Three Poems by Catherine Carter

Chickweed, Hens

The chickweed in its loose lush 
viridian sprawl hurls out 
arms and spokes, wheels reeling from 
heart-hubs into green galaxies 
of spear-heart leaves, spattered with 
speckled stars—all light-spawned 
themselves from the nearest star,
this one sun.  To eat of this
opportunistic shallow-
root, this transfigured sunlight,
you must grasp the center; 
you must take it by the heart,  
then bear its pulsing spirals 
to hungry hens whose harsh beaks 
peck it apart, snap it down, 
gulp up tiny lives riding 
its long sprays and spurs, devour
the vivid freshness of spring-
greens to reverse those spinning wheels,
turn those armed clocks back to sun-
orange, yolk-gold, fat food:  the
other transfiguration, 
this work of winged, warm-blooded 
reptiles, the savage women 
of summer, the layers of life. 

Night Driving, Lighted Windows

Despite all the night terrors, despite 
the knotted fists and brutal words,
toilets and trash cans running over, 
chained dogs, the reek of meth 
or whiskey, fabric softener or vomit,
every lamplit window glows gold
as every other—no matter what’s gone
on inside, or is still going.
And each white shed-fluorescent speaks
of workbenches, oiled chisels,
screwdrivers, someone shaping 
a shelf or rewiring a washer, 
making, mending.  Passing 
those calm yellow squares,
I can almost believe 
in someone quietly handing coffee, 
a towel, a deep cup of soup,
and someone else glancing up:  thanks.
I can almost believe 
that if someone lost came 
tapping at that window,
the bolt would fly back in welcome.
Those windows’ warm gleams
shine out for miles, telling their
beautiful stories, some of them
maybe true.  
             —And I, on my way home, 
plunging into my brief funnel of light,
I fly past like a witch on the gale,
soothing down fear, smoothing 
wrath with my passage: my invisible
gaze remaking the world 
for a moment into that place where even now
we are all warm and have enough
inside our square stars, we are 
forgiving those who share 
the world with us, we are making 
and mending what we can.

The Promise

Life-root, blazing out in your golden rags.
Killdeer, skimming the soccer field, 
pealing the glad word of May.  Soft lamb’s 
quarter, powdered with pewter dust
that might’ve come from the Horsehead
Nebula, putting spinach to shame 
with your mineral riches.  Wood 
thrush trilling your deep flute-
notes from the high canopy, almost never
seen.  Tiny henbit, more glamorous 
and sexy in your freckled orchid pink
than Marilyn Monroe’s…et cetera.
Et cetera.  The list goes on longer 
and deeper than any human voice,
and how many hear any of you
over the clamor of ad and ego, 
how many know you were ever
here? Nor can I save you 
when they come with the mowers, 
the poisons, nor regrow rainforests
for thrushes, nor make the world
plant milkweed for its true-born monarchs.  
I can do only what I am
doing:  look for you. Listen
as you proclaim your endless 
names in all the tongues
of earth.  Tell those names back:
as long as lichens 
star this mountain’s boulder-bones 
with flat seaglass rosettes, 
so that even the rock blooms 
some wordless joy 
into the day’s high air, I will 
not cease telling.  I will go on 
doing my work in this world.

Catherine Carters latest full-length collection (LSU, 2012) is The Swamp Monster at Home; her first, The Memory of Gills (LSU, 2006) received the 2007 Roanoke-Chowan Award from the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association. Her chapbook Marks of the Witch won the 2014 Jacar Press chapbook contest. Her work has also appeared in Best American Poetry 2009, Orion, Poetry, and Ploughshares, among others. Catherine lives with her husband in Cullowhee, near Western Carolina University, where she teaches in the English Education program.

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