Carol Carpenter has published work in The Christian Science Monitor, Yankee, Indiana Review, Quarterly West, Confrontation, Wisconsin Review and other journals. She received the 1997 Richard Eberhart Poetry Prize for her collection Sun Dog (Florida State University) and first place for poetry in the 1992 Writers Digest Annual Competition. She currently lives in Livonia, Michigan.
My sister dives off the high board at ten,
head first on a downward trend. Her body arcs,
an apostrophe in air. She hovers there
above the pool, her body slick with passion.
Under blue spruce, she sheds her skin for men
who wash over her, zip her into wetsuits
dark as pubic hair. She walks on ocean bottom,
marks her path with cowry shells, a ghostly galleon.
At fifty, my sister hits a drought year
hard as a bellyflop. Her arteries clog with sand,
with men who dig dry ditches and stand guard
with tubes and latex gloves, their second hands
plunge into unlit caves. Her eyes sink inward,
two divining rods pulling her toward salt springs
where she bobs with pirate lovers who baptize her
in the name of the red moon at night.
I Do Not Write Poetry
it writes me
into the blue-black center
of my birth back then
when I slid head first
into sterile white with no words
for my life pushed into that mid-afternoon
glare of Detroit time clocked in and out
at the Ford Body and Assembly Plant
and ticked off by the White Castlev
belly-buster burgers slammed one after the other
onto the greasy grill and patted flat by the slender cook
who knew her blank-verse days ended Sundays
in the Temple Baptist church on Woodward,
the main drag for the 43 Ford V8 DeLuxe coupes
revving up and running lights too red
after the world war I read about in poems
and later, words
slapped me flat as a White Castle
when poetry sizzled blue in my mouth
dribbled onto pages of my life
and wrote me into a simile
as if I could puzzle out
my birth and death rites
and scrawl poems in between.
Solid as a brick
the rich folks on the ridge said
whenever anyone asked. Someone
they could count on to make things right
when they were wrong
like when the carburetor plugged up
on their new Oldsmobile 88s
from the dust on the old county highway
and no air could get through
or when their silos rotted
and crumbled plank by plank,
full of carpenter ants still chewing
and spitting sawdust. Wasnt anything
Uncle Amos couldnt fix or rebuild
better than new, most folks admitted.
But it was tougher jobs
he hung his reputation on.
Cases like that no good Johnny Ray
who could pluck a grandmothers garnet ring
from her finger without her even taking notice
or eat a blueberry pie still in the oven
without a trace of crust left in the tin
or stain on his lips. Uncle Amos believed
anyone, even Johnny Ray, had redeeming qualities
even if they didnt surface much. Before anyone knew
what was missing, it was back in place.
Uncle Amos never let on how he did it,
just hunched his shoulders,
rubbed the back of his neck
like he was working out some stiffness
settling in his joints.
Even today, when ridge folks talk
of Uncle Amos, they wish he was still around,
bless his soul, they say, a solid person.
As if he was
nothing more than a red brick
from the Old Methodist church,
part of the design built into their back patios
beside the swimming pools, Olympic size.
Wonder if they ever noticed
how Uncle Amos eyes
were the grey-brown color
of a sparrows feather
and his eyelids fluttered
like wings in open space.