top of page

Christine Barkley



October isn’t autumn

anymore. Smoke signals

and summer passes

on its laze, its long wait for fire

-break. We receive the weather, or else

it acts on us. Trust whichever lets

rest less uneasy. Dried leaves left

unread in their cups with no

forecast for finales no hazarded

guess at the end. Time

for divining in ash and in ember,

unasked gifts giving again.

Grassland kicking up kindling.

The breeze unbreathable here.

The noises we were

hearing we still are, the growing

roar warning retreat

or relent. Pass it on.

The cry, the clang,

the alarm singing along

our thinning skins.

Hard to see through

the threat of it, past the terracotta

of the rooftops to the same

of the sky. Hard to catch wind

of a way out. Hard to hold

to hope or stay the hand bent

on breaking windows when

the fire has our backs. Pass

the last exit. Pass the matches.

What is coming for us

already is.

Woman Running Night


I sense the roads I don’t

want to know, the turns

that end dead, the dead.

The way I go, harm.

I don’t speak of the fear

for fear. For what follows

the rush, the flush, the height

of life or light shining teeth

-bright through black.

Then dark choking back

across streets, airless

squeeze of what I believe.

What I don’t know

I want. Bad weathers battering

the gutter, rifling from a long

shot, straight to the throat.

If I had a weapon it would be handled

gold, bladed opal, useless.

If I had any sense. If I did. There is no

defending this. Even at the trachea, 

the crossroad, the carotid. The crosswinds

confusing adrenaline for incentive. I speak

of it here for fear, for love

of it. The path branches, shoulders

what I couldn’t know, didn’t want.

What follows me careening at speed

I now sometimes hope will catch.

I have come to desire what I can’t

avoid. What is the use.

Where I go from this, what I know

better, how I wish. A bruise, an evidence.

I have come to quiet down. Wound

that I am opening

that I am, ask me.

No. Tell me

what is the harm.

Prussian Blue


For two decades I had lost

skirts and shoes to

jealousy, and so had you.

So we were. Savage

and covetous and joined

at our hips, by the shape

and shade of our eyes, or the cut

of our tongues. How we lied

of love. How we took each other

at the word. How many

of my missings

fell in fact to theft, 

the sorority of

gifts? To this day I swell

and break seasick

below memories or forgeries,

surfacing in your shirt stolen and

splashed with The Great Wave

off Kanagawa. Since we last

spoke I’ve learned the new

hue of that famous ocean

was called a revolution;

unexpected and enduring,

born by an accident

of blood. Concentrated just right,

that color could cure almost

any poisoning. Yet in spite

what was wrong with us

went fatal. A familiar,

enduring accident; a slip

of cyanide, a rip tide.

How I surface blue

-lipped searching for the last

wreckage floating, the antidote

to the fallout. Any thing

we might still share.

Fallows and Fault Lines (II)


When I think of gemstones

I smell the meat of metal in my pulse.

When I say I can’t speak straight I mean

that there is no bronze in the blood.

I collect minerals carved in the shapes

of eggs and I don’t know why -

the collecting or the carving, the nature of it all.

I mark the seasons now by the warnings

for floods or fire. I mark the dangers now by the

bodies laid out for collecting or carving,

the kindred copper of veins. I hope that they held

even half this fury. I hope that they held

at least more than this fear. When I say

an egg is an egg I mean that it is not

a newborn at all. When I say

I lay my body - when I say my body -

I mean that it is my body.


I held a hand over my nested ribs and cried out.

I held a hand over my belly and hoped.

This is the first time I have spoken of this;

this is the last time I will speak of this.

It was nothing more than pulling

a splinter of silica from the opal of an open

wound. What I held was only cold

earth and metal rust, unshed. What I carry

still is a flutter whenever I fail

to bleed - nightmares of snares, flattened

fields; a shard of mica catching the last

of the sunshine, or the first sight of fire.

When say I pray for fertility I mean

for anyone but me. I mean it.


I haven’t seen a fledgling since I was pregnant.

I haven’t hoped for anything so hard since then.

I didn’t tell anyone until I told everyone.

Now I hold and carry and say

only what I will bring to meaning.

When I say the way I word this biology

lays my whole life on a wide open vein

I mean that the softest pearl speaks

to an intrusion, but also a strength.

Skeleton Key


I left our other home before

the beginning.

We wallpapered over that life

in final artifice, in foreclosure.

I kept the key knowing

the locks would never be

the same. Now

that memory opens

nothing. Now in dreams

doors only closing.

Now I must stop calling

nightmares dreams.

Now they worry for what I will leave

behind, if I leave;

across the sea lives everyone

who does not know me.


At the end I sat peeling layers

from the stairway

for days, never found

the everlasting beneath.

What will I leave behind,

when I leave?

Across the sea will stay everyone

who could not open me.

I’ll stop calling.

I’ll keep the key.


Christine Barkley is a writer based in the Pacific Northwest. Her poems and personal essays have appeared or are forthcoming in The Manhattan Review, Grain, The Journal, Rust and Moth, Massachusetts Review, Salamander, The Indianapolis Review, and the Pinch, among others. She is a poetry reader for TriQuarterly and The Maine Review.


bottom of page