Madeleine Barnes


I am afraid I will outlive my mother.
The two of us sit on the shore
throwing clementine peels into the sea.

Our bodies burn. We scoop the sand.
I pick up a hard shell lined with mother-of-pearl.
Oysters feed on the seabed, grow on stones.

They are at home on the posts of piers,
on the bark and stilt of mangrove trees.
Their fragility is a survival strategy.

I want her to gather the material she needs
to write her book. I drill ink into my brain.
She says, you taught me how to be a mother.

Too many stars span before us. We tear the rocks.
I dream of knowing my place in her poems
but bury my heart deep in the earth,

tiny gravedigger. I want to be joined
to her words, but how many times are you allowed
to need your mother? Help me with this,
I want to beg her. Help me exit your poem.


Watching a stranger carry your broken bed
down three flights of stairs

reminds me of linen wrapped around a hand
and I don’t know where you are

and perhaps I am still thoroughly asleep
and thriving on the dreams of you

that dart around me.
I wonder where you live now

and if anything has changed,
anything: an anchor growing still

inside the brain of the sea, my head
saying everything’s gone: not

as long as I’m wrapped in simple
cloth, careful with how I love,

careful: the stranger props one half of the bed
against a date palm. Its copper leaves

are awake with your voice. The bed’s
second half is still stuck inside,

hinges and clamor, small scraps of song.
I think of you here, shaking his hand.

I think of the nest we saw built into brick.
Around midnight, mid-sway, they movers finish.

I’m not sure where I’ll rest if you return.

Madeleine Barnes is a poet and visual artist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She is the author of the chapbook The Mark My Body Draws in Light (Finishing Line Press, 2014), and her poems have recently appeared in places like Pleiades, Fields Magazine, Jai-Alai Magazine, The Rattling Wall, and Pittsburgh Poetry Review. She is the recipient of a New York State Summer Writers Institute Fellowship, an Academy of American Poets prize, and the Princeton Poetry Prize.

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