Small Deaths, by Carol Tarlen

I tear my hair like the

mad queen of hearts. “What? you

used a whole cube of butter

to fry one egg?” Leah’s eyes drop;

I refuse to see the lashes cast

shadow on her cheeks, too busy

thinking, I must wipe dust

from under the coffee table, and

I’m tired, my gaze sagging on the

electric wires splintering

the pale blue sky. Her voice

trembles, “I’ll go to the store,

Mommy, and buy it with my allowance.”

Another small death, this time caused

by the misappropriation of fifth

cents worth of cholesterol.


Last night my obscene “friend”

called to awake me with silence.

The telephone company will charge

eleven dollars for a new number.

Friday the boss will sign my

paycheck at three minutes past

five. The bank opens at ten a.m.

Monday morning. This weekend

marks our conversion to

vegetarianism, Sunday dinners

of brown rice, inexpensive

walks on the beach to quiet

our taste for blood.

And this evening, when the bus

winds up and down city hills,

pushing me closer to my 5/6ths

psychiatric hour, when I will discuss

the hostility inherent

in my passive aggressive

overdue bill, I will be grateful

for a seat by the window;

I will be grateful for the sun’s

heat on my cheek, it’s light

slipping through the yellow

and red strands of hair that

I stretch around my fingers

so that I may sing

there are rainbows in me yet.

I am pulling the cord, steeping

onto littered sidewalks, furtively

searching for two-way mirrors,

hidden microphones as I slouch

on the therapeutic chair, pleading:



Guilty of screaming at my child

Guilty of stealing the office stamps

Conspiracy to cheat Landlords of Cleaning Deposits

Writing Rhetorical Poems with no Metaphorical Content

Refusing to tend my garden, instead

Proclaiming the aesthetic purity of weeds

Guilty of even the inability to fantasize rape

The nonownership of a vibrator

Yes I am guilty of

Refraining from reading the NYSE Daily Quotations

Choosing instead to watch fog seep through the heavy

branches of cypress trees, dark green foiaage weted

darker green. Yes! Yes!

guilty of the desire to raise my fist to Montgomery Street’s

Skyscraped glare, shouting “Next year in Madrid!”

and most of all

Guilty of keeping my mouth shut

Crossing my legs in public

Ignoring the wind’s cry as it sweeps grease

from tankers mounting the ocean’s dying waves.


The doctor wipes his glasses on his

imported Italian shirt and suggest

redefining options,

acceptance of limitations,

a course in assertiveness training.

I shrink back on the cushions

and cop a please. “Nolo contendere.”


I am thrusting the key in the

hole, turning its toothy blade.

Leah is linking her hands

around my belly. I flop

rag dolled on the couch as

she removes my shoes, her

fleshly padded fingers de-

manding, “Play with me.”

It’s no game, kid, this living,

no accident that profit

is mined from dirty phone calls.

OK, pumpkin, do I bury you

with the wasted butter

or do we buy guns? You’re

right. It’s too early

to go to bed. Even fifth

graders know the earth is not

a pyramid, but a porous,

shimmering egg dropped

monthly from between our legs,

giving and taking the pounding

of our feet and we dance

round and round, sweat

circling our throats, our faces

lifting to the moon dripping

juicy on our tongues flagging

cars that screech past

the window, yes, our wet, red,

throbbing anarchist tongues.

Carol and Derek

Carol and Derek


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