Melissa Barrett

Two poems from Melissa Barrett’s Moon on Roam

followed by a note on the author

The Brain Names Itself

The brain named Leif Erikson and Verizon.
Named our dog After after “after,” my favorite
preposition. The brain named looners, nooners,
and euphemisms. Brought an al dente noodle
to the spaghetti house. The brain invented paint by numbers
with Bob Ross and painted numbers on wooden cubes
and a wood of painted bark. It invented acronyms
and contractions. DTF at two o’clock. The brain
invented measurements for precise timekeeping
and the idea that time is a social construct.
The brain thinks a thought and thinks about thinking.
You don’t get much more meta than a fruit salad
served from a watermelon basket. The brain wrote
the heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit.
The brain traced lines from stars and starred the best lines
from books. The brain wrote books and turned some
into props, like the hollowed-out Bible that held alcohol
in The Simpsons. The other Homer spoke his books
and hollowed out a horse. The brain named Zima, Zafiro
Añejo, Helen, and the hippocampus, which comes
in the shape of a seahorse. The brain invented comparison.
The brain invented cramming. The brain invented irony.
Imagine all the med students trying to commit
the functions of the hippocampus to memory.


Cross Examination

Memory is at its finest the lip reading of a lost moment.
Instead of “I love you,” you got “island view.” Instead
of “my tag is itchy,” you make out “my dad’s an intern.”
Well, my dad is an intern, so that’s lucky. Read my lips:
I’m a good liar. I think this is because I have a round face.
Cherub cheeks and eyes that disappear when I laugh:
something about all that tells people I am “innocent.”
You get away with a lot if you have the right bone structure.
Studies show that people who use air quotes are full of shit.
Other studies show that people who curse openly tend to
be more honest, and that women who wear make-up
are perceived as being more trustworthy. Figure that one out.
Here is a fact proven by science: 100 percent of writers
are “storytellers.” As in, dishonest people. It’s like
what Amy Hempel said: similes are liars, and metaphors
are better liars. Nothing in the world is truly like anything else
so why do we insist on drawing comparisons. Except she
didn’t say it exactly like that. I don’t remember what she said
or if I’ve ever even heard her speak. Eyewitness testimony
is about as reliable as my mailman, who told me there’s something
kind of sexy about always being late. Perjury is defined as “knowingly
making a false statement.” Merely misremembering is not a crime.
How many of us misremember the first line of this poem?
In the dark auditorium, after the applause, the poet sits down
as the audience scrambles to recall a favorite line. The memory
of her lips reading lost. You lean over and tell me,
“You just touched my thigh.” Watching your mouth move,
I get, “You look deep in thought.” I swear to God,
I am deep in something. I just don’t know what.


Melissa Barrett was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1983, and earned her BA from Wittenberg University and MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. She taught for several years before becoming the director of a middle school in Columbus, Ohio, where she lives with her partner, the artist Pete Burkeet, and their two dogs, Pearl and Paul. Barrett’s poems have appeared in BOMB, Harvard Review, Crazyhorse, Gulf Coast, the Iowa Review, Best American Poetry, and many other journals.
The Brain Names Itself first appeared in the Iowa Review; Cross-Examination first appeared in Crazyhorse.