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3 poems by Brianna Barnes

Updated: Jan 15, 2023

Action Painting

My love of trance states was getting me in trouble. Dancing, I orbited around the slick

glow of flashbulb on anyone’s teeth, momentarily Instagrammable. I sang for hours, unrepentant. Who knew I was capable of feeling this much? Who knew there was so much hair in the carpet? It’s mine and yours and yours, all of the yous in the hall of mirrors waving infinite dressing room hellos, do you look beautiful? Do you look like more like your mother or your father? What will you do if the answer is intolerable? My stranded self will always be stranded, so I’ll let her die on that isle, mouth open to the rain. A beetle crawls into it and her rigor mortis jaw snaps shut, a trap for all small, slow-moving creatures, animated and hard, armored. Inside, the beetle traverses the new rotting terrain, the bumpy tongue, the dark that closes out the overbearing turquoise of the ocean. On the other side of the ocean is the carpet is the hair which is traceable to only so many incarnations of self. On the other side of singing is the fire, and of course, per the demands of fire, there is no longer anything human left. Forensics could not make a determination; there were no teeth. There were not even dental records. The dental records burned in the fire and she’d lived in that town her whole life. “I’m sorry,” the investigator says, and sets to reducing reality. There is a form for this.


In the dream, a man in a tuxedo, lost from a gameshow set, sits in the middle of a circle

of pregnant women in an antiseptic church basement. Near the door, a wobbly card table

supports a feast of inedible snacks. The women are all very pregnant. The tuxedoed man sits in the center on a wheeled chair, holding a microphone. There is no light outside the circle, which is spotlighted. He spins around in circles in the chair, repeating into the microphone, “Tell . . . me .. . what . . . it . . . feels . . . like . . . to . . . be . . . occupied.” Nothing absorbs the sound. None of the women speak or look at each other, and the man asks his question over and over. I cannot find myself in the room. If you are not in your own dream, you’re supposed to be dead. Whose dream is this, then? It isn’t mine.


There were still some beautiful things I could find: scraps of paper (a grocery list, a

parking ticket), a feather, a chipped bike light, a rhinestone, a bone. People were always dragging a piano off somewhere--the middle of a field, a monarch grove, a pier--and I was always on my way to hear them play, my pockets full of crows’ treasures. I veered off into a network of seaside caves, trap caverns I slept in when the tide wasn’t too high. But if I awoke to a whispered bellish sound, salty brackish water threatening my post, I’d wake up, from one out of context to another out of context, sweating like the faithless. There were never any unthreatened landscapes. Upon waking the next day, I assumed the full zombie posture on the edge of the pond, making daisy chains like an idiot. But I could let myself have that. Why not? I could let beauty be simple. I could let it be one thing.


Brianna Barnes holds an MFA from Indiana University. In 2019, she attended the Tin

House Summer Workshop and was awarded an author fellowship at the Martha's Vineyard

Institute of Creative Writing. She was awarded a Bloomington Arts Commission grant in 2022 to work on essays about the COVID pandemic.


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