You rake into darkness, I
the canopy of leaves becoming a canopy of twigs,
with your bamboo rake, one stick of it dangling
from a coil that held, once, the fanned tines,
a broken stick unable to stay where it should,
of your fixes. Look how that claw
catches on knots of grass,
how it scrapes at the earth, and you, still
leaves to the curb, night after night, year
the few moments for raking found
between the night class you teach and your
to bed, as if you believe you've finished.
That a rake might end the falling I've watched
thousands of years, knowing what must crumble,
dissolve into soil. Your tree will make more
You or one like you will rake again, then again,
more leaves more falling more cold nights more
broken rakes more
trucks sucking leaves from the curb.
More nights I watch from beyond the
You're a favorite movie, a story with sighs. You
be like the tree, letting go the work
before the hour of abandonment. What do you
you can do against seasons, haven't you seen how
This is not about fixing, not solving.
It's about keeping on, about
the illusions of solving, something that
vanishes, breath by breath
dispersing. A cough of wind
dies down fast, dies at your feet
in the leaves in the names of seasons: then,
what ends begins : again :
again : again
Expose in yellow light. Gently stir the bath, see the man appear.
Slip into stop bath. Rinse. Clip to the line.
Show his face, square on the page: focus—
Not the hospital face, metal bed, scrambled sheets, thrashing kick.
Not the man damp and fuming, roar like thunder, not
his fight to rise.
Dim inside the developing dark, a father—
ease his image into the corrugated roll to dry. Save
how he works his darkroom magic show, how magic works
into a daughter's nerve.
Photographs could save the brief biographies—
Not the man strapped, strap out of reach. Who comes to feed,
to stroke his hair, his arm, his fire? Even the papery skin,
taut on cropped bone.
Story soaked and rising fast—
One sheet a chapter, a stack adds up the life,
one savage tone at a time.
No solution slows what's developing fast—
not the nurse, chair on wheels he steers with swollen feet,
hand over hand clutching the rail. The half smile, the muscle.
Over and over it works, as long as paper lasts—
Done, you think. Crop or enlarge. Lift him now, lift
from below the water’s worried surface. Lift,
clip to the line.
Love is a Sinewy Acrobat
His glitz shines in transient light: in a hospital lost,
needles and funk,
not one nurse knows how to tie the cord on his heart. They
statement to question, each hour I dust my palms / cinch my
The heart, once so beset, spills onto the arm I stroke:
I want to forgive someone. A show of nerve, his skin his
his few rags fade in the closet: sartorial statement, slug.
No wonder patients slither in vague light: Who am I?
fogey : fool :
coot : has-been
: shadow : or
shot star? dogged rogue? taste of phlegm? or else
a shorted circuit, a word game, a woofer, a nothing
this falsehood this
farce this forgetting this failing this fog.
Somewhere a trio of spotlights shouts his name;
somewhere a tightrope screams, not yet not yet not yet
To My First Grade Teacher, Miss Smitha
I was lost
in a breathtaking curl—
as it rose
from my desk like a worm,
as I rocked
pencil's eraser band,
into a yield
of grain and shellac.
the standing curl—
stopped with a single cut.
I'm sorry I
damaged my desk,
I did it
I couldn't stop.
I don't know
what scared me more:
couldn't take back,
or how the carving
When were the carefree days, walking the slithering lips of tide,
searching for shells? Clam, conch, blue-black mussel,
hinged valves intact. Oysters, blanched
by furious waves.
Salt of the earth, did
I even imagine creatures in those shells, facing
octopus, sea star, those clever suction cups
attaching to bivalves, to slowly, willfully, pry the halves apart—
Eat or be eaten,
whispers a world
making its tedious way to extinction.
Achieve, invent, compete! argue the heroes of progress. Stars
patiently cheering the faint sky,
night driving a path binding the globe.
Somewhere in ruin, shards of Treblinka, Buchenwald, Auschwitz,
where gathered once, the flawed, the broken, the hated,
trusting, or not, God in the Torah.
And angels who helped, or meant to help
the marked, seeking escape.
Time weaving its silk gloom beyond the threads of light.
Any soldier might stop a woman on the night street,
a pall of war-crumbled houses,
coo to the infant asleep on her wool shoulder, offer a crust of bread
from a sack packed by his wife. Wave his cool goodbye.
As the two pass into darkness, shoot
mother and child in the cupped bone of each skull.
Smile to a friend.
One woman living
answers a cry in fierce wind, attunes her mind to rescue
twenty-five hundred children from gas or flame, firearm or poison.
Embracing each child, she deeply inhales, exhausts.
Blankets each unnerved cry
in basket, ambulance, tram, or package.
After, searches for
living parents, delivers their children home.
Gayle Reed Carroll has taught Art at various grade
levels in public schools, and calligraphy at Carnegie Mellon University and in
the Mt. Lebanon Adult Education program. She earned an AB at Hood College and
an MFA in Graphic Design at CMU. Writing since the early nineties, she has
studied with Stephen Dunn, Kenneth Rosen, Jan Beatty, and Ellen McGrath Smith.
Her poems have appeared in several small magazines and anthologies, including Poet Lore, The Comstock Review, City Paper,
Black River Review, and Voices from
the Attic. She lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.