John Wall Barger

A Hole in My Backyard
October 24, 2022 Barger John Wall

The Hole in My Backyard


I get very nervous, I admit. If I take a day off to relax, tension drifts out my nose: a kind of thin mist. It doesn’t go far, the tension; it remains seated politely on the couch beside me, in the form of a ghost I call Marcus Aurelius.

Marcus Aurelius and I sit in my yard gossiping, as evening shadows lengthen. He is wise and knows things about the neighbors. Alex walks past and waves. Marcus Aurelius and I wave back. I say, “Alex looks dapper in his red suspenders.” Marcus Aurelius nods and says, “Did you know that Alex intends to hang himself later today?” No I did not.

On a lark, and because he is magic, I ask Marcus Aurelius if he wouldn’t mind venturing down into the hole in my backyard. He agrees without asking which hole. He knows I mean the one I wanted to dig when I was a kid, but my parents wouldn’t let me. It was going to be a point of refuge, a safe place or panic room, for when trouble visited the house. Although there is no hole, Marcus Aurelius steps down into it, silent and dignified.

I peek into Mrs. Kaulback’s kitchen. She leans her forehead on the window to watch her cats mill in the grass like imperious, doomed titans.

Marcus Aurelius is back, craning his neck to look at the sky. “Man, it is beautiful down there,” he says. “No way,” I say. “Oh yeah,” he says. “Like Machu Picchu,” he says. Apparently the more he sat in the hole, the more he wanted to be a better person. I like it when he talks like that.

“What are you fellows chatting about?” says Alex’s ghost. “The hole in John’s backyard,” says Marcus Aurelius. Without a word Alex’s ghost steps down into the hole.

He leaves behind him a deep serenity in the backyard, interrupted just once by Mrs. Kaulback moving furniture. Or it might have been a peal of thunder.

John Wall Barger’s poems and critical writing have appeared in American Poetry Review, Kenyon Review Online, ZYZZYVA, The Cincinnati Review, Poetry Ireland Review, and Best of the Best Canadian Poetry. His sixth book of poems, Smog Mother, comes out with Palimpsest Press in Fall 2022. He is a contract editor for Frontenac House, and teaches in the BFA Program for Creative Writing at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia.