Poetry by Carol Barrett

My First Suicide

was Margo Bayne’s mother. They lived in a big log house on Lone Oak Road. She kept the pine poles waxed and polished, from floor to roof. There was a little triangular landing where you could look down on everyone. Margo’s Dad was an eye doctor and he’d be reading in the living room. Her brothers were never there, playing in the log fort they built in the woods near the main house. They were older than Margo and I felt sorry for her. She didn’t have any sisters. I had lots.

Kathy was the oldest, with blond hair, mine is brown, and she always had two chopped egg sandwiches for lunch plus carrot sticks. The carrot sticks were very important. People said they’d give her good eyes.

I ate supper at Margo’s sometimes because we were the same age. There were a lot of dishes and then dessert, some pudding with a fancy sauce you dipped from a little bowl with rosebuds. Mrs. Bayne was our Camp Fire Leader, and we’d troop over there, Kathy, me and the Crosby girls, to make booties for needy babies, and she’d correct the stitches. I had a pair she said we couldn’t send, they weren’t good enough. She said you had to think whether your own baby could wear them. I was ten and thought my baby would like them just fine. They took a lot of work, white with blue flowers.

What happened was, I was in the kitchen at our house and Mom was making a cake. I was licking chocolate beaters, and she told me since I was the one Margo’s age, I might be hearing some rumors. She wanted me to know straight out. They couldn’t find Margo’s Mom the night before, all the dishes laid out same as usual. I figure Margo must have gone up to that little landing. You could see everything up there. We played dolls there, or jacks, or talked about the girls who wore bras. We didn’t, not yet. Margo’s Dad couldn’t find her either. I got scared then. Margo’s Dad was an eye doctor and he could see anything. She said Margo’s Mom went down to some fort the kids built.

I was going to stop my Mom right then, tell her I knew all about the fort Margo’s brothers built. We weren’t allowed down there, no girls. But Mom had her eye on the batter real hard. She said Mrs.  Bayne went down to that fort the kids built and shot herself before they all came home. Mom put the cake in the oven. I didn’t want the beaters anymore and kept asking her why, you mean they couldn’t take her to the hospital? Margo’s Dad is an eye doctor and he should know what to do. The fort, the fort. I never saw any gun. What gun? We weren’t allowed in there. They couldn’t find her. Margo’s Mom is dead. Now Margo’s the only girl.

The next day at school I told Janet about Margo’s Mom and the fort Margo’s brothers built. I always told Janet everything. She said no, her Dad said it was a heart attack. That night we got out the paper to see for ourselves, and sure enough, it said Mrs. Bayne died suddenly of a heart attack at her home. It listed a bunch of stuff but didn’t say Margo’s Mom was our Camp Fire leader. I guess that’s what my Mom meant, that I’d hear a lot of rumors. I wished the paper had at least told about the fort, even if they left out that part about the gun. I mean, that’s where she went, it was not in her house with dinner ready.


 This poem first appeared in So To Speak.


Parts of Speech

in memory of Caroline Shrodes

Only two mornings since you gave in
to the ground, and I am hunting the green
nursery for signs, refusing any noun
but life. Full sun, the markers
advise, small instructions
tacked to their run-on sentence
of grief, like notes
in the margins of manuscripts, your bright
letters tugging the bloom.

Later I will walk the adjacent
years of our lives, subjunctive
rooms of talk, interjections
of fruit cups, participles
left to their own devices.
But here among perennial ivy,
baskets of periwinkle
and bougainvillea flash fuschia
like a verb in present tense.

Can you hear the lines ringing,
infinitives of friends,
the day’s conversations splashed
with Caroline?

I stake out the evening
for poems: clusters of kalanchoe,
lipstick pink, and the deeper
hearts of begonias, the open grammar
of leaves. Kneeling to trowel,
I slip the soaked roots out
easy as parentheses.

The night breathes on. All sound
is edited now but that soft
cat-pad down the corridor
of seminars, your true-red
shoes, their rhinestone buttons
blinking like a perfect paragraph,
your gypsy smile like a preposition
in the sky: of, with, beside, beyond.


This poem first appeared in The Network.


Loss At Evening

It did not happen
as I thought, long used to prophecy,
knowing when the first leaf
falls, the last
will give up clinging
to a tired limb.
I have watched tulips
peek above ground, intent
on survival, the delicate promise
of crimson, velvet crowns.
Oblivious to the wind
at our back, a jet alters
existence, its white message,
a billion dandelion seeds.

There is no need
for alarm. I have heard
Canadian geese in the field
behind the house, warning:
all things move, all things
call and are called.
The leaves, pins dropping
in the hush of wings.

This poem first appeared in The Thing Itself.


Carol Barrett holds doctorates in both creative writing and clinical psychology. She has worked for many years with widowed persons. Carol teaches for Union Institute & University and Saybrook University, where she offers a course on “Poetry and Holistic Health.”  She is the recipient of an NEA fellowship in Poetry, and the Richard Snyder Award from Ashland Poetry Press for her book Calling in the Bones (2005.) Her research appears in journals in the fields of Thanatology, Gerontology, Psychology and Women’s Studies.  Her poems appear in literary magazines and anthologies as well as periodicals in Medicine and Religious Studies. She lives in Bend, OR.

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