Brian Barker

Murder Ballad & A Story of Teeth
February 22, 2019 Barker Brian

Murder Ballad



Georg Wilhelm Steller married his sea cow  in a simple  ceremony  on a Bering  Island  beach. Five scurvied crewmen bore witness. In lieu of rings, the couple exchanged garlands of kelp, which the blushing bride quickly devoured. That night, while she snored next to him, the naturalist wrote in his journal: She is insatiable! Her skin is black and thick, gnarled like an ancient oak. Toothless, the space between her lips is packed with a dense array of thick bristles, the kissing of which I dare not describe. When her stunted flippers draw my head to her bosom, I feel the embrace of Eternity itself! But rumors of infidelity spread quickly, until one evening, in a jealous rage, Steller buried a hatchet deep between her eyes. Afterwards he recorded: When confronted, she refused to confess. Like her species in toto, she proved mute and reticent, resigned to fate. Even when mortally wounded, she could barely manage a bellow. My beloved died like all her kind before her—quietly, heaving a deep sigh.





A Story of Teeth



The king ordered the extraction of all teeth, for his last tooth, after years of indulgence, had turned black and fallen out. Dentists worked day and night while the people languished in long lines. Some already felt wistful for their teeth, so fond they were of corn on the cob or nibbling on their lovers’ ears. Others  were glad to be rid of the nuisances, the chips and cracks and stains and pains. One young beauty, whose smile made men and women alike weak, wept quietly  into a handkerchief. Soon, carts full of teeth rolled out of the capital. For days afterward,  no one spoke, nodding to one another in sheepish bewilderment. Strangers passing through saw these pale creatures, their mouths stuffed with bloodied cotton, and mistook them for a race of angel eaters. Shunned by the outside  world, the kingdom  slowly succumbed to starvation and uprisings.  Even now, though, travelers tell of a mountain of teeth next to the ruins of the kingdom—how on lonely winter nights the incessant chattering  deafens the darkness, and how the roots, still growing, probe the empty sky.

Brian Barker is a poet and artist from Denver, Colorado. He is the author of three books of poetry, Vanishing Acts, The Black Ocean, and The Animal Gospels. His poems have appeared in such journals as Poetry, The Gettysburg Review, American Poetry Review, TriQuarterly, and The Washington Post. His collages have been selected three times for the National Collage Society’s annual juried shows and have appeared in Denver Quarterly, Jet Fuel Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and Visible Binary. He teaches at the University of Colorado Denver, where he is a poetry editor of Copper Nickel. Learn more at