My Brilliant, Beautiful Sister – The Other End of the Leash



Wendy Barker, my oldest sister, a brilliant and beautiful poet who was beloved by thousands, died last week on March 11th. She was 80 years old, and still writing. She had been ill, but was scheduled to leave the hospital that day. She had a heart attack in the middle of the night.

I had planned to lead with a training and behavior post that I have half finished, mentioning Wendy under the usual farm-related “Meanwhile.” I couldn’t.

Here is a poem from her newest book, Weave, published by BKMK Press:

All the faces on the canvas, and all

   the moving fleshy faces facing the ones flat and framed

on the walls, the living faces shifting

   to a glimpse of a hooked nose, wrinkled chin, or one black

eye with a drift of braided hair covering

   a cheek, and others full-faced, but never for long, as these

gallery-goers move about, facing one

   frame and then another, as I sift among them, just another

face, and then, suddenly, before me,

   the largest canvas in this wide room, one of Monet’s early

Nympheas, the water lilies’ petals seeming

   to shift among the rounded leaves, their stems submerged in

layers of murky water, almost if

   moving the way we are, the way faces from the past sift

into my dreams at night, of some

   people I’d rather forget, and of people whose loss I grieve,

like the woman I sat beside in this same

   museum five years ago, the two of us never shifting while

speaking of our long dear mothers,

   and now, that woman, decades younger than I, has died

too, and how her face drifts to me

   late into the night, and now, right in front of my own face,

a portrait of a man who looks so like

   a man who once held me, his face engraved in the frames

of my mind, his brown eyes sifting

   through this space of so many-goers drifting in this

white room, the way water lilies, their

   colors, shift across a pond’s surface, before they go under.

I adored the poem the first time I read it, but never realized it’s depth until I had to type it out. How many times does it contain the word face, faces? Shift? Sift? Drift?

Thank you BKMK Press, for publishing what Wendy called her “life’s work.” It meant the world to her to have it published.


It is brilliant. I am, of course, completely objective.

I was able to fly down to San Antonio, late last fall, along with my dear niece Wendy Piatt, for a book launch and 80th birthday party. Here they are together:

You can imagine how grateful I am that I decided, at the last minute, to fly down for it.

Wendy and I shared a love of the natural world–of birds, and trees, and clouds, and flowers–and great writing. She was an esteemed poet, the kind of teacher who changed lives at the University of Texas-San Antonio, and a wonderful, wonderful sister. This doesn’t begin to represent the multitude of honors she has received, the many books of poetry that she has written, and the innumerable students who adored her. But, it’s what I can do right now.

She is survived by her husband, Steve Kellman, a famous writer and critic himself, and the love of her life, her son David Barker, our other sister, Liza Piatt, also an author, along with nieces, Wendy May Piatt, Annie Piatt, and Emily Edwards.

I loved her fiercely.

This book, Healing Visions, by my dear friend and kick ass photographer, Meg Boscov, and Matter Press, has been beside me every day. It is a book of her 52 of her best photographs, and the work of 52 internationally-known women writers, asked to write 100 words, no more, no less, to accompany each photo. I was honored to be asked to write a piece for one of my favorite ones. Here’s the cover, healing just in itself.

I’ll be back on track next time, but for now, well, you know.



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