Gayle Reed Carroll

The Moon Speaks in Darkness


                        You rake into darkness, I watch
the canopy of leaves becoming a canopy of twigs, and you
            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, in spite
            of your fixes. Look how that claw

                        catches on knots of grass,
how it scrapes at the earth, and you, still worrying
            leaves to the curb, night after night, year after year,

                        the few moments for raking found
between the night class you teach and your falling
            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, blow away,
            dissolve into soil. Your tree will make more leaves.

                        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 stratosphere.
You're a favorite movie, a story with sighs. You could never
            be like the tree, letting go the work

                        before the hour of abandonment. What do you think
you can do against seasons, haven't you seen how they end?
            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, now, forever,
            what ends begins  :  again  :  again  :  again

Dark Room


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.

The man.


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 shuff

statement to question, each hour I dust my palms / cinch my belt.


The heart, once so beset, spills onto the arm I stroke: diminished, limp.


I want to forgive someone. A show of nerve, his skin his shifting stature

his few rags fade in the closet: sartorial statement, slug.


No wonder patients slither in vague light: Who am I? he thrashes,


fogey :  fool  :  coot  :  has-been  :  shadow  :  or is it

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

—after D.A. Powell

 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


the yellow pencil's eraser band,

crimped and empty,


sharp metal glide

into a yield of grain and shellac.


The thrill, the standing curl—

pine scent, amber sheen,


the wonder—

that I stopped with a single cut.


I'm sorry I damaged my desk,

sorry I lied.


I did it

because I could.


And because I couldn't stop.

I don't know what scared me more:


what I couldn't take back,

or how the carving aroused me.

A Marked World Deeply


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.[1]

[1] Wikipedia: Irena Sendler, social worker and member of Zagota, the council to aid Jews, led an effort to save as many children as possible, placing them with Polish families or priests or in orphanages. She buried records of names and placements in jars in order to be able to return them to their families after the war. Recipient of numerous awards, she was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007; however, the award went to Al Gore. She died in 2008.



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.



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