Photo: Maggie Barkin
In Don Barkin’s first full-length poetry collection, That Dark Lake, there is terror and despair but also underlying faith and hope, as in the work of a poet often echoed here: Robert Frost. And like Frost’s, Barkin’s verse has a fierce formality that connects it to the very tradition with which its fresh and modern voice does battle. There is enormous honesty and an unrelenting refusal to provide easy answers in these poems. You will not emerge from them unscathed, but you will emerge much enriched. The editors of many of the country’s finest journals would agree, having often featured Don Barkin’s work on their pages. The poet and critic Margaret Gibson has this to say: “Don Barkin’s poems are memorable, unsettling, and welcome.  They offer us ‘an ancient shadowed ache’ and a canny clarity; they offer straightforward honesty and deft, surprising turns of insight and image. That Dark Lake is a book that can touch the heart and evoke wry recognition in the same moment.”
Cover Photo: "El Capitan and Cathedral Spires" by Anne Nelson
Don Barkin has published poems in Poetry, The Virginia Quarterly Review, Prairie Schooner, Poetry Northwest, the North American Review, Harvard Magazine, The Louisville Review, Verse, and other journals. He is the author of two poetry chapbooks and has twice been awarded grants by the State of Connecticut. He was educated at Harvard College and Cambridge University. A former newspaper reporter, he is currently a high school English teacher. He has also taught writing seminars at Yale and Wesleyan Universities, and on-line for a consortium of Oxford, Yale, and Stanford Universities. Barkin lives with his wife, Maggie, and his daughter, Eve, in New Haven, Connecticut.

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ISBN 978-0-9817883-6-4
Length: 116 pages, 6" x 9" paperback


At School

Was my dirty-faced friend Tim
and fat perfumed Mrs. Bone
who scowled at dirty boys like him,
and Ann, who was homely and sat alone.

And me, who kept my margins straight
and never ran in the corridor
unless I thought I might be late.
I sat at my desk mourning for

Tim and Ann and Mrs. Bone
and all of us who sat alone.

The Descent

It was all loneliness for her,
his jealousy, and hurrying home
when she’d given him an hour to roam
away from the house and their new daughter.

And it was deep as a long-deserted quarry
where the water’s dark face gives warning:
Diving here can only bring
grief where there is no bottom
. Still he

cornered her with talk in her kitchen,
the way as a boy he would tell
some misery of school to his mother, then listen
for the stone’s descent in the dark well.

Wedding Poem

In the film, they fly toward one another
across a waving field
like wild flowers borne aloft
by a sex-minded zephyr,
freed from their sad plant lives
by love forever and ever.
That’s Hollywood. In real life
a guy and girl meet;
there’s some sort of spark; with luck
they work things out.
But there’s more. There’s hoisting
the huge stone of sex
to find and befriend that pale creature
that goes like us
on hands and knees blinking.
Maybe that’s why we marry:
to buy time to make friends
with a stranger.
To slowly undress and be undressed,
like Adam and Eve in reverse –
to wander like them, but back toward Eden,
our fingers twined with tender
regard for the homeliness that is
love’s thin disguise.

A Quiet Incident

I once saw the face of God
in a dark brow of trees
across a pond, one afternoon in summer.
I watched for a long time,
saying nothing to my pretty date
asleep in the sun in her bikini.
There was nothing to say –
a stand of trees above dark water.
I also knew if I swam across
it would disappear in a tangle of branches
and the smell of mold and deep shade.

After that day my belief settled in.
No more squirming at the jabbering of priests
or clever friends.
Was I crazy? Well, I didn’t think
He had plans for me like Moses.
It was more like the time
my father came home
and found me mowing the lawn
on the hottest day of summer.
I heard him stop on the back steps
for a few seconds, then the screen door clatter.

The Last Time

For once I didn’t talk and talk
to win his smile like a prize,
but sat beside him on a rock
and watched him look with hollow eyes

at something that I couldn’t see
across the hills a purple mile
where he would go ahead of me
and I would follow in a while.


Careless of its cargo, the saucer wended
down the hill. Our daughter, who was three,
twisted in her snowsuit when her ride had ended
and squinting into the sun so we would see
shouted, “Again!” I shuffled back down the hill
and dragged the saucer up while she dragged me.

Later came a tantrum over bed,
her face so flushed I knew that she was ill.
I thought of the way her saucer had stopped dead
where the ribbons of trails gave out at the foot of the hill
and the high-school fields began like a frozen sea,
and how I’d heard her happy unstopped shout
and waved and gone back down the hill, since she
was someone who knew what sliding was about.

First Dance

When he can’t pick his daughter out from all
the kids jammed in the gym his mouth goes dry.
She should stand out because like him she’s tall.
Instead, three boys sweep by him looking sly

in jeans and swinging ties. He thinks they’re thugs,
but being tall and blond they know they’re princes.
He watches as their pretty, grinning mugs
command long looks from every girl and winces.

She might be with those girls up in the bleachers,
safe from never being asked to dance.
Or clinging to her favorite women teachers
while giving every passing lad a glance.

He ought to see her since like him she’s tall,
unless she’s sobbing in a bathroom stall.

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