Julie Brooks Barbour: New Poems

Art by Linda Plaisted

Woman as Pylon in an Empty Lane

I make all the right moves. Blinker signals my right turn. I brake at the all-way stop. But a Dodge Ram is in such a rush they swerve around my Jeep Cherokee and speed onto the next street. When I finally make my turn, the street stretches empty. The houses stare past me into each other, or into a vacant lot. All day I wonder if I exist.

Dispatch from Planet H

Before I left Earth, I removed the candle from the mantel and its crisp scent of apple. The frames, too, with photos of deceased grandparents, their faces frozen in joy. I removed the ceramic owl. Removed books from shelves–anthologies, novels, the occasional comics volume. Removed a woven wall hanging. Every memory announced itself in decibels. The couch where I dozed off watching a sitcom. Too much noise even in objects I couldn’t lift. All hauled to storage in case I return. The owl with its smooth feathers would have been small enough to bring. But I needed a break so clean it resembled pain.

Woman Forgoes Etiquette and Artifice, with Reservations

I don’t have the energy to keep up appearances. Let gray hair streak my temples. Let my light mustache darken every year, my nose hairs lengthen. Makeup hasn’t touched my face since age 40. The hardwood floors in my house are scratched in high traffic areas, some boards stained with cat vomit. When my parents visit, I act aloof. I’m silently ashamed and angry about this shame. When I address Christmas cards I forgo rules of etiquette, eclipsing formalities that omit me, a married woman who never uses the title MRS in daily life. Elders alive in the late 20th century would say I’ve made it– house, husband, child in college, steady job. Two decades ago, my wedding was a simple celebration. Minister and pianist. Daisies by the dozen. I made everyone think I was like them.

Dispatch from Planet H

On Earth, I stared at my face in a mirror until I couldn’t see myself, only my different performances. Saturday in sweats. Weekdays in fitted clothes for work. Occasionally a night with friends in a fancy blouse and slacks. I changed the canvas to please. Concealer. Mascara. Light lipstick. My hair brushed if not washed, always styled. A sparkling pendant between my breasts. 

Robots do not applaud after I gather stones in a pile. If I were to play a part, they wouldn’t notice. The only mirrors are their reflective bodies that stop at my command, my reflection always distorted. 

Here, I’ve stripped all artifice. Even the sweet tones of my voice, chirps of a chipper greeting. I wear the same full bodysuit in black, superhero spandex. No high tech accessories. The curves of my body align with the roundness of stones.

Woman Digs into the Earth

Hard at the surface then soft. Worms sniffed me and circled my wrists. Smooth bodies, like mine.

They sensed my wanting. Told me to feel it more deeply. I dug down so deep and dark I glistened. Held nothing in my palms but the fingers of worms.

When I surfaced, I brought nothing back. Shook myself clean. Oh, but my wanting. It was brand new. I noticed where every band of light landed: tulips, the air, fluttering leaves, the dog at my heels.

And the house in front of me where I’d spent my life, its furniture and tables, the staircases? No light.

Dispatch from Planet H

I stand in a dark landscape. Only stones and stars attend me. My voice cracks after months of disuse. Then a steady, clear peal. After what seems a long time, another person speaks into the air. I answer back. She turns her face to me. She resembles stones and stars in her solitude. Surely she is my own reflection. Who else would stand here with me? Then she moves in her separate place. She calls again, sounds nothing like me. For a while, only the two of us lifting voices. The sky awash with stars.

Julie Brooks Barbour is the author of two collections, Haunted City (2017) and Small Chimes (2014), both from Kelsay Books, and three chapbooks, including Beautifully Whole (Hermeneutic Chaos Press, 2015) and Earth Lust (Finishing Line Press, 2014). Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in South Dakota Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Whale Road Review, Moon City Review, Menacing Hedge, and Allium, A Journal of Poetry and Prose. She teaches writing at Lake Superior State University where she co-edits the journal Border Crossing.

Julie Brooks Barbour’s Website

Julie Brooks Barbour at Menacing Hedge

Julie Brooks Barbour at Whale Road Review

Julie Brooks Barbour at Glass: A Journal of Poetry

Julie Brooks Barbour at EIL:

Julie Brooks Barbour


Review of Haunted City


Earth Lust

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