Unlike his sometime student, Mr. Turner,
James Barry didn’t take that many wideshots;
he zoomed in for the closeups, painting Burke
as Odysseus in the Cyclops’ den, and himself
as the wily king’s lieutenant, ensnared alike
by Poseidon’s son, a drooling, one-eyed goon.
In Bologna, Barry’s Philoctetes glowers,

his suffering monumentalized, the archer
an emblem of the Outcast and Forlorn
Sublime, the Marooned, Betrayed, and Gangrenous
Sublime. But Barry’s Doleful-End Sublime
was worse. He fell unconscious in the street,
and four Samaritans carried him gently home.
All the windows in his house were broken,

and the yard was strewn with dead putrescent cats,
cat skeletons, and various missile weapons.
A vicious gang of ragamuffin vandals
was persecuting him, convinced he was
a wizard or a necromancer. Barry,
in the back rooms, lived on bread and apples
with a blanket nailed to the wall beside his bed

and a wig that looked like a lamb had romped up on
his head and died. The roof was leaking rain
and the keyhole was completely stuffed with dirt,
so he died in Bonomi the Elder’s parlor. He’d
painted a blubbing Lear, and Lear provides
for Barry’s Squalid-Home Sublime an apt
response, “How-ool, How-ool, How-ool, How-ool!”

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 37 Number 10, on page 27
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