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4 Poems by Sarah Carson


I’ve got a picture of the two of us waiting for fried onions. In it someone’s left the canister of garlic salt on the stove for too long, and now it won’t stand on end. This is what it’s been like for years now, the toppling. No one throws anything away; they just wait for the bottom to get more flat. Once we went to see a pastor about it. You asked, “Who invented God?” and were livid at the answer. You would not accept further explanation, the “someone just had to write down all the places that He’d been.” I, for one, thought it was a great answer to a loaded question. I started saying it to myself when I was stuck in airports, but you went home and packed your things into someone else’s van. You called the police and told them the whole story. They were confused, and one officer sent the other to go outside and flip off the flashing lights; instead he stood out there for a long time smoking a cigarette, and this made you even angrier. That night you went out and got a crucifix tattooed across the better of your two shoulders. You couldn’t take a picture of it, so you cut a hole in your shirt. “That’s cool,” I said when you called me to talk about it. When I saw it in person, though, it wasn’t half as bad as I’d imagined. I’ve always meant to tell you that.

How It Begins

It starts somewhere near the end of the driveway. I arrive, and you’re already ther,e and you tell me, “Shhh,” and I obediently wait. For a long time it is just the sound of wind on fences. Then it’s the clopping of a far off car leaking fluids. It comes up around the corner, flashes its lights, fades away. You think someone told you once that this is how it started. That first it is this oddly quiet. You remember this and sit down against the wires someone has left in the ditch. It is getting late now, and the dogs are coming home from the places that call them strays. Soon you know you’ll have to come back inside where the kitchen is empty. You’ll wait impatiently for the turn of the deadbolt lock, for the furnace in the basement to howl and click on. You will watch the alarm clock fixed to the shelf above your headboard. You’ll ask if I can remember how long it is til morning. We will hold our pillows against ourselves and wait.

What the Aliens Hear

In space they call you hambone, ottoman, airman splitter. They have scientists who spend weeks at a time intercepting the signals off the satellites, entire colleges dedicated to what you mean. If I even think your name the pigeons in the train trestles shiver, the rail dust from their wings lands on the eyelids of small children who dream they’re seeing golden flashbulbs, comets even, in a perfect nighttime parade. Once I took a poem I wrote of you to a coffee shop downtown and read it out loud into a microphone and the feedback from the amplifier made a microwave melt, grilled a sandwich somebody had ordered cold. This is why I need to tell you something about the day I met you. It was Tuesday. You were sleeping. I had never been more awake.

When I’m Young I Turn a Therapist against My Mother

He’s the kind of man who crosses his legs at the knee rather than the ankle the way real men do; he dreams about splitting people open the way a burglar finds money in a mattress. The notebook he holds on his lap is only filled with scribbles. Ask him my father’s name, and he’ll never have been able to find it, even though he makes copies of it week after week. He’s in mid daydream when I say her name with all the conviction of a single mother raising hell at the DMV, and he needs something to make living more interesting. He lifts his head and the chestnut tree outside the window begins dropping its fruit by the armload. He looks at the mother, and her eyes separate. Alone in the kitchen that night she runs the water so hot the steam fogs up her glasses, and when she’s done rinsing dad’s root beer mug, she turns around and flings it against the wall beneath the spice rack where it breaks into several distinct pieces. She cries as she sweeps, and I pretend not to see.

Sarah Carson was born and raised in Flint, Michigan but now lives in Chicago with her dog, Amos, who has recently learned to swim. She is the author of the chapbooks Before Onstar (Etched Press, 2009), Twenty-Two (Finishing Line Press, 2010), and When You Leave (H_NGM_N, forthcoming in 2012).