Wendy Carlisle: Poetry (five poems)


Southern Legitimacy Statement: I have been here before and so will not redundify you with tales of my Florida childhood my young womanhood West Virginia and in Maryland. I’ll go right to Arkansas where I began living in 1972/3 and where I’ve gladly gotten back to now. There were those years in Texas but I think of them as my personal Babylonian Captivity. I’m at home now with grits and ticks, one of which I truly love. I have a farmer’s tan and I know how to sweat. Yup. Southerner.


August: Arkansas

convinces us there’s still time for travel although summer fails, only holds on by a fingernail.

August feels hotter because of accretion and span but July is hotter by the numbers.

Ripe as a peach, the trees grow dusty in air like taffy.

August outshines the previous sultry.

Its wind rouses the nose to what comes next.

August reports back from fecundity central.

Report shows fall will be wetter.

August is the fading profile on a worn coin.

Summer is that coin, vanishing.


Poem With Food and Lines from Two Other Poets

Given armchairs, TV trays and a reading lamp or two,

bunk beds made and unmade lettuce and ubiquitous grocery lists:

romaine, parmesan, etc. Given today’s taut lines in the four directions.

Given the facts we used to swallow about the chicken plant,

we have questions concerning intimidation, delay and flat lies.

Each morning, eggs return in their perfect form, then toast

and potatoes sizzling in the mercy of a cast iron pan. Given

officers in military body-armor with their tanks and their

flag-pin-gospel and their incessant blows against hungry dissenters,

we must become restless in front of our dented range tops.

Given how civics dulls our knives, how can we speak of lifting up

a joyful spoon amidst the ruin of what we assumed was a conventional

family meal? We wear a trouble halo over our kitchen hairnets.

We observe Congressional spatchcocking, then gobble the results

with a garnish of sly explanations that leak blood like a rare prime rib.

But (m)orality like art means drawing a line somewhere.

Is that the taut line? Is such a line the perimeter of assent,

the ability not to be transfixed by Wok Hay or regime fiction?

In what way may we reestablish praxis, arrive at …

that moment when everyone sees exactly what is on the end of their fork.

Oscar Wilde/ Ann Carson



It Took Forever for Spring to Come This Year

As the days lengthened into chill afternoons,
it was not a metaphor—you had drowned—

and we wondered if you had a clue you’d be inundated
by your own spit when you didn’t put out

the cigarette, always in your hand like another finger?
The potions and machines did not hold back

the grip of the well-known stranger. You hacked.

Ahem is transitive. It carries phlegm.
As you declined, we moved past cynicism into wonder.

We watched you become transparent under the moon’s albedo.
We tracked you as you disappeared into your armchair,

your hair still curling against your collar. You slipped away.
There was no place for us to look when we didn’t follow.



This month, Larry’s garden has begun the work of burgeoning. It has no more memory of last fall’s turned earth than smoke has of fire. It has begun to push and stretch with the smallest stem and no blossom. Soon the bees will work the catnip in Larry’s garden, their work, the work of life-making, the work of hum, relational, unconditional.

I imagine the harvest in Larry’s garden the way a river might imagine its future canyon.

I imagine the catnip—a huge bush that, when it’s flowered, will be pulled for the lions at the big cat sanctuary up the road. The interns in their khaki suits stuff pillowcases with Larry’s catnip and the lions and tigers roll it and and bite it as we bite the tomatoes and peppers Larry grows. But, even with the bee’s hard work, there will be a ways to go before we get to vegetables.


On the New Three Lane

The day is already a wreck, a traffic accident
I can’t drive by. As usual, I’m late. I tend to get
to any accident second, when the EMS is wheeling away
and the wrecker, dragging the carcasses of a Buick
and a Ford 150, lumbers off toward the local garage.
The people in those crashed vehicles were on the way
somewhere. Someone might be waiting there.
They were probably thinking into the future as I often do,
imagining a next month which will always and especially
now be different in some way. Along the verges,
three cars and two trucks, men in overalls,
a woman in a print skirt, ankle toward their vehicles.
I drive by. I don’t stop. I’m in a hurry.
I’m not inclined to take on any more misery.