(Read an interview with Barnes and her mother, Michelle Maher, on the site here.)
I do not call you out of your hideaway.
No one knows how much time. I do not say
How much time? I do not make offerings.
I do not shake out the wreath of hearts
that circles me, drumming like something
immense is near. I do not make way for the cold.
I burn it out, setting every room to this furnace,
skylights blazing. I understand that answers
come in different forms, and on their own time,
sweeping out the dark with little warning.
This morning eight babies strapped into two large strollers
passed me at the crosswalk. They were flushed
with wind, cropped hair askew. I did not ask for
a timetable or a pile of sand. I did not feel marked
by a vanishing point. I thought their faces
looked clairvoyant, conscious of a process that
at most times I am not. I did not stare
long enough to see it.
Present me with the greater half
of your sacrifice.
May I look at your hands?
May I press your hands
into my temples, may I pick apples
cracked by the sun, may I become
saint-like, resurrect memories,
and if I am incapable of memory
may I speak with my mother?
The figure of my father says no
and makes corrections
when I turn my back.
The embassy of food has collapsed
over this little conference of wounds.
Someone will grab me by the throat
if they’re unhappy.
I think I’ll let the pressure
become great enough
to launch a spacecraft into
the blood-red mood of the evening.
When my father advises me
his eyes are off somewhere
in the fieldless end
as he decides how he should
deal with me. My problem is motion,
limbs held beneath unbroken ice.
I have never been this close
to the fissure between restraint
and restraint’s materials.
He will also one day soften
but for now he makes a speech,
my father, calling hunger all across
America. I protest, courteous but shaken,
isolated, intractable. I’m waiting
for the arc in his voice to run out
and behind my face make a fire;
restraint becomes the only
grave in my nightmare.
Hunger the only regime.
His daydreams are about death, his father,
and sex. I know his gentleness is often
overlooked, but the way he sees—
camera facedown on the table
lifted, aimed—is the way I see.
Gentleness, death, books
unread, art unseen, living hungry
for art, for love, like clockwork
the schedule, the structure, is internal
and the trains come or they don’t
and we die or we don’t. In the museum,
the world’s oldest piano is surrounded
by visitors. Darkness translates into
magnificent gold, Byzantine coins in a row.
I’m talking to the marble face in the vitrine
as if her body has been recovered.
I’m backing away from the wall of negatives
the artist will develop or won’t.
The thrown-out art is on display.
It means more to me than it should
that when you approach me
the images arise, chemical, intaglio,
permanent, all too inexpressible
and you are the only one who sees them.
At eight, at ten, at midnight, a memory
breaks up traffic. I remember your
boxes of instruments filled with hundreds
of extinguished signals. To contradict
a death, one must believe they can
still hear a sunrise. I try to repeat this
plainly and without alarm,
a sound descended from the lyre.
Madeleine Barnes is a poet, visual artist, and doctoral fellow in English Literature at the Graduate Center, CUNY. Her debut poetry collection, You Do Not Have To Be Good, was recently selected as the winner of Trio House Press’ open reading period and will be published in 2020. She is the author of three chapbooks, most recently Women’s Work, forthcoming from Tolsun Books, and Light Experiments (Porkbelly Press, 2019). She serves as Poetry Editor at Cordella Magazine, a publication that showcases the work of women and non-binary writers and artists. She earned an MFA in Creative Writing from NYU in 2016, and she teaches at Brooklyn College.