Julie Brooks Barbour
If you had never known fear
If you had never been told what to avoid,
where not to walk at night. If you had never
heard stories of girls who went out alone,
the violent endings that keep you hyperaware
and vigilant. If your body could be something
other than desire’s object. If you could be taller.
If you could throw a punch and land it squarely.
If you could run faster. If you had been born
a force, your body meant to be muscle, all strength.
Your mind must be able to expel ghosts
and their haunts, the images men create.
You must notice shadows that move toward you
among dark streets. You must learn every street
and alley, every corner. If you had never known fear
then you would not know how to organize the city,
your own neighborhood, which route might be
quickest in the event. You must never finish
that sentence. You must avoid the dead end.
Pay No Attention
Pay no attention to the forests and lakes, the ocean
skirting the shore, all that wilderness. Follow routes
already mapped out: interstates, highways, back roads.
Pay no attention to instinct telling you to turn right
instead of left. Because he won’t ask for directions,
follow him. Know that he looks out for your best interest
when it’s only his. Remember he took you down
a dirt road to the woods where a landowner left
bodies of cars to rust. Remember he had an agenda.
You should have no agenda. You should trust
and be kind, always. Know that he means well,
even if he doesn’t. Know that this road, when it’s dark,
doesn’t need headlights or road signs. He can feel around
without a map. He knows what he wants to find.
At a resort, a man chased me through the halls,
past coffee shops and gift shops, until I ducked
into a bathroom and hid in a stall.
A woman followed me. Why didn’t I want him,
she wanted to know. Why was I running,
why was I crouched among dirty toilets?
I didn’t mean to be there, I told her.
It was a mistake. I’d been traveling
and ended up in this place.
But here you are, she reminded me,
and pulled me by my arm past the door to the stall,
past a row of sinks and their mirrors
and into the hallway
where a man in a dark coat waited.
Every morning I wake to the heavy sound
of the name I was given to make me
belong to someone else, soot tacked on
to what could have lilted from the tongue
and rested there like music. I’m a shadow
in the stairwell and the corner
of a room, intangible and speechless,
what you cannot clear with a broom
or a dream. I move as quickly
as a ghost to clear the air
and won’t talk back. I serve you
without complaint. I’m so good at it
you believe it’s what I want.
The Ghosts Put an End to It
The affair ended, then one night water dripped from the ceiling
in such a consistent rhythm I called him instead of a plumber.
He came over in a suit and tie from a late congressional meeting
and checked the leak. He could fix it, he said. He eyed me,
gave me the old half-smile that meant more than I wanted.
Drops of water fell from the ceiling more quickly. He moved
closer and reached for the belt of my robe. The television
suddenly switched on and blared, the sudden noise jolting him
back and away from me. I cinched my belt tighter, pinching
my stomach, and crossed my arms over my waist.
The door swung open as if on its own.
Julie Brooks Barbour is the author of the chapbook Come To Me and Drink (Finishing Line Press, 2012). Her poems have appeared in Waccamaw, diode, Prime Number Magazine, storySouth, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, The Rumpus, and on Verse Daily. She teaches at Lake Superior State University where she is co-editor of the journal Border Crossing.
Julie Brooks Barbour’s Website
Julie Brooks Barbour at Finishing Line Press
Julie Brooks Barbour at Verse Daily
Border Crossing, a journal co-edited by Julie Brooks Barbour
These are poems that do not leave the mind easily.