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Issue 18

Poetry » Sarah Carleton »


After the Rain

We have questions for those in charge:

When the overhead tarnish clears and we emerge
like an afterthought to lie on the hill,

will our backs repel mud and ants?
Will cumulus puffs be photorealistic—a president’s face

blowing to Doric columns, say—
or Rorschach blobs as clouds have always been?

Maybe the new leaders will make improvements,
such as shortening the time a towel takes to dry.

The sky’s like the bottom of a copper pot that needs scrubbing
since the painters took over planet earth.

The brown stream snakes in place;
the cold floor of the farmhouse kitchen never floods.

Only horses dare go out and feed on the velvet chlorophyl.
You and I huddle inside,

not sure what laws thunder and lightning will follow in this new order
and wishing we’d thought to chop a pile of wood before the change.

Now we might never brew a pot of tea again
since these artists aren’t crazy about electrical lines.

This is the future, the painters say.
Just be happy we’re working in oils and not watercolor.


Turn left off the exit or you’ll end up in a tobacco field.
Turn right or you’ll end up in a patch of houses

by a tobacco field. If you see a white cross
that punctures the horizon,

you’ve gone too far.
Do a U-turn and drive back to the station.

Watch for signs. A note at the pump says, “Pay Inside.”
The one at the counter says, “Restroom Outside.”

Don’t bother walking the aisles—
the toys are shrink-wrapped, the condom packets

dusty, and all the snacks look like pork rinds.
When the guy hands you a plastic bag

for a pack of gum, just take it, and try not to inhale
the secondhand smoke that circles your head like rope.

Sing to Me of Florida Summers

Go. Dash from house to car, from car
to house, dodging mosquitoes while receipts

escape your pockets. Once safe inside your cool box,
count bites while entropy washes over the forlorn half acre

and tropical rainstorms fill the backyard like a tub,
piquing savage weeds that creep through grass.

A shawl of moths shakes lace over the pond
you used to call a lawn. Wear gumboots

to protect your feet from surprises, and shun
the cat-sized toad who croaks beneath the hibiscus

then disappears when puddles drain to sticky mud.
Here comes the unbearable sun, thunder at three,

the daily downpour, steam bursting and making
more steam. Forget the swimming pool;

no one goes there anymore. Deep in the season,
potato vines creep through sealed windows,

anoles leap on screens and streets burn empty.
Look around you. The party’s over, marked by wild

and human litter: mashed acorns
with oily trails, shredded wrappers,

shovels gone rusty. Count one newspaper
for every week since June, plastic baggies

stuck to the ground in spoonfuls of grey mush.
This is their home now.