The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: You Do Not Have To Be Good by Madeleine Barnes

Forty Black Ships 

I was dressing her in armor for the war.
I guided her feet into bronze socks,

helped her step into netted yellow pants,
tied her shins with quilted grids of gold.

Crinet, grangaurd, shoulder plates.
It was almost time, but I didn’t know.

And when the nurse knocked I helped her
rise from the violet bed. And when I

dispatched her into the battlefield, I said:
take my spears and black-tipped arrows.

Run toward your mother, and her mother.
I will follow soon when I find the right plates

to cover my trembling breastbone.
I’ll come when I cannot see you anymore

but for now, my shield, my daggers,
forty black ships in the sea offshore.

I was sure that she could not hear me weeping
as I lowered the helmet over her curls
and kissed the heavy visor.

This selection comes from the book, You Do Not Have To Be Good, available from Trio House Press.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Krista Cox.

 Madeleine Barnes is a poet, visual artist, Mellon Foundation Humanities Public Fellow, and English PhD student at The Graduate Center, CUNY. She serves as Poetry Editor at Cordella Magazine, a publication that showcases the work of women and non-binary writers and artists. Her debut poetry collection, You Do Not Have To Be Good, is forthcoming from Trio House Press in July 2020. She is the author of three chapbooks, most recently Women’s Work, forthcoming from Tolsun Books. She’s the recipient of two Academy of American Poets poetry prizes, the Princeton Poetry Prize, the Gertrude Gordon Journalism Prize, and the Three Rivers Review Poetry Prize. Visit her at

For money, Krista Cox is a paralegal at an environmental and insurance coverage firm. For joy, she’s an Associate Poetry Editor at Stirring: A Literary Collection and Executive Director of Lit Literary Collective, a nonprofit serving her local literary community. She serves on the board of the Feminist Humanist Alliance. Her poetry has appeared in Columbia JournalCrab Fat MagazineThe Humanist, and elsewhere. Her internet hangout is


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