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Eight Poems by Carla Carlson


Eight Poems by Carla Carlson





There’s a light blue

Buick on the street

where sun has been glowing.


A small bird flits

in a frieze of sticks

outside Claire’s window—

like Japan—Claire thinks

but she doesn’t know.

And it doesn’t matter

if she calls her mom and dad

to say I

will sautée steaks in an hour

and I have walked today

in the sky with no clouds

where wild violets purple a hill.

(Claire is not a painter).

How can she describe

the bird’s back and forth pecking?

Claire’s a mother—

the brickness of the building

across the street comforts her

after a nap. She’ll tell you—

if you look at something long enough,

you will call it love.







Claire wants you to know that

she’s part feline, part

French, part Woolvian dream.

That she and her husband

live over the hill, at the outskirts

of Manhattan in an apartment

built into the trees where

they are visited by birds

Claire struggles to name.

I don’t know anything—

she’ll tell you sweetly,

as though she’s been asleep for decades

yet is now returning willfully

to certain constructs.

She goes with the day, like any cat—

morning to dinnertime.

She purchases her husband’s yoghurt.

Note the simple components

of her salad dressing

placed on the counter

for her man to emulsify.

At sun down, windows blackened,

rooms tidy, body warm, wearing

a fragrant robe, Claire mimes

a piano solo, hearing the notes

within her. Lamp lit, imagine

her lips a vermillion twist

of cellophane. Her eyes—

sapphire, asymmetrical chunks.

She’s thinking—we all have a weakness.

Kathie her hamstring, Lisa, her paradoxical dog,

and I’ve got my own missing bones.

Take this and do what you will—







You have to wish me a happy birthday,

Claire says after her analyst says

“look what Duchamp has done

with his individuation process!”

And so on and so forth,

because she’s bored him.

But just this morning

Claire told her husband,

don’t press yourself on my account—

don’t bake me a cake—

let me go free in Manhattan.

When Claire puts on geranium lipstick,

she’s so free, so full of me,

she walks a slow and cluttered hour

like a soft-eyed warrior towards sharks

on the west side towards nothing

until evening. Her husband’s got tickets but—

I’m not so sure I get stage comedy

it’s not even funny. Can we leave?

In line at intermission a woman

wearing long red sleeves repeats a line.

Claire says simple things in response—

thinks she gets it—what’s funny.

“Frequency!” the woman repeats

like it’s a question, “of urination”

is her problem. Claire starts to laugh.

Claire’s husband stares at her

phone-free—which feels thrilling,

and it is Duchamp’s birthday too

this week, and Claire has been thinking

about all these things, but never

laughter, never this new thing.







Yes dear, I’m still here—

Claire screams silently

(where you left me

in the morning thirty years ago

the beginning and

ending occurring in the same

breath). Give her a box

and Claire purges. So much

is edited after middle age,

it’s got to be perfect,

what she’s got to say—

what’s poignant is her touch now

what’s fluffy, what’s lux—

she puzzles, is it

a cherry she’s pocketed,

lipstick of the dogwood

now it’s November?

He says “look here,”

she knows he’s scared, a friend

suddenly dead, another jobless

holds a long hug now

like a dancer, packages

his healthy evening like

it’s business.







Walking sternly for years down the hill going to the Met,
Claire never noticed birds’ influxes or departures,
any season, sunny or ominous. Yesterday, a clear day,
she stood before what she insists is her unbloomed forsythia
from the sidewalk. She gathered her lack of embarrassment
and stood there gazing longer than normal into what seemed
a pile of sticks to others. Was she slaking a mysterious thirst?
One couldn’t know. The dreamy way she looked, neighbors
with children might wonder. They could not tell Claire
was busy with finches, oh soft browns, each of one hundred

a universe she could almost feel. Oh flutter! Claire imagined

touching with the index finger of her right hand one bluish-gray head,

wanting to so much the tension was almost unbearable.

Apparently she lives not far. Going upstairs with bags, one story

above, preparing for a storm—Claire doesn’t worry about the birds.

She understands, unlike the moxy daffodils, birds contain this

unfazed ability to sing no matter the ice and winds of March.

Whereas she must call someone—Claire must always avoid

stressing her pearly vertebrae.







Upside down—the opposite

of gravity is happy, Claire thinks,

when not such a little heart

hurts over Mother’s no-apology

no-coffee weekend. Vacations

seem so much harder than life.


Her husband, what a man, kept

upward of wind all weekend.

During mute hours Claire said

to herself now now, these excitements


drain the Jesus right out of me.

I’m full of bugs, need some silk


to soothe me until we can immerse

ourselves in radical thinking


the rest of our lives. Sunday

Claire prepares kale with gorgonzola

despite her fighting words

and pink hibiscus still rallies

by the grill on October’s balcony.

Monday, leaves unfurl at dawn

and perimeters revolve

not 180 degrees but 90.

Now Claire can see sideways.







Claire and her husband don’t slide down the row

when asked to. They’re a little tired. The pianist

opens with a bit of lecture—hair pinned.

Claire thinks, I wish only to feel the music in my body.

Oh my husband’s leg. Will you—! Melody rises.

Claire retracts—how is she here, past

middle-age and Bach still her raison d’être?

Though I have lived! she inserts. Claire has

divided her life into worlds. The music goes on—

years. Now the rain is falling. If only she could

she’d tell you—it’s like being on an acid trip maybe.

She envisions the black and white staircase, scaled,

slurred. Claire is seventeen. She is one hundred.







A solo bathed Claire’s ears this morning.

Perfect had already slipped away

in the dining room. From her husband,

she’d accepted luke-warm brew.

She knew it was time—as notes were played,

to listen to the spaces between touches

as though listening to the ocean’s

calling. It was time for Claire to trust

her ear. What had she been thinking—

to have turned from sound as her lifetime

dwindled, to figure her mind each day

from ideas born of useless guilt and hope’s drill?

In gauzy solitude, prison hum, someone said

Claire was on the verge of retreating or leaping—

if she retreats, she’ll toss from pillow to pillow the rest

of her nights. If she leaps, there is hope for sleep.

About the author

Carla Carlson is the author of the chapbook Love and Oranges, Finishing Line Press, 2015. Her poetry has been published by journals such as Prelude, PANK, the MOM EGG, Columbia Journal, and Chronogram Magazine. She teaches poetry classes at The Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College and the Hudson Valley Writers Center, and volunteers her time co-running a monthly submission workshop at the Hudson Valley Writers Center. She and her husband live in Bronxville, NY.

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