Melissa Barrett

Worse Horse



The height of my career was when my boss called my personality

“vexing.” He was a dentist and I was his aid. He got kickbacks

from Crest and Dentyne. When I should have been prepping

the X-Rays, he’d catch me texting. The office was practically

all windows. That way patients could sit back and see the beauty

of the interstate. Dr. Tooth Decay. He actually named his business that.

We went days without speaking. I’d slurp a Sonic milkshake

and read magazines on my lunch break. Sit in the lobby with the fish tank.

I had to come in and feed them over the holidays. What a dumb

business expense: living breathing things. “Aquarium therapy”

vexes me. Here’s the thing: he had horrible breath. How do you

diagnose your dentist-boss with a mouth disease? Sometimes he’d do

a cleaning with a bit of ?? wedged in his teeth. The irony killed me.

It’s kind of like the haircut thing: don’t get a haircut from someone

in a wig. Or the restaurant thing, although I still don’t know…

does a fat chef imply good or bad cuisine? And would Napoleon be pissed

if he knew all we talked about was how he was small and mean?

Too short for the NBA but too tall to be a jockey. That’s okay.

A winning horse doesn’t know why it runs the race.

A winning horse doesn’t even know its own clever name.

Forgetting I'd Already Forgotten



Now it’s back, dragged back, up the steps, crawled

over, stood up, ready to be seen—here, by accident.

REMEMBER ME etched into a gold-plated locket.

Happy anniversary, little dear. Only one more month

before the annulment. My dog’s name is Paul, short

for APOLOGIZE. Smell triggers more memories

than any other sense, even sight. I’m attempting to retrace

what was on the blackboard last night. A list of words

that ought to rhyme (fear and pear, worse and horse, great

and threat) and an outline of a boy eating ice.

Which one’s harder, to remember or to forget?

Before the printing press, people had to memorize ideas

or memorialize them in stained glass. Art had a function:

scenes from Beowulf painted; the beatitudes emblazoned

in mosaic. Every object, a plea to memory . . . but even

with all that effort, it’s harder to forget. It happens

only by accident, and the more you want it, the more

you obsess. My ex-wife Colette used to sing a lullaby,

“Never forget me.” Tethered to this imperative, she

successfully possessed me. Then divorced and regretted me.

Alzheimer’s patients recite poems in an attempt to access

old memories. Fear works its witchy runnels through a brain

parched hard with thought. Give it up. Escape. Post-traumatic stress

after a weekend in Las Cruces. I want to forget; I dream

of a clean slate. Unparch me, annul me. Tabula rasa is my desired state.



MELISSA BARRETT’s poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in BOMB, Harvard Review, Crazyhorse, Gulf Coast, the Iowa Review, and Best American Poetry. She lives in Columbus, Ohio and works at a middle school. You can find her online here.