cover image Human Hours

Human Hours

Catherine Barnett. Graywolf, $16 trade paper (112p) ISBN 978-1-55597-814-3

Barnett (The Game of Boxes) ponders “the silvery green light of time” in her elegantly understated third collection. According to Barnett, time is more than a phenomenon to be sorted into a “packet of minutes”; rather, it’s the “hours making things/ that matter to no one.” The title evokes both quietly quotidian passages as well as mechanized schedules, while echoing a more common unit with which pet owners are familiar: dog years. Barnett presses readers to consider concepts of time as though through the eyes of another species when observing how humans age and confront mortality. “Maybe best not to ask when will what take whom where and to do what,” she writes. Yet Barnett’s queries, each more revealing and surprising than the last, compose the backbone of this collection: “Are sex and death the only rafts out of here?” She also reveals the ravages of time through portraits of her father. “When I look at him now/ I see all of the fathers/ he’s been—/ a funhouse mirror of fathers./ It’s not a tragedy, my friend tells me,/ and she’s right.” Barnett claims that she’d “like to feel a little less, know a little more,” but the emotional depth and observational nuance of these poems is something to behold. (Sept.)