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Jan Carroll


My work has appeared in Borderlands, California Quarterly, Cider Press Review, Rappahannock Review, Rumble Fish, and other places. My chap books are River (2015) and With What’s Left: Gardening, Earth-Tending, and Keeping On in the Midst of Climate Crisis (2019). I host a reading series for local writers and facilitate and participate in two poetry writing groups. I love experiencing the joy of the process of writing and encouraging others to do the same. I work in healthcare. My website is:

Staying, Breathing

The dream of seed catalogs morphs into how
stars collide and collapse in on themselves.

The washer and dryer wake me up trying to fly off
the handle, stuck in lead boots in the unfinished basement.

Yet, after lunch, ivy shadows wandering around
your bare shoulders hold their own with the dahlias. This

pleasure and others clothespin me to you the line, me
sheets in the breeze, we’re laundry breathing unevenly while

chocolate Halloween candy—the fun size—melts
in wrappers on the card table, set out in the sun too soon.

The eyes have it like always, the first to take too much in,
but the stomach, in the end, is a strict judge. The tide

never bites its tongue, never stifles its surges in one direction
or the other, does not distort the chi in this bisected quadrant but

a parked cart of flowers, herbs, and postcards bursts apart
when the bull stampedes through town and crashes into it.

Confusion riots on apexes of disaster
but calm regroups, the great leveler.

The clown does mouth to mouth on the nearly drowned. When
they stand up, there’s seaweed and grease paint all over them.

As cisterns reflect the patience of rain collecting,
no trespassing signs rust on their corrugated edges.

A banjo, for lack of another instrument, is never off-handed, picking
always deliberate, intentional, strumming gap-filling. I was

a metamorphosis not yet complete swimming toward you
underwater, my route indeterminant. You were a bowl of tangerines

on a stage table brightening the scene, scenting the air
when the heroine peeled your particulars open, no second thoughts.

She was graced with never having had to wear braces or eat the dust
of happy campers galloping off into the distance, but I

took you then, after the play, into my day to day, wiser
for the wear, a little bitter for the bargain made, and now

I think I’ll run down to the intersection for Merit Lights. For the name,
for brief, lingering congratulatory remarks going up in smoke.

For pledge carried out like a bright patch of hyacinth planted
on one side of the path to the cemetery. (I told you I would.)

For resonance celebrated where due even if imperfect, striking
the gong of truth when it comes through, intermittent yet regular.

For that dragon-fire kept intestinal not barked out at each other.
For the switched-on flow of electricity metered out, a gage

screwed to the back wall keeping track, frugal
yet conducive with its kilowatts and lumens.


I carry the blue shell
of the robin’s egg home
in my cupped hand as evidence
of recent life on the footpath even though
the protective basket of my fingers aches
like the nearly weightless
astronauts’ hearts when they gazed at Earth
from the moon’s surface, bounce-hovering.

The level’s truth depends on its indicative sliding bubble;
the container ship rides the wave surge, its cargo safe.

In the world of the street the runaway searches
the crowd’s expressions, reads what a body says
before lifting bread or hawking an old iPhone,
before getting into a car or trusting an offer, surviving.

What adjusts knows a sustenance.

A woman steadies herself, grasps the lip
of the sink with one hand, a kitchen chairback
with the other, when news comes
and it’s not good, her knees giving in
to the whirlwind, but she stays
upright in her parapet, undeterred.

It’s best to be strapped in during turbulence yet flexible;
peace arrives through ricochet, through agreed-upon compromise.

I make part of myself into ballast,
throw a big bag of sand
in the hold of what moves me
when snow and ice are predicted
and I must get to work
though roads are slick,
the owl’s feather suspended
from my retrospect dancing
in the windshield-defrost blast.

A little milky sphere of love like a pierced pearl strung
and given as a keepsake, though temporarily misplaced,
persists, grit, somewhere in the messy apartment.

A compass alone is not enough.
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