plain china: best undergraduate writing

Volume One : Issue One

Into Focus


by Madeleine Barnes

Sylvia in Silence by Alex Grummer

Throw your voice into this valley and it comes back
a mountain, she said, hers rising so unpredictably
I could barely keep sight of her. I called out, Anyone!

Anyone, anyone, I know how my voice sounds
in terms of the delphinium, the snakeskin,
the batwings, and how little it means within the circuitry

of loss. She said that the poem is our only clear space
for life, pure as paper and in time, absolutely full,
that we make room for poems that crash

into windowpanes, or poems that are slow
to come into focus. In calling out I am calling
to myself. I don’t know the conversation of existing

but I pick up fragments. It’s useless, she said,
to examine our own skeletons. I have thrown
my bones into a starry grave,

walked through a field of Queen Anne’s Lace.
I would like to speak only with paper. Everything else
overwhelms with its calling back and forth,

its vanishing. The poem will save you, she might have said
as it wrapped her carefully, lifted her away.

About the Author


Madeleine Barnes

Carnegie Mellon University

Madeleine Barnes majors in creative writing and fine arts at Carnegie Mellon University. In 2007 she received Princeton University’s Leonard Milberg '53 Secondary School Poetry Prize, chosen by C.K. Williams. Her work has appeared in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Splinter Generation, Y-PA Magazine, Dossier, Spectrum, Three Rivers Review, Oakland Review, and North-Central Review. In January 2009 she placed first in the University of Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Review poetry contest for Pittsburgh undergraduates. In March 2009 she placed first in the Borders Open Door Poetry Contest, judged by Billy Collins, who is featured reading her poem on the Borders website.