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Five Poems by Carol Tarlen

Inflation Achieves a Single Digit Unemployment Rises to 8.9%



Our hands complain of protein deficiency as

David slices more than his ration of ham

5-1/2 lbs of meat per person per month in Poland

Pass the navy beans, please

They are pale pink and slushy

Legumes are good for the soul

The free enterprise of well-balanced amino acids

The dialectics of eating

Alicia denounces bland cabbage soup

History gets a C- at our fashionably

Bourgeois Butcher Block Table

When the grade drops to D+

We steal a loaf of bread

Then we build barricades



The Receptionist Sits at Her Desk

and Hums Solidarity Forever



            we will bring to birth a new world

            from the ashes of the old


I am the large gold fish you peeked at

through the cold rain

into the algae green pond.

My flesh has seen the four corners

of the earth.  I am succulent.

My scales gleam into your

watery gray eyes.

I am the carefully placed objet d’art

that makes your phone calls,

types reports of your tax deductible

winter cruise,

greets your clients with

an oleander smile.

When I sit in my newly upholstered

swivel armless chair,

I dream of exotic locales,

walk in vast landscaped parks.

In midst I see myself

bent and old, a scarf around

my narrow shoulders,

digging in smoldering ashes,

but then I see

that I am wide hipped, tall, strong,

legs spread,



Thank You for Your 15 Years

Of Service to the Department



pink slipped into oblivion

the supervisor kindly grants me

permission to use

the office laser printer

to update my resume


under skills

I list my liabilities



*little software knowledge

*lack of hard drive


with clarity as searing

as sunglare on water

I write this poem

this last day

on company time



While Watching the Clock at Work,

I Contemplate the End of Entropy



And what will the rapture look like?

Will files dissolve into dust devils

and swirl off my desk

leaving piles of ashes beside the phone?

Will invoices melt in the xerox?

Will I have time to fax the kidney of a bat

to an organ bank

and demand an immediate finder’s fee?

Yes!  And my computer will refuse to backspace;

I will scatter my typos like bones;

while my immediate supervisor and the CEO

nip at my heels like a pack of half-dead dogs.

I will eat the appointment calendar for lunch,

and, in a bulemic fury,

toss it down the office toilet,

dreams of corporate mergers

swimming with the sewer rats.

Oh orgasmic ecstasy!

Oh joyous rain falling on my aching skin!

I am placing a personal phone call to Gabriel,

deleting the memories of a thousand machines,

ripping the chains from my ankles,

kicking off my correctly office attired one-inch heels,

my bare feet dangling delicately

above my personal bulletin board

(decorated with pictures of Brecht, Marley and Isadora)

as I gloriously rise to paradise

and join the Angels Liberation Front!



Mission Poet Banned by State Department



“In 1976, when (Roberto Vargas) was serving as the director of San Francisco’s U.S. Bicentennial Celebration, he was quietly preparing to fight in Nicaragua.  He trained for the mountainous terrain by running up Bernal Heights.” (North Mission News, July 1986)


Hordes of San Francisco Revolutionary poets

are invading Bernal Heights

in Birkenstocks and sneakers

made in the People’s Republic of China,

their iambs and similes

like a red sea of banners.


All Metaphors to the People!

Revolution in the name of Poetry!


Up they go,

rounding the corner to Costa Street,

also known as Dog Patch

where once upon a time

a woman in a blue bathrobe

stood in front of a bulldozer

when property rights disturbed

her Saturday a.m. and secretaries,

waitresses, filmmakers, union

organizers, welfare recipients,

kids of all sizes, creeds and colors,

the unemployed, and God only knows

Marxist poets even

circled the contractor, the land

owner and the real estate agent,

hurling epitaphs and insults:


Down With Upward Mobility!

Mister, Leave Our Shacks Alone!


Past the bulldozer and blue

bathrobe, past lazy dogs

sleeping on unpaved streets,

up the hill, there they go

—Revolutionary Poets—

flashing their small press books,

their heavy breath blazing

the sky with image clusters,


Mayakovski’s and Neruda’s

tender bastards,

illegitimacy being the legitimate

response to property and state.


Give me a Trope!  Give me a Rhyme!

Join the Revolution!  Make this Climb!


For our comrade, Roberto Vargas, Exiled San Francisco

Poet and Citizen of Nicaragua Libre 

Carol Tarlen was a San Francisco working class poet/trade union/anti-war activist who died in 2004. Her first book of poetry, Every Day Is An Act of Resistance: Selected Poetry by Carol Tarlen (introduction by Jack Hirschman, coeditors Julia Stein and David Joseph), was just published in April 2012, by Mongrel Empire Press.


Editorial Note: (Please Read Closely Before Submitting)

To submit to Poets’ Basement, send an e-mail to CounterPunch’s poetry editor, Marc Beaudin at with your name, the titles being submitted, and your website url or e-mail address (if you’d like this to appear with your work).  Also indicate whether or not your poems have been previously published and where.  For translations, include poem in original language and documentation of granted reprint/translation rights.  Attach up to 5 poems and a short bio, written in 3rd person, as a single Word Document (.doc or .rtf attachments only; no .docx – use “Save As” to change docx or odt files to “.doc”).  Expect a response within one month (occasionally longer during periods of heavy submissions).

Poems accepted for online publication will be considered for possible inclusion of an upcoming print anthology.

For more details, tips and suggestions, visit and check the links on the top right. Thanks!

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