Wendy Barker

March 20, 2020 Barker Wendy



The Golliwog spoon, we called it, the handle shaped like a head with heavy-lidded eyes and a thick-lipped mouth. Coddled eggs, cream of wheat in that spoon. And someone gave me a Golliwog doll—kinky black hair, clown-red mouth. A second silver spoon: simple, ridged lines leading from the handle to the shallow bowl. “Tiffany & Co.,” “Sterling” stamped on the back.
Two baby cups: one upright, sterling, from Tiffany’s, straight-sided, no decorations. The other: urn-shaped, graceful, flowers twining around the handle, leaves spiraling the circumference. Orange juice, chocolate milk from both.
Bridge club friends of my New Jersey grandparents gave me the plain spoon and cup. But the others came from Tony, my father’s devil-may-care best friend who’d waltz double forte down Broadway, bouncing my cautious father out of his Presbyterian gloom. Both were besotted with my mother, but dependable Daddy won out, while Tony joined the diplomatic corps, moved to Bogotá. Colombia: a country I’d never heard of till years after that silver had been packed away.
No sterling stamp on the flowery cup or the Golliwog spoon. Golliwog. A caricature of a caricature. My mother and father read me the books. “A horrid sight, the blackest gnome,” ran Bertha Upton’s prose. Entranced by the stories, Debussy composed “Golliwog’s Cakewalk,” but by the sixties I knew those characters were downright offensive, and cheered when librarians withdrew the books from their shelves.
I never met Tony. Not worth squat if it’s not stamped sterling, says the jeweler. When was it I unpacked the Golliwog spoon? And realized it was probably an image of a god, maybe a Dolmen from Pre-Incan times. Or the San Agustin jaguar god—square nose, slanted eyes.
Two spoons, two cups, gifts for my birthing. Better than the spoon-like forceps that dented my scalp as I struggled into air. Forceps, a pair of spoons that molded me. Spoons: the Spanish, Greeks, Russians, Turks, and even Americans make music with them, like silvery castanets. The clink of two metals against each other. It took a long time for my head to reshape itself.

Wendy Barker‘s seventh full-length collection of poems is Gloss (St. Julian Press, 2020). Her sixth collection, One Blackbird at a Time (BkMk Press, 2015), received the John Ciardi Prize. Her fifth chapbook is Shimmer (Glass Lyre Press, 2019). Other books include Far Out: Poems of the ’60s, (co-edited with Dave Parsons, Wings Press, 2016), Poems’ Progress (Absey & Co., 2002), and a selection of co-translations, Rabindranath Tagore: Final Poems (Braziller, 2001). Her poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including The Best American Poetry 2013.  Recipient of NEA and Rockefeller fellowships, she is the Pearl LeWinn Endowed Chair and Poet in Residence at UT San Antonio, where she has taught since 1982.