A Natural History: Brian Barker


A Natural History of My Curiosity

Text and Photographs by Brian Barker

fig. 1: Miniature Tin Man & Snail Shells

Miniature Tin Man & Snail Shells

A box turtle’s broken shell, jigsawed and sun-blanched. Feathers, fossils, shells, stones. A squadron of plastic army men in various poses, some amputated at the knee or elbow. A jar of cicada husks like a cache of tiny amber jackets rustling behind glass. The svelte, sloping skull of a deer. Oxidized coins and arcade tokens. A crazed apothecary bottle dug up from a flowerbed, its faint, lingering odor of medicine and dirt. . .

A natural history of my curiosity begins, naturally, with a catalog of curiosities, a selection of objects that I’ve collected over the last ten to fifteen years. Things that I’ve picked up from the pavement or trail or lawn, or plucked out of a tree or stream, or discovered in the back corner of some musty junk store. Things that have been abandoned, lost, ignored, shed, cast off, discounted, spent, left for dead. Artifacts void of human touch for years or forever. A varia of the ruined and transformed that now reside as a gallery of oddities sprinkled throughout my house, displayed on the mantel and windowsills and along the back edge of my large writing desk.

On the one hand, my curiosity acts as a kind of headlamp of the seeking mind, demanding that I stand present in this world, in the now, seeing beyond the myriad distractions of the commercial and quotidian to these talismans of what’s been scattered. On the other hand, the objects themselves, having been marred by time, now seem to stand outside of it or to transcend it. Divorced from any rigid history or an original purpose, they become tokens of the imagination, spurring me to question, remember, and dream.

fig. 2: Bird's Nest, Egg Shells, & Snake Skin

Bird's Nest, Egg Shells, & Snake Skin

“Weep for what little things could make them glad,” Robert Frost writes in his poem “Directive,” and, indeed, many of my curiosities bear this sense of irrevocable loss. But in the mind’s eye they are also luminous, imbued with a beauty born of complexity, for in them I can’t help but see an exaltation of experience and the infinite possibilities of wonder.

A miniature Tin Man. Bits of burnished beach glass. Three rusty keys. A billiard ball, the number seven, maroon, pocked, cold and silent. Daguerreotypes of ghostly strangers. A blue jay’s talon, in death gripping a branch of air. . .

fig. 3: Plastic Army Men, Sand, & a Line from Robert Frost

Plastic Army Men, Sand, & a Line from Robert Frost


Brian Barker lives in Denver, CO. His poems have been known to appear.



“A Natural History of My Curiosity” is part of the Natural Histories Project. Click here to learn more >>

Brian Barker’s first book of poems, The Animal Gospels, won the Tupelo Press Editors’ Prize and was published in 2006. He teaches at the University of Colorado-Denver where he co-edits Copper Nickel. Learn more about his work at http://www.brianbarker.net.


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