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


as though a certain fruit split open
and stained the air in a way I am not
imagining, as though the surface of his
turquoise ring changed to gray
in a way nothing should change
when touched, as though the surface
of the lake turned dark green when
the swans left—dramatic, as it must be,
the ritual of giving up blue, the sudden decision
not to see it, his decision to come to me broken
like they all do, because he wants me to perform
a different ritual with what light’s left.
Where are we? What else is in the room?
It still matters. He touches my ear
searching for the stray, unattainable—
wanting to catch hold of it. He leans
into me, which is what the sea can do
and it’s the same people, same music,
same ghosts I couldn’t forget from the very
start. I promised not to use less force
and by this, I meant several things:
I’d do what not everyone does,
I’d become arctic like the edges
of his body, and I wouldn’t give in
to loss and more loss even when
he indicated that it was enough.
Still: I look at him now through no particular body,
moved just enough to think I’ve found it…
the green that means something, an arrow,
a hunger is being ripped out of me
and there is a kind of music to it
that I don’t regret, or pity, and why
shouldn’t it matter, I try to say to him,
that it was so rough, that what
bruised me bruised you.

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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