Nicole Caruso Garcia

What It Was

Stop saying brave, so brave, you're very brave—
as if you hadn't heard my words at all.
It wasn't anything but what it was.

I chose adjudication, not a trial,
so I wouldn't have to see him face
to face. No crowd of strangers. I insisted.
I hadn't told my parents, had no counsel.

I'd loved him in betrothal till betrayal.
The guy who now had lawyers plotting how
to vivisect me, paint me as unhinged.

To think, for months I'd thought that I was dead
inside. And then I met the deaths they'd planned
for me. To find him guilty of one rape
required that I confess to countless deeds.
That's true, but out of context. Yes and Yes.

My ex's statement on my lap, I turned
another page and halted: run through with wire
fasteners—all my love letters.
They'd taken everything that had been sworn.

Raised to look a person in the eye
when spoken to or speaking, I answered the
adjudicator's questions, saw the searchlights
of his eyes were pale and not unkind.
He paused to ask me, Are you cold? You keep
closing up your jacket like you're freezing.

I looked down and saw that it was true:
knees tight, arms crossed, each fist a clutch of wool.
His office small and windowless, he said,
Your body language, it's…

I came forward, true, but only when
five months had passed, and someone asked me if
I wanted to report it. I said, I guess.
I couldn't muster Yes.

                         Stop saying brave.
It wasn't anything but what it was:
love letters weaponized, eyes pale
and not unkind, the jacket and the buckling,
his question Are you cold?
                              Flayed alive.

Active Vs. Passive

Scene Ten, the students say that Blanche gets raped,
but they omit the agent of the action.
Always. This is how we start. Gently.

For those who work a hotline or a courtroom,
sure, perhaps you soften up the language
with passive voice, or sexually assaults.

Elsewhere, we argue for the strongest sentence.
Blanche gets raped by whom? Whose spotlit face?
So Blanche gets raped by Stanley. Hardly better,

but less ambiguous. And what's with gets?
Rape comes to you. You don't go out and get it,
like a sunburn. Blanche is raped by Stanley,

yet passive voice makes action indirect.
Rape is not a sponsored TV show:
The rape of Blanche is brought to you by Stanley.

Who does what to whom? Just state it plain:
[The subject: Stanley] rapes [the object: Blanche].
Stanley wreaks the action Blanche receives.

The next book we'll discuss, Lord of the Flies,
begins utopian and in the sun.
No one's ever raped by anyone.

Nasty Women Poets

American slang,
American smooth,
nasty women poets
startle us anew.

Nasty women poets
screw calm and get angry,
eloquent rage
paper bullets.

Instead of maps,
nasty women poets
pierce the skin,
the word made flesh.

Masters of starlight,
nasty women poets
snake poems
into the dark,

every riven thing
equipment for living,
every riven thing
becoming light.

This is a "book spine poem," constructed by stacking books so that each title becomes a line in a poem when the stack is read from top to bottom. Book titles used: American Slang eds. Robert L. Chapman and Barbara Ann Kipfer, American Smooth by Rita Dove, Nasty Women Poets ed. Julie Kane and Grace Bauer, Startle Us Anew eds. Faye C. Gage and Robert Wilson, Screw Calm and Get Angry Andrews McMeel Publishing, Eloquent Rage by Brittany Cooper, Paper Bullets by Julie Kane, Instead of Maps by Kim Bridgford, Pierce the Skin by Henri Cole, The Word Made Flesh by Eva Talmadge and Justin Taylor, Masters of Starlight by David Fahey and Linda Rich, Snake Poems by Francisco X. Alarcón, Into the Dark by Mark A. Vieira and Turner Classic Movies, Every Riven Thing by Christian Wiman, Equipment for Living by Michael Robbins, and Becoming Light by Erica Jong.

After Performing a #MeToo Poem, the Schmooze Gets Awkward

You praise my poem: "Harrowing!" —
(I haven't named the Creep.)
"I hope it isn't So-and-So,"
You speculate. — (Ah, Hope!) —

You've named your longtime poet friend —
(I don't divulge a crumb.)
I hold you in such high regard —
(Although your friend is Scum.)

When I don't chime, "Not him!" we nurse
Our Mai Tais at the bar —
Hope's feathers — fluttering — all around
The oily whiff — of Tar.

The "J" Stands for Jackass

Donald J. Dunce-captain
Flushes true facts down his
Golden commodes.

How can we sleep when they’ve
Given a guy who is
Nuclear codes?

The Gift of Fear

after Gavin de Becker

You’ll find no truer friend than fear.
Her radar sharp, you’ll skirt a storm.
Don’t live afraid, yet be aware:
You’ll find no truer friend than fear.
She’ll crash the party, whisk you clear
Of wolves. She sees the harm in charm.
You’ll find no truer friend than fear.
Her radar sharp, you’ll skirt a storm.

Landay #5

Torn open, my mammogram results:
a pocketed scratch-off as my friend enters hospice.


Nicole Caruso Garcia’s manuscript has been named a finalist for the Richard Wilbur Award and a semifinalist for the Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize and the Philip Levine Prize for Poetry. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and Best New Poets, appearing in DIAGRAM, Crab Orchard Review, Light, Measure, ONE ART, The Orchards, PANK, Plume, The Raintown Review, Rattle, RHINO, Sonora Review, Spillway, Tupelo Quarterly, among other journals. Earlier work has also appeared in previous issues of Mezzo Cammin. Garcia serves as an Advisory Board member at Poetry by the Sea: A Global Conference and Associate Poetry Editor at Able Muse. Visit her at nicolecarusogarcia.com.

32 Poems
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