Four Poems by Elizabeth Barnett


It’s a big house.
My room is in the attic.

They give me a rope
ladder in case of fire.

I practice on the roof,
and no one cares.

I know they care.
But dad’s

in the hospital,
the boys

are I don’t know
where, a maid

calls up the stairs.
We’re floating

on the price
of oil.

The story:

something bad
happened to a family—
they were hogtied
or they were killed.
I know it matters,
but I can’t remember which.
Either way, they weren’t found
for days. For a few weeks
we kept telling each other the story
cutting between them—tied up or dead—
and us, driving by their house
(the giant azaleas of several mild winters).
The end we came up with was this:
“It could have been any of us.”
We liked saying it but didn’t like the part after,
when we were alone. So we made
a phone tree with code words.
You had to say the phrase
exactly. I can’t tell you what it was.
It’s my password now for everything.

Death & Sons

Meredith tells me
about our teacher’s son,
what he did to himself.

How he came to her mom’s home.
It had the perfect name:

Meredith had a different name:
Her dad’s.
She says a lot of times,

it’s not even sad.
Meredith has me stand
with one knee bent,

white Ked against the wall,
tells me to scrape off
some of my hick drawl.

I do all that Meredith says.
Her brother shows me
his waterbed.

They’re acting surprised

about the neighborhood
where she was found.
So leafy for something
this red. Our long sedan
a sonogram wand,
there, there, there,
under the ground.



Elizabeth Barnett lives in Kansas City, where she teaches at Rockhurst University and directs the Midwest Poets Series. Her poems have appeared in journals including Gulf Coast, Hunger Mountain, and The Massachusetts Review

Categories: Poetry

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