Two Poems By Caroline Coleman

Caroline Coleman captures a vivid sense of yearning, nostalgia, pain, and beauty in her two gorgeously crafted poems, “graduation,” and “party portraits.”

graduation

It’s summer now so the call of the trains
bounding in the distance is closer
and the loudspeaker of the neighborhood pool
drifts through my window in between dusty sun.
She comes to me, railroad irises, 9:30 air,
cigarette clouds shirking their celestial duties.
Her fingertips are wise where I am not,
but here she is, flush with hairpins and lips tangled.
Flyswatter dreams and basement couches
mark the precipice of our staged world;
stage left: she cut her window screen and rained
stage right: the subway blues, always running,
always late. They say all the world’s a stage,
but all the world’s a macabre diorama of
my childhood fantasies, home address laced
in tongues and her, hitched in outer space:
fleeing lines and a cast party queen.
I turn the light on and the fan sings spoiled,
so I keep and devour in the dark.
There’s a two-year warranty on the corpse
that keeps screaming the family dynamic
hearse. Keep me in mind at the fork in the road,
toss a coin in my sullen ear, say something
to smother these early morning fears of perpetuity.
The tracks in the woods are silent, but
you can hear her departure in the birdsong:
the wicked echo in the bones of the station,
our lonesome whistles in harmony;
you can hear it like an audition tape acting
as stitches, like the shrieks of a fallen dancer,
like the syncopated footsteps of the mailman
in his last throes of communication,
his final steps leaking from his honeyed throat
in perfect cordial dial tones.

party portraits

the honeyed rising fills the shutters in between measures
reaching us in our huddled gasping bedroom

stately shouts creep from the basement roughly
every hour or so, dancing with the kitchen timer

the thermostat grows jealous and forms hardwood volcanoes
my tears simmer on igneous cheeks and run back groundward

we play three-story merry-go-round on the railings
all sorts of vocal leaping into non-stick pans

the martyr is praying in the bathroom
later she will shotgun a beer in canonized ecstasy

but for now she asks god to pierce the holy clock hands
and shorten the pendulum so her beloved swings back faster

the nighttime zephyr uncurls all the windows
and whistles from the very heart of the matter

the house never fully sleeps nor fully swings
the door handles and sock drawers rattle into jitterbugs

while the clown in the attic composes a symphony
all in minor, locked out of the dance hall

or having misplaced the entrance for a tin of lemon squares
and the bodyguard for the soft-spoken summer spiders

there are no eyes here which see the color of rage
but just because it hibernates doesn’t mean it sleeps

still, we make merry, and I officiate in full gusts
the light of the morning too much for the feeble instrument

I call them out one by one to be wed on the porch
and in the meantime, the pancakes burn

a spell of damning truth, what can be understood and not said
and the reverse, and drive, and park, and forbearing neutral

all leading towards the endless conversation home
to swim for land or call a taxi? finish the sentence or jump the fence?

I murmur damp soliloquies into the shoulder of your sweater
unraveling the harness that keeps your name etched in mountains

and forging bronze apologies for mere identity theft
the arterial jailers fell upon their knees for forgiveness

which comes only after bottling the rest for later and much coaxing
the silver-laned queen drives her fur coat home

and sleeps upside down, toppled by worldliness
she knew every language except opening and closing

it is her birthday, which comes every other century
and with much paunch and circumference

she stands atop the rails and sees a tongue slinking
thick with turpentine and a thousand never-closing eyes

it cuts corners and divests lonely maidens of their wits
fast and painless as a hailstorm, musical as the belly of a snake

I am ears to the ground as the grass sings envy
drinking songs to the birds passed out in the bath

where does intimacy live if not here?
some country greenhouse lane, strolling 12 bar blues

you: in women’s clothing, me: a coroner
the windows shut with molasses and still frostbitten

party portraits bathed in dawn, pennies for the erratic painter
sparrow song for the sunken half-full mugs

they towed her car on her 17th birthday and now she wanders
the backstreets looking for candles to blow out

my bedroom is a pale anemic impression of the real thing
I’m a parlor dweller I guess, refusing pearls left and right

in between changing the record I hear the neighbors whispering
but my friends are floating countertop, sweeping the races

and now the record is spinning conquered heartbreak
well—it’s unreleased, this conquering

but I can march and form garden gnome ranks any old day
today is the hole in time’s second-hand pockets

the secret to spinning and keeping balance
to sit round robin and not demur, to chew and mean it

even if it requires a little manual loosening
twenty-dollar bills and terra incognita time of morning

I want to see my love taken apart so I can build for once
see how he works, see what ticks in him and why

he cancels lunch and walks too quickly and shows early
and maybe with the operating table bare I’ll see

what went wrong, and why my heart no longer beats in his jaws
the discord like a dead bee in a soda can

after they leave I hear my mother’s breathing again
from the middle-class freeway down the hall

my brow has gathered icicles overnight
to be melted with the intensity of her moderation

knowing what the headstone says doesn’t help with the dying
but the ambiguity elbow greases my strung-out reflection

the clocks are out on strike but there’s a sneaking
into my rusted liver via the closet door

there’s a suspicious lack of blood on the floor
but punchy bluntness litter the depth of every angle

every unused rich kid soapbox obstructing the exit
the backstage pass like the upstairs at a party

party’s got to end, like the failings of the decade
the shot glass is still warring with the highball

and the roads all look the same down here
mid-morning hinges on goodwill regardless of intention

I’ll remember their sleeping faces in celluloid for as long
as eyes read between the grain and find breakfast

I can see summer from the window facing the street
and spring with it, on bicycle, going out for the day

at the latest possible sunset, she’ll go home to mother
with bruises peaching her howled mouth

and make up excuses for why the sky is so green this year
and why the flowers two-step to jazz drizzles

whittle my prospects in a cradle downstream
for someone’s more loving hands with longer fingers

better for reaching heart-itches in the subcutaneous
do the seven rivers of hell really slink upstream?

and do I? I want to be better at cooking breakfast for two
and seeing the sun for each ray, infinite in an inconvenient direction

so even when I’m scrubbing ceaselessly and skipping lunch
my house holds more river water than I have to give

and was built on top of words laced the old-fashioned way
with more whole hands than fingers can count

Caroline Coleman is a student and writer in the DC area, interested primarily in poetry, theatre, and film. She has also published work in Haloscope Magazine.

Visual Art by: Cherry Guo

The Lady Downstairs

In her piece, “The Lady Downstairs”, Kanchan Naik unfolds the haunted side of family heritage in a busy city life full of twist’s, turns, and death.

 

Mr. Anand claimed that if the world grew quiet for even a single moment, we would hear the footsteps of the Great Mother. Ira, he called her. Ira Devi. But my thick New Yorker tongue, in all its nine years of inelegance, could never bring out the softened trill in ‘Ira’. We would try for hours to rediscover the sideways lilt and the softened vowels of his accent. But the voice that came so naturally to him made my warbling American throat a clothed imposter. So it was Mr. Anand, while trying desperately to keep a straight face, who suggested I call her The Lady Downstairs.

We spent those evenings on the stairwell that lead to the front door of our apartment complex, where redbrick met with the sun-stained streets of Jericho. My head rested against the seventh stair with my feet swinging off the ninth. There was some clarity in staring at a city that whistled by us, that arrogantly wrapped itself within the fiction of consciousness. But Mr. Anand and I knew that the streets, with all their oil stains and car crashes and racket, were sound asleep.

Listen,​ he said. And we would, until the clatter of a dangling world blurred into a dull roar. He would close his eyes, and I would too. For a second, I could feel every bone in my body, every eyelash pulsing with the ghost of some forgotten instinct. The winds ceased to dance. The sky would exhale. When I opened my eyes, I would murmur, ​someone was here. ​Mr. Anand smiled back.​ Yes, someone was here. The Lady Downstairs. A​n the sun would dissolve, as though on cue, behind the diner two blocks away.

It was with Mr. Anand that I tasted my first cup of real chai. My mother and father, who opted for the convenience of QuikTea, never bothered with spices and cane sugar. Mr. Anand, however, ground his own garam masala from fennel and bay leaves. After one taste, I knew that my tongue would never forgive the flavorless, sugary water that my parents preferred. Instant tea, like my Indian accent, was shakily unsure of what it was supposed to be. But a steaming cup of chai was so confident in its existence that the liquid sung as it gurgled down my throat. ​I make chai from the earth. From what she gives us, M​r. Anand explained. ​From The Lady Downstairs?

From The Lady Downstairs.

My parents treated the greying Indian man one apartment across with a cloaked unease. They were grateful for the hours we spent together before one of them came home from work. But the crimson toran hanging on Mr. Anand’s door was a silent red flag between them. My parents were ‘wallflower’ Indians who lost their accents to keep their jobs. Delhi was a photograph in my father’s wallet, a pair of earrings on my mother’s nightstand. They forced smiles during the offhand conversation, but I could see my mother’s eyes harden when Mr. Anand called her Parvati instead of some Anglicized distortion.

Autumn came. And as those summer evenings descended into the horizon, they took two towers with them. I remember the frantic phone calls, the wail of sirens crackling against our screen door. My mother sunk lifelessly into the sofa as the television blared.

Parv, m​y father murmured.​ You need to eat something.​ But she didn’t. Her eyes were fixed on the bodies ablaze, on the screams coiling into television static. I remember those hours we spent, a porcelain family, almost able to touch a splintering country through the telechrome. Mr. Anand had once told me something, and it burned in my brain. ​We live in the Kalyug, the Dark Age. T​hose words prickled in the television volume, an echo of those wounded faces. I would never forget those men who crawled out out of melted cars, carrying bloodied bodies on their backs. They had those hunted eyes — eyes in silent agreement that yes, this is the Kalyug, the Dark Age.

Mr. Anand was shot three weeks later. My father swept me into his arms as though it was I who had borne the bullet. It happened outside the grocery he used to frequent, where he would buy cinnamon and fresh ginger and tell the cashier to keep the change. The nearby 7/11 owned by the Guptas was burned to the ground, and all I could hear was Mr. Anand, over and over, reminding me that this was a Dark Age. Those words grew colder every time until I found myself sitting on that stairwell, staring at a hollow street. Mr. Anand’s relatives were moving his furniture into a white U-Haul. For a moment, I desperately hoped they would forget the red toran swaying against his front door. It could live a fragile life of its own, suspended only by a fraying string. But when I blinked, the toran was gone.

She’s awake now, I​ whispered. The city was alive, and so was I — the two of us momentarily silenced. And for the first time, I felt the footsteps of Ira Devi against the blackened earth, louder and louder until they swallowed the sun. ​The Lady Downstairs?

The Lady Downstairs.

Kanchan Naik is a junior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin and the Teen Poet Laureate for the City of Pleasanton. When she’s not doodling or writing poetry, she is most likely untangling her earphones or looking for something that happens to be — much like herself — lost.

visual art by Holly Shelton