Ten Minutes After Close In the Cafe Washroom

When you had the panic attack it was on the floor of one of the washrooms / They were still gendered then but you can’t remember which / All the customers were gone / It was your first job and you messed things up more often than you got them right / How do you remember the meanings of the till’s crusted buttons / How do you count change when an entire road-trip family is staring at you / How do you know if a customer is nice out of pity / Somebody you will learn the secret of the world / Everybody is making it up, all the time / We all let each other get away with it / You don’t need to spasm against the gray-white tiles / You can let your body forget the lightning twisting through every nerve ending / All you have to do is stand up and walk out of the washroom / Tell your co-workers you had a stomach ache / Tell them the washrooms need mopping / Tell them they didn’t teach you how to be a human, and you wish they had

Conor Barnes

2 Questions for Conor

What was your process for creating this work?

I sit and I write and it comes out.

For "The Minotaur..." I had been reading a lot of Borges earlier this year, and this is very much inspired by him, particularly House of Asterion. The erotic elements are partially inspired by Autobiography of Red (Anne Carson), and partially by Hades (Nintendo Switch).

With 'The Host" I was researching myths and went down a rabbit hole from Scarborough Fair and ended up writing a version of Culhwch and Olwen. I also listened to David Jone's reading of 'The Hunt" to put me in the right mood (and to steal some language). I was fascinated by Culhwch's killing of Olwen's father and concluded that there might have been some encouragement from Olwen.

I also snagged a line from Rumi (by way of Prurient) of which I'm quite fond.

What is the significance of the form(s) you chose?

With "Ten Minutes..." I used the second-person because I find it forces one to be a more empathetic reader. It can get grating and become unsustainable in longer pieces, but in a short burst like this it adds to the punch. 

I tried a few different forms for "The Minotaur..." and found that this one helped it feel cyclic.

For 'The Host" I found the free verse gave the first section a lot of motion which helped with the sensation of a host racing through. Switching to more regular verse in the second section helps convey that it's a different viewpoint.

Conor Barnes is a Canadian writer living in Halifax. His fiction has been published in White Wall Review, Potato Soup Journal, and Literally Stories. His poetry has been published in Modern Haiku, Frogpond, and Puddles of Sky Press.