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  • Lover's Eye Press

Featured Artist: Carolyn Keller

Updated: Dec 31, 2022



Bloom -- Version 1


The hibiscus bloomed coral

today: frost on the windowpane, sky of grey cirrus. It burst

into life parched and longing,

alone. The other buds

already dropped to the floor.

I tried to save them, I swear

I put them in the pink plastic cup,

tried to coax them open with water

from the tap.


Perhaps the water wasn’t good

enough, perhaps it was all any of us

could muster. Still, they drowned

– of course they drowned,

they were all gauze-like hesitation

turned slime-slick, and heavy.

Their own blooming kept them

locked too tight, turned

the water green, essence,

useless, of kelp.


Today, the news, again:

I sit on my couch and cry,

wonder how this is the world

we’ve woken up to, the world

that’s been here with us,

waiting for us, all along.


I taste salt long before the burst

of color catches my eye,

this hibiscus, singing

of undersea creatures,

of brightness, of bone.


It lifts itself – pink-tipped

stigma, golden filament, anthers

stretching above bright petals

on thin green stems,


such softness

reaching

toward the light.

 


Bloom -- Version 2


When I hear the news today, I sit

on my couch and cry. I know this

wonder well: how this is the world

we’ve woken up to, the world that’s been

here with us, waiting for us, all along.

Nearby, on my bookshelf, the hibiscus

winters, green leaves feathering

over dusty pot, dry leaves

dropped to the floor.


There, beyond eyeline

and buried hands,

I know what is: a solitary bud,

an aloneness that bears

repeating. Parched and longing,

coral petals tucked behind

gauzy hesitation, it is safe

from grey cirrus sky,

safe from how the morning frost

has etched a story across blades

of grass and balcony, across

the windowpane.


Before, there were others. I tried

to save them, swear I put them

in the pink plastic cup, tried

to coax them open with water

from the tap. They drowned – of course

they drowned, November is not

a month for nurturing. Still,

I second-guess: Perhaps

the water wasn’t good enough,

perhaps it was all any of us could muster.

Perhaps their own blooming kept them

locked too tight, turned the water green,

essence, useless, of kelp.


Today, I taste salt long before

the burst of color catches my eye,

a suddenness of warmth and glow,

suddenness of song. Here and now

are treble and hum, here and now,

a flutter: this hibiscus singing

of undersea creatures,

of brightness, of bone.


See it: how it lifts itself

– pink-tipped stigma,

golden filament,

anthers stretching

above bright petals

on thin green stems


such softness

reaching

toward the light.

 


Tick


I.


When my father calls the judge’s accuser

sleazy, I think of you, with your dropped

pants at the park in the doorway

of the men’s bathroom. I can still see

your brown eyes peeking from the collar

of your royal blue shirt, can still see

your limp dick hanging, like a circus

sideshow, eight feet from the shining

water fountain where I’d just slurped

and burbled. Emily turns quickly,

­– “no, don’t look,” as if to protect me,

the danger of it all not quite landing

in my elementary head.


I’ve lost much of that encounter,

but I still remember how I reacted.

Do you –


“indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter”


– remember how a snort burst, unruly,

from my nose? I laughed then, as now, at inappropriate times, a reflex, a tick.


I think of this, the day after

the doctor’s testimony, the day I try

to bury a roiling in my heart

with trail runners under tree canopy,

me, skidding deer-like along root-rock

paths, away from my bubbling chest.

I stumble, skin scrapes

from swelling knee. I sit for a moment,

salt-lipped and startled, wailing,

no one to hear. And I think

of you, think of how


I laugh so often now,


and it is not the doctor’s voice, but mine,

and I pray for you, pray:

oh, how I hope

that short, sharp exhale has bound itself

to you, lodged itself inside you, tucked itself

tight, like the insects that latch, suck,

burrow into fur and skin. May it have bloomed

a bull’s eye, my laughter, streaked your pale

flesh red and blotching, seared itself

into the soft, grey architecture that sops

within the contours of your skull.


May it linger even now, my laughter,

bind itself to the marrow of your bones,

prey upon you, fester like the chiming

of church bells, curl inside you

like a snail inside a shell

too small to live in.


I laugh so often now.


How they mock

her memories,

how quickly they

dismiss her


sleazy.



II.


I ask my mother

“Did it happen?”

She says, “Yes.”

 

Perennials

If I had to trace a line

from that April to today,

I would draw it in red.


Crimson bellows too strange

for a baptism, but then blood

blooms different in every education.


red is red, is red, is red


1999: news from Colorado

reaches our keystone spring,

turns our faces the same shock


white as the slim inner petals

of a Rocky Mountain flower.

Sunward stretch of filament,


of anther, of pistil –

what future can you promise us,

with your dust of pollen?


red is red, is red, is red


2001: the SWAT team clears us

from the mute maroon

walls of the girl’s locker room.


Spring-like, we burst forth

from bathroom stalls, tumble

safe into the golden gymnasium,


climb bleacher steps the same

shade of dandelion as the raised

stamen of blue columbine.


red is red is red is red


That week we laid pink laurel

by the upturned lunch table,

by the lone abandoned shoe,


by the sling tied tight around

the cheerleader’s shoulder, bit

of lead now nestling close to bone.


red is red is red is red


Who are those that go

before us, rainwater holy

on their heads?


Pale-faced apertures,

ghostly petals – do you see?

How they vault tall on green


stalks, wave in the shadow

of brown mountains, survive

harsh winters, grow back year


after year after year?

What resurrection

goes unheard for so long?

red is red is red is red


Aspen quakes over open blossoms,

roots surface-close and spreading.

A teacher waits with brandished yardstick,


her students crouched behind her.

 


Sugar


in the sun tea slowly steeping

on the brown wooden deck, where you sat,

smoked cigarettes, gossiped with my mom,

made sure we never wandered too far

into the woods, for fear of snakes.


in the popsicles you bought

for us, orange and grape, dripping sticky

down our wrists, onto the cracked red paint

of picnic tables at the public pool, where

you slathered tanning oil on your skin,

and my mother worried that the sun

was turning me too pink.


in the name of the hill

the Sugar Bowl, tall, scooped like ice cream

where you took us sledding, the snow

powder-soft, up to your shins where

you stood next to the old oak,

helped us wedge ourselves snug,

onto bright plastic toboggans,

the angle of our deliverance so steep,

we shrieked, we felt like we were flying.


in the gas tank of the car,

your brother-in-law’s, where you poured it

when you found out he cheated on your sister.

How you laughed telling this story,

the one they left out of your eulogy;

somehow they knew he would show up

in his grey suit, long divorced,

sit in the back, pay his respects.


in the cream puffs, white wine

you gave us at your dining room table,

the last time I saw you, you trying so hard

to keep weight on, wrap muscle back

around your bones, cancer lurking silent

in your liver, in your pancreas,

waiting to break you down.

 


Land of the Midnight Sun

for Mary


How we love to limn the light, make it edible: call it honey, call it butter, lemon. Golden or sweet, acid or cream. The honey you brought us

from Alaska has clotted

in my cupboard, sugared crystals

hunching close – now,

these amber patterns,

now, this upturned jar.

The huckleberry tea

you brought from Glacier

soothes it viscous, eases

open, a soft blooming

down the throat


– I cannot swallow it.

I imagine you now in the small plane

you thought could kill you,

but didn’t.

I imagine you

swooning over water

and whalesong, over ice, ancient

and sea-green,

translucent. I imagine you now,

sunburst, cloudlight,

high above a glacier

that will never calve. Starfruit, nectar,

mirabelle plum


– how we long

for the word

to bring you back.

 

Interview and Transcript


 

Carolyn Keller is a writer, teacher, and traveler with a PhD in English from Binghamton University. Her work has appeared in Paterson Literary Review and The Santa Fe Writers Project Quarterly. You can find her on Twitter at @tiabananas.

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