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by ELENA CARTER
Sometimes you meet a woman
who seeks peace in distance.
Something like that old hermit
who pretends to love wild things
more than people.
The path opened suddenly into meadow
to welcome my new friend and me.
She was talking about reincarnation
whereas I wanted to know this consciousness,
and brought up first time sex.
This is intimacy, for
beginners. Arbitrary as
what’s your favorite movie?
Did I get what I wanted?
I am inventing new memories for her.
There is room for everything:
friends, lawns, soccer, first beers.
Mostly, the voluntary touch of lips on breasts
and a shy unfolding, like the flowers she loves.
I am angry. I want to find this man and ask,
How do you account for the teenage nipples you bit,
for bruised skin over a girl’s wrists?
She’s lived a thousand lives, so
what does one moment matter?
I was fifteen. I was drunk. I should not have
put myself in that position, she said.
Then turned and asked a mushroom,
Who are you? How do I know you?
How have I known you?
An Unfit Guerrilla
by ELENA CARTER
Night to night:
a boy walks toward me on all fours.
Without language or vision, he rises
from where they left him, not far from
a pine tree against which he once sat
smoking a cigarette and feeling romantic.
Say he broke like a diamond
skull, this flat-footed clerk who,
in the beginning,
asked if they gave talks or
as if he was going to some kind of
Say he was afraid of slopes, that
to go down a hill he went on his
ass, dragged himself
like an animal, became a liability.
Say he wept, masturbated:
his way of cleaning, a primitive
form of hygiene.
But say too
that he did not fall
on his knees, did not ask
for mercy, and
at the order to fire
swelled out his chest.
Did he feel at all
This is how he appears to me:
alternately brave and broken.
He was buried, his grave covered over.
It was part of guerrilla life.
Fifty years later, I am reading a biography of Che Guevara
and wishing I were not pan blanco.
Outside, it is darkening as if to rain.
I am that clerk. I dream orchids.
A Tiny Death is the Saddest
by ELENA CARTER
for Bertolt Brecht
Truman dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, a military base .100,000 people, almost all civilians, died. Some eyeless, noseless, lipless lived on, looked space invader, bald play-do heads emphasized low-cut ears, entire faces seeming malleable, brow ridges without brows are Neanderthalesque, suits, dresses marked them male, female, how else to tell? There’s a human in there, there’s a human in there.
Harry Truman won an honorary degree from Oxford University. His memoirs were a commercial and critical success for Doubleday. He lived to eighty-eight, but he died.
Augustus commissioned the Pantheon to commemorate his victory over Mark Anthony. Was it he who hauled the coarse-grained granite? Near death, he said, “I found Rome of clay; I leave it to you of marble.” Whose hands laid the marble? Unremembered, unremembered, but they too walked the seven hills of Rome, admired the quiet cool surface of the Tiber, felt the wind and hot and cold, love and joy and death – more death than love and joy – brutal little wars fought and forgotten. Forgotten they died.
Augustus died to applause, but he died.
What about the Wampanoag and Pequot people? When the Plymouth pilgrims sat down to the first Thanksgiving dinner, none of them were invited. Eleven-foot walls surrounding the settlement kept them out. Nation building myths ensured they would be remembered, placed them at that feast, but they died, riddled with disease if not first massacred. People say what is it about Indians and alcohol, what genetic failings when the answer lies not in genes. Convenient, to say what’s natural, what isn’t – when few things are actually fixed –
But there’s certainty in the sadness of a tiny death.
The Great Gatsy tells of a mysterious green light, represents upper class aspirations, green the color of money, also the promise of new continents, but what room does the short-chinned homeless man have for dreams, parking his bike in front of Starbuck’s, singing songs in his head, dancing, swaying from side to side as if walking a ship’s plank, happy to get a free cup of coffee from a female customer in a sundress out to prove what a good liberal she is – when he dies, there will be no orations, no tears, a discarded bike, a man lying in his own urine on a bench, freshly dead, stiffening. An uninteresting tragedy, his loss a loss of functionality, nothing grander than that. No story written for him.
The pages of history, of literature, tell of big men. The powerful swell like distended stomachs, casting light bright as bombs. The average, those aspiring to average, look on, wait for their lives to begin, but they are living, also dying, their lives, undocumented.
Great men live in prose, poetry, song, film.
Where are our residences?
Elena Carter is a graduate student in the University of Minnesota MFA program in Creative Writing. She grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area with her parents, twin sister, and various pets. Her poetry has appeared in Zaum Press and Occupy SF-Poems from the Movement.
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