Brian Barker

The fish thief was just a harmless orphan, we realized too late, after the mob had harpooned him through the back. For nights after, he wandered the foggy streets of our seaside town, crying, until Madame X lured him in through the side door of the brothel. “There, there,” she whispered, guiding him to the table, to a plate of madeleines, a glass of milk. Her rat terrier circled, whimpering, then plopped down to chew the frayed end of the long rope the dead boy dragged behind him. All night he sat there, and all night from the parlor, we took turns standing on a chair to spy on him through the transom. Occasionally he tilted his head, deciphering the sea’s susurrations that lapped the kitchen curtains. We hoped by dawn he’d be gone. We could see the barbed blade that exited where his heart had been. It jutted before him into the candlelight, cold and gleaming, pointing the way from here to there.

Brian Barker is the author of The Animal Gospels (Tupelo Press, 2006) and The Black Ocean (Southern Illinois University Press, 2011), winner of the Crab Orchard Open Competition Award. His poems, reviews, and interviews have appeared in such journals as the American Poetry Review, Blackbird, the Cincinnati Review, Indiana Review, the Kenyon Review online, Pleiades, Ploughshares, Poetry, TriQuarterly, the Washington Post, and the Writer's Chronicle. He teaches at the University of Colorado Denver, where he is a poetry editor for Copper Nickel.

Afterlife appears in our Winter 2016 issue.