Trio House Press
publishing distinct voices in American Poetry
since 2011

You Do Not Have to Be Good by Madeleine Barnes

Madeleine Barnes is a poet, visual artist, and Ph.D. fellow in English Literature at the Graduate Center, CUNY. She is the author of several chapbooks, most recently Women’s Work, forthcoming from Tolsun Books, and Light Experiments, Porkbelly Press’ first ever zine-style photo chapbook (2019). Since 2016, she has served 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, and she co-curates the Lunar Walk Poetry Series in Manhattan. Named an emerging writer by the Poetry Ireland Introductions Series, she is 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. She teaches at Brooklyn College.

Dreamscape with Embryo


In my dream you were grape-sized

and wanted milk.


I had sparkling water, no milkbottle,

but I watched you bloom,


you who I might never give birth to

because of my life is governed


by medicine.

Is there a remedy?


Last winter I sat in the library

as though inside the beak of a bird


reading a study on women who stopped

their medications in order to become pregnant —


many terminated one third of the way through,

as life had become dire, unlivable.


I pressed the pages flat

with fingertips like kerosene.


Child who my father so badly wants to meet,

should I pass on this linage of pills,


mirrors, curved spines, anxiety,

postpartum, hospital gowns — to you?


Would you be like me, undoing

the latticework of your body


with rituals when pain splinters

the nesting bowl? I would


talk you through it. Once,

I told my mother that being alive


meant always being worried

about death — I would rather


be a drop in the ocean,

or a prism.


If you weren’t born, how could you

be loved? she said.


Must something be conscious

in order to be loved?


Little fleck of gold —

tell me what you want.


I’ll clear the area,

dilate, iron-infused,


see what I can make

with blood and flesh,


wait at the ruby-red

station of withdrawal


to stop shaking,

for sleep to return.


I know the risks:

uncontrollable crying,


seizures, delirium,

vomiting, tremors.


Soft anonymous:

let me know.


You do not have to

be grateful.