John Wall Barger

The Triumphs of 1974 & A Self-Guided Tour of Machu Picchu, OR Please, Sir/Madam, Step Away from the Edge of the Abyss
July 24, 2020 Barger John Wall

The Triumphs of 1974



Moneyless, we moved to Cali,
Riverside, mall-land.
Dad scored a government job.
As you entered the gate
rusted missiles pointed at your head.
Dad parked his Triumph bike
in our living room.
Drove us three on it
to my nursery. I was hyper.
As others napped
I watched. A nurse said,
Give the kid stability.
Another, Ritalin. Fuck that,
said Dad, Let’s move
to Canada. He was itchy,
skinny again. Sick of Nixon,
wars. The day he quit,
he took me for a ride
on the dirt hills of a nearby lot.
The hour of train whistles,
the smoggy sky
hallucinatory red.
That sense of your father’s joy.
Almost too much joy,
him behind you, singing,
I almost cut my hair
It happened just the other day
Gettin’ kiiiinda long.
I hold the great metal tank.


A Self-Guided Tour of Machu Picchu, OR Please, Sir/Madam, Step Away from the Edge of the Abyss

A squat old US tourist with big thick 1950’s movie mogul glasses
stumbles 400 feet. It takes an hour to climb
the steep stone steps the Incas carved


or just seconds to topple headfirst
as one Argentine tourist did.
Beware any overgrown paths near cliffs!


Bosque nuboso—cloud forests—run from tropical lowlands
up to the Incan citadel, at whose summit
perched in gorgeous high altitude thickets


a Russian tourist is torched by lightning. Our bodies,
unlike poems, are ignoble, ungainly, as we suffer.
The Eastern slopes contain a rich biodiversity.


And crazy views. Look,
a Spanish tourist is having a heart attack—
there’s a lottery ticket in his pocket (winner?


It is not.) True! All true! I swear by the water mirrors
of Inti Mach’ay cave, where a tourist
(Danish, mullet, guide book opened


at the Royal Feast of the Sun) also has a heart attack—
in his pocket in a tiny Ziploc bag containing
his mother’s stirrup-shaped throat bone.


Sure I believe in the blessedness of human life
but sometimes Jesus Christ
a belly laugh bursts forth unawares


like tourist streakers who, to the dismay of Peruvian officials,
bound naked as elk over the grasslands. From time immemorial
the stones of Inti Watana have pointed


toward the sun in winter solstice.
A rock falls on a German couple, knocking the boyfriend off a slope
& he lets out a sound like …


But I shouldn’t. Some words you write,
then cross out & never thinking of again,
like ever. The high priest & local virgins


lived at the peak of Huayna Picchu.
A Belgian man whose eyesight is getting pretty bad
climbs up to where the Urubamba River bends


& he falls clean off. Do not smirk. How must we look to him
in that fold of time? What Dutch word slips free?
A German tourist asks a stranger to snap a photo of him


mid-air, then jumps & slips off the cliff.
A park ranger unpacks it this way: “He was at the edge
with his back to the abyss. Many tourists from all over,


especially foreigners, always get very close
to the edge of the abysses.”
(El borde de los abismos.)


Is this why Neruda calls Machu Picchu
“Inaccessible storm sealed off”?
Oh not just a storm,


a witch in a storm,
eyes broken stones, staring you in the eyes,
an inaccessible light an abysmal light she cries


Hallelujah! whose ending yah
from Hebrew Yahweh means
Mother o mother fuck I am dying!

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.