Carrie Jerrell (Featured Poet)


At the auction, your blind date thinks it's clever
to psychoanalyze the junk you buy:
two porcelain rabbits (sex); a rosewood letter
opener (death); and a painting of a sky

so voluminously gray it seems to smother
the snow-mottled wheat fields below it, the silo
in the distance (definitely sex), and the shuttered
farmhouse that abandoned the furrows to crows long ago. . .

All mood, of course, but you want it for one detail--
a pale pink glove, crusted with ice and caught
on a stalk in the foreground. You see yourself the wearer,

wind-blasted, wishing for some warm force to unveil
itself and claim you as more than an afterthought,
an absent figure, a girl long lost to the weather.

The Acoustic Ecologist's Lover

--Olympic National Park

Absent alarms and the coffee maker's gurgling,
absent disaster reports and the politico's screech,
absent engines, backfires, the pop song's synthesized jangle,
these high-tide mornings on Rialto Beach
are his paradise, the driftwood spruce his angels.
Soundwaves set the old-growths humming in rich
refusal of their death, their chord commingling
with salt and gravel into a throaty pitch.

I recognize the song. Away from the inflow
of manmade racket, we love each other best:
he, my sea and speechless undertow;
and I, the body on the shore, vessel blessed
with instinct flared and amplified, an echo
of the echo of what rages in his chest.

The Photographer

For hours he arranges crinoline
and fluffs the train, complains about the light,
hairsprays the groom, tilts Grandma's double chin
just so, gives candy to the kids (Say White!),

and--with his pricey Canon SLR's
simultaneous RAW+JPEG Mode
and full-frame, 16 mega-pixel sensors--
he creates a romanced, imagistic ode,

or tries to. Daguerreotyped or digital,
a camera can't completely lie: the fat
bridesmaid's split seam, the stoned dad's lazy eye,

the couple whose smiles at best look clinical--
these objet d'art are unsightly (and sold in matte
or gloss!) in ways that even he can't beautify.

Judah's Song

Legs of the green-chalked horse are long--
He likes to run. And so do you,
around the house you've drawn in blue-
brown wobbly strokes. His heart is strong,

the crooked scar you scribbled above
it just a fading ribbon now,
identical to yours. But how
about us, Jude?
You tuck foxglove

behind your mother's ear and mine,
then sketch two lumpy, yellow birds.
You watch. We pray, too--words
made spectral as the rain in divine

light. I remember how the sky
on your birthday was black until
your colt eyes opened in a spill
of white. Now when you run, we fly.

Unable to Sleep, the Phoneticist Recites Her Vowels

A as in amateur, atonement, again a pale glaze on the window;
    as in apogee: that point at which our orbiting affections
        traveled farthest from each other.

E as in even now my breath arrives and departs, arrives and departs;
    even then the night sky seemed emaciated of stars.

I as in the iterations of everything I never said.

O the pearl formed in the soft crush of the oyster; O the shape
    of the sound of the ossifying heart.

U, you, you, undressed me upstairs; upended the cart full of ancient urges.

Sometimes my body bears well the yoke of its own memory.
    Sometimes all the words of the songs I hear sound like why, why, why.


after Amy Hempel

They say the end begins not with the knife held to the throat
but the steel in the forge; not the oak tree smoked

by lightning but the heat that ripens melons overnight.
They say we fear the timber rattler coiled to strike the hiker

but forget the threat in the scythe's first pass
through switch grass or the first map drawn of the path.

All of the signs were there. Long before the man's torn sleeve
and the woman's dark dahlia of a bruise, their dinner cutlery

lay silent in its velvet drawer, abandoned for months,
loaded with jeopardy. You missed all the signs. Poor dunce,

I have sat in the cold corners of too many nights,
believing their lie, braiding the fringe of my memory, tying knots

in the omens I conjure, turning all I think I overlooked
into something flammable; something thick and sturdy as a noose.

No more. Today, let there be hope. Let meaning be a scattering
of stars I leave unconstellated. Let me take this blade to my tether

and send the past hurtling toward a morning unreadable, and brighter.

To the Winter Wolf

Forgive me for wanting to remain unfound.
Last time we met, the moon directed us

beyond the spring-thawed timber, through terrain
marked well with eiderdown, and my hunger for you

proved more than I could carry. A resurrected
bed of clover or covering of moss

warms nothing like your pillowed neck and the slumber
I discovered there, the night I tried to gloss

your heartbeats as a language of affection.
I've since then caged my heart. Though I could make

my home between dewclaw and genuflection,
I choose this cabin, porch and snow which traps

your tracks, but not forever. Long howl, long ache
that follows after--you sound a metaphor

for my undoing: capture or collapse.
While your breath steams keyhole and hinge, I score

the battened door, each scar in the wood a day
I've left spent embers in the fireplace,

unstitched my twin star quilt, its scissored threads
bereft of their blue knots and trailing my hem

in the dust on the floor. The scars are long. My dress
is long. I hitch its hem until it hangs

like scars around my knees and, kneeling, pray
this candled shadow is all you'll see of me.


Your memory is a monster.
--John Irving

Body in the eagle's clasp.
Raft at which the drowning grasp.
Empty cradle. Killing floor.
Two-note score of the lung's last rasp.

Leash it tightly when it wakes.
Lethal as the thirst it slakes.
Draught of dust from a cracked teacup.
Feed it. Take it up like snakes.


Carrie Jerrell is the author of the poetry collection After the Revival, 2008 winner of the Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize and published by Waywiser Press. Her poems have appeared in Image, Subtropics, The Sewanee Theological Review, and Passages North, among other journals. Current work can be seen or is forthcoming in Unsplendid, Birmingham Poetry Review, Zone 3, and Poem Memoir Story. Jerrell received her M.A. from the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University, and her Ph.D. in English from Texas Tech University, where she was honored as a Chancellor's Fellow. She is an assistant professor at Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky, where she also serves as associate director of the low-residency MFA program and coordinator of undergraduate creative writing.

32 Poems
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