“Living in the Barn,” a poem by Robin Becker, 2010-11 Penn State laureate


Watching my sculptor friend reclaim and transform
an abandoned barn into living and working space
catalyzed this poem. In the first stanza, I evoke the vanished history of the barn,
imagining farm workers and draft horses. In the second, I
direct the readers eye to what the sculptor has placed
in the barn — her drafting table and welding tools — and I show my admiration for her
grit and determination. Something to consider:All of us nest and make
homes that speak to our ideas about ourselves. How might you use architecture or interior
design to characterize a friend? Living in the Barn Beside you in the truck, I almost forget
you are a woman, thirty, turning the wheel, slamming the door. You could be a boy, fifteen,
slim and eager for exercise in a soiled shirt and jeans.
By the time you closed the deal, the animals were gone,
but their ghosts raise their heads as we pass. Black and white cows reclaim the pasture;
curious billy goats eye two women rattling up the drive. Like
an archetypal barn from memory, the barn slumps broad and red
in the rain. Now the great hayloft holds your bed and table.
In dreams, the farm boys bale and hurl their burdens
into the atrium; I feel the heavy hooves of Clydesdales
stamping in their stalls; the walls still hold their scent,
their hairs, their troughs, their significant sighs. You have restored yourself by restoring this
barn — long days under the sun’s hot hand,
hours at the drafting table — planning for the time you will have what you
need: a place to work, a place to live.
Like barn swallows high in the rafters your sculptures float and fly, wings beating
against weathered wood. In the studio, your welding tools assume the
shapes of fantastic creatures, the bronze and brass
of your trade. You lace your boots, tie back your hair,
prepare for work like a farmer whose animals, like a ring of friends, surround her.

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