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Her Soul Had No Stripes

I asked you what you wanted from all this and your jump rope

Stopped, skidded to gravel,

Your voice suddenly cold, antiseptic, marching out in blue ovals,

The braid between us

Undone, shook out in a smash of grass, an American lawn

Lumped and bunched

From cutworm tunnels, my eyes on the puddles, proud

With the bait of a sharp little moon.

It was so quiet, so urgent, the one thing I’d stitched to my tongue.

But the words were bricked

In—à la Plaza Mayor in Madrid. Like a drowning, a vagueness

Poured out over every

Poorly lit crib. Sad little things, you obsessed mid-yawn, mid-sin.

Such a big garage you’ve got

And no room to forgive. Well…it’s complex. My definition

Of excess? Spelling s

E-s-s. This is what I want, you said, folding the rug we sat on

Into a pleated peplum dress.


The Gay Nineties

as it turns out, weren’t really all that gay.
There was no time for merriment, because
every hour was filled with chores:
polishing apples, burying the puppies.
What I mean is, no one was glitterbombed.
Suspenders were trendy, but only
with the church crowd. Having a beard was both a privilege
and an ordinance. The most important tool
was the shovel, and railroad workers used it
for sixteen hours straight. Until they all lost their jobs.
It’s true. Coxey’s Army looked pretty good
till you got up close, with their soot-streaked overalls
and general dreariness. Not very coxey. It’s possible
the problem was that Council Bluffs was considered
a major metropolis. Mormons blazed a trail right out of there
and I, a gap-toothed Nancy, leapt into their wagon.
Beneath the bullet-punched tarp, on a prairie
sparkling with dew and starlight, I’d claw at a family
of so many boys. They say we’re out of Kansas,
but in here we’re all friends of Dorothy.



Melissa Barrett‘s poems have recently appeared in Narrative, Gulf Coast, Anti-, Web Conjunctions, and Best New Poets 2013. She is the recipient of an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, a Tin House writer’s scholarship, and a national teaching award from Building Excellent Schools.