rainbow barn in Mississippi. How it must have hurt when it was destroyed. I often think about stories that old houses and barns could tell, having stood as silent witnesses to so much across the decades. I love old abandoned structures. They’ve always had an immense pull for me. Thank you for recognizing the poem as an ode to the barn. It is. I tried to write straight to the visual aspects, vignette-style, with layers of symbolism – another of my favorite things.

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  4. I love this barn…and your love for it with such vivid descriptions of the rust in it’s coat, veiled-coat and lack of that old betrayer, the rooster weathervane. This poem is like a pressed flower…to take out and remember again and again.

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    • Linda, I am so glad you mentioned the rust and the “old betrayer rooster wearthervane” – they’re important symbols. The red color of barns comes from rust mixed in paint or linseed sealant which preserves the wood – the word “incorruptible” was in my mind although I didn’t use it, and how fascinating is it that rust, at essence corrupting, should be used for this purpose. It’s a reason why barns stand so long. I suspect you knew this and that the old betrayer rooster on the weathervane stems back to the 9th century when a Pope mandated churches to incorporate the bird on top of their churches as a reminder of Peter’s betrayal.
      Somehow the image sticks to this day, although not on churches much anymore. So our barn here is missing its weathervane, but geese are calling – and the goose is a holy symbol. I tried to write it in the style of a vignette – bursts of scenic description. So very grateful for your words and insight!

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  5. The photo wanted a poem and you created one with character for the old red barn. To me, old barns represents symbols of ages past built by lovers of the land who worked the fields and produced livestock, produce, or fruits among other items. They are a testament to our country, to the rugged, resilient people who settled and grew a family and business. In Central New York where I was from there were many country trails that brought the sights from picture books into real life. While I agree with what everyone said, I choose the last stanza to symbolize the American farmland, the struggle against elements of nature, and ability of farmers to withstand years of toil and celebrations. Beautiful work, Fran.

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    • Carol, the barns are symbols of ages past, emblems of our heritage. I would love to walk those country trails in Central NY to discover the sights. I live in a rural area now and treasure the barns and animals all around, and the old, abandoned farmhouses still standing as testaments to “rugged, resilient people,” too. I am especially glad you like the final stanza – I think it is my favorite as well, for in truth “I will not think of you as desolate” was the first line that came to my mind, The picture and the “testament” are too glorious and enduring to think otherwise – hence “vignette never reduced” which is really a play on photography, when scenes are blurred (called reduction). Our country was built to last, not by those in power, but by these who worked the land. I see the barns and think of this. Thank you so much, Carol.

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  6. Fran: What is it about old barns? We love them. They are a testament to ingenuity! I’ve watched a TV show about guys who take down old barns and reuse the wood, and the skeletons of these old barns are a marvel. Strong bones, hand hewn. There’s life and human sweat in them. Maybe that’s what we revere. Your poem is beautiful, and I especially like the geese honking fly on, fly on. That seems just right to me, as if you’ve been up there winging with them. Bravo for this! Lovely…

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    • I would love to watch that show – the skill that went into making old barns is extraordinary. Did the builders think so at the time, I wonder. They had to build the barns to last. “Life and human sweat in them” – beautiful line, Karen, and I daresay drops of human blood, too. Am delighted that the geese especially call to you – they always seem to be part of a pastoral scene and in this case – following the betraying rooster – I thought of them as the encouraging, guiding Spirit they sometimes represent. I so appreciate your discerning response, Karen – thank you.

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  7. I love the photo, and I love your poem, but I love both even more after reading your reply to Linda M. What symbolism! What science! What history! You packed so much into this poem that we love at the surface level, but it runs so deep!

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    • Thank you so much, Mary Lee, for following the thread! I restrained myself from frontloading the poem with analysis. I just put it out there by itself (well, with the photo that inspired it) and hoped folks would see things that lie beneath the surface – as, after all, interpretation is the reader’s realm. I am accordingly beyond delighted with different people picking up on different things, and for your response to it all – it makes my day!

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  8. Hi Fran! I like the skeleton tree line, too…I wonder why it is speaking to so many of us? I also like the unexpected preservative qualities of rust. It makes me think about how our imperfections can be helpful.

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    • What a fascinating observation, Tabatha – that our imperfections can be helpful. Now I am thinking about the phrase “what doesn’t destroy us makes us stronger.” I wonder if the word “skeleton” is what provides the allure – anyway, that naked old tree certainly deserves credit for its protective shielding of the barn, as best it can. Once again, I so enjoyed your review with Weatherford on the Monroe book – a true chance to see far past the surface and to encounter the startling. I will need that book.

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  9. I’m always moved by the sight of old barns–such strong sentinels! This photo is a beauty as is your poem. Like Mary Lee, I was fascinated by your response to Linda and all the meaning you’ve packed into your verses. I am especially intrigued by the addition of rust to the paint to act as a preservative and with Tabatha’s comment about that. Thanks not only for the lovely homage to barns, but also for those thoughtful responses to comments that have added even more to the experience.

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    • “Strong sentinels” is the perfect descriptor for these old barns, Molly! I wonder whoever thought to try rust as a preservative. It really is fascinating, ingenious, counterintuitive… My grandfather grew up on a little family farm and for a while was a sharecropper in the 1930s. Hard times forged this “greatest generation.” The barns symbolize so much to me, people who knew how to read nature, who gladly worked together and helped one another – necessities in farm communities. So, I will tell you that “amber” in the poem is there as a reminder of “amber waves of grain” … and thank you so much for this response! I have loved this additional discourse. 🙂

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  10. Fran, I grew up in the country in rural upstate NY where red barns, horses, cows, fields, and tractors were familiar sights and manure was a familiar smell. I didn’t grow up on a farm, but I spent time on nearby farms, therefore, barns and all they represent runs deep in me and I am still fascinated by them.

    I love how your voice talks to the barn and it’s landscape about the beauty and importance they continue to represent in our country. I agree with Margaret that it is a beautiful ode. I read and commented on your last stanza, first on Margaret’s blog so that stanza is probably my favorite. (I couldn’t wait to read the rest of your poem!) But each stanza moves me and even more now that I read everyone’s comments and your responses. (I love hearing the joy in your responses!)

    I especially love how you included the detail of the landscape, weather, sky, and clouds around the barn. Another favorite part for me is your personification and simile “amid long amber grasses/continually bowing/their homage/like sun-cast gold at your feet.” Then, your beautiful description, repetition of /ing/, and alliteration of /b/ “despite encroaching shadows/ever-shifting with clouds/under the benevolent blue/striated sky” perfectly captures the photo. The sky, clouds and shadows in this photo spoke to me, also. (I also wrote a poem on Margaret’s blog.) I’m always staring at the sky and describing it in my head as I walk or hike. Thank you for your beautiful and symbolic ode, and your meaningful responses. Your writing is always inspiring and brings me joy. I think you might want to have this poem published, also, it’s amazing!

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    • Gail – I could see those old farms in upstate NY as I read the opening of your reply here … and although I grew up in the city, my summers were spent in the country with my grandparents. The old barns run deep with us, I believe, because they speak of home. Of belonging, and goodness … they represent the heartland, not only in a literal, physical setting – they represent something about the landscape of the human heart. Your response here, so thoughtfully-crafted… I almost have no words except thank you. I am delighted the amber grasses and the benevolent blue striated sky (I had to use striated, it just had to be) draw you. There’s a starkness to this scene, I think, that would increase as storm clouds roll in, etc. – the beauty of it wouldn’t diminish, but would only enhanced with greater contrast. I wrote with something of an aching for our country at present – and a longing, like you did in your lovely lines (I left a comment there on Margaret’s blog!). I am deeply grateful to you for the joy YOU share, so freely!

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