Trio House Press
publishing distinct voices in poetry
since 2012

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.

“In You Do Not Have to Be Good Madeleine Barnes has crafted a beautiful and luminous book of lyrics out of the grit and gristle of lived experience. This ‘scarred’ yet ‘flowering’ collection is lit from within by the poet's fierce resilience and faith in the redemptive potential of love. Barnes is a poet who attends to the breaking and broken body while never losing sight of the ‘body’s impossible blessings.’ ‘Change is your flint/use it to renew,’ she writes, ‘Say it:/you want to live.’ I am grateful for Barnes’s powerful voice singing clear light into the darkness we inhabit.  Hers is a searing, necessary debut.”

—Deborah Landau

“Madeleine Barnes generously reaches toward painful places that many poets are afraid to touch. Organizing her book around a sequence of absolving principles, she enacts a forgiveness journey, without false consolation; instead, she speaks in praise of tenacious embroidery, steadfast retrieval, destinationless self-assemblage, and a pleasing neutrality, as if she were looking at disaster, or at daily life, through a scrim that gave some of the sad information but kept the viewer safely unseen. The book, an artfully composed act of ambiguous witness, addresses a ‘you’—a compassionate reader who will feel, as I do, grateful to Barnes for her high level of craft, wisdom, and emotional resourcefulness.”

—Wayne Koestenbaum, author of Camp Marmalade

“A wonderfully idiosyncratic logic animates Madeleine Barnes's debut collection, You Do Not Have To Be Good: half spirit, half inner speech. The poems take shape in the space between the dystopia of a real world and the utopia of a world the speaker longs for and valiantly wills into being: ‘I wish the sirens were remnants of churchbells, cymbals, second-hand static,’ she says. Caritas and death confront each other in ‘the sting of how easily we are forgotten.’ Through the poem ‘Vulnerary,’ I learned that a ‘vulnerary’ is something used to heal a wound, a definition that also applies to this powerful new voice.”

—Catherine Barnett