Archive for the ‘Carol Tarlen's poems’ Category

While Watching The Clock At Work, I Contemplate The End of Entropy, by Carol Tarlen

July 6, 2009

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 sewer rats.
Oh orgasmic ecstacy!
Oh joyous rain falling on my aching skin!
I am making a personal phone call to Gabriel,
deleting the memories of a thousand machines,
ripping the chains from my ankles,
kicking off my properly attired one-inch heels,
my bare feet dangling delicately
above my bulletin board
as I gloriously rise to paradise
and join the angels liberation front!


Small Deaths, by Carol Tarlen

July 4, 2009

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

Sisters In The Flames by Carol Tarlen

June 8, 2009

“spectators saw again and again pitiable companionships
formed in the instant of death–girls who placed their arms
around each other as they leaped. In many cases their clothing
was flaming or their hair flaring as they fell.
from “The Triangle Fire.”
The New York World, March 26, 1911

bent over the machine
your hair a mass of red curls
like flames I said
my words extinguished
by the wailing motors
we never spoke
together we sewed
fine linen shirtwaists
for fine ladies we worked
in our coarse gowns and
muslin aprons 12 hours
in dark dank rooms
mine floors above the street
our fingers worked
the soft cloth
our coarse hands
fed the machines

I saw you once in the elevator
going down going home
our eyes laughed
when I whispered too loud
strands of red hair falling
over our cheek and neck I
touched our red rough hand
my shoulders ached
in my coat pocket
for Papa for Mama
for the rent I need
a new skirt I need
a day in the sun
i need to unlock the doors
of this factory
I’m still young
I whispered and you laughed
because of course
we all were young

of the flames
take my hand
I will hold you in the cradle
of my billowing skirt
in the ache of my shoulders
the center of my palm our sisters already dance
on the sidewalk nine
floors below the fire
is leaping through our thighs
Sister together now fly
the sky is an unlocked door
and the machines are burning

Believe In My Hands (Which Are Ending) • by Carol Tarlen

June 8, 2009

For Silvio Rodriguez of Cuba
at the end of my hands
is the face of a child
whose right eye is planted
in the center of her pale cheekbone.
At the edge of my fingers
pacing beneath a movie marquee,
is an old man in a red cap on whose
shoulder blossoms a picket sign.
The rain he stands in defines
the limits of my hands. Still,
I trust in the slick wet pavement
where my body ends,
but where my imagination
explodes into white carnations.
I believe in thick, black dirt
that sifts through my closed fist.
I believe in the child whose
deformed face is a luminous moon.
I believe in the hot sun where
a revolution was named for a poet.
I trust in the mystery of future.
which is always beginning.

Double Espresso, by Carol Tarlen

May 15, 2009

in the relatively anonymous

we come in the


contradiction between

Capital and Labour


I am dominant

when I lie


beneath your belly you thrust

raw material is pain is


subordinate public policy

experience interpreted


my hands are

encoded subcultures


my hands play

with social formations


leave the back door open

when you leave

Fire, by Carol Tarlen

May 15, 2009

for Jeon Tae-il, teenaged South Korean garment worker who in 1970 committed suicide to protest the lack of enforcement of existing labor laws

His clothes soak gasoline
his face sweats gasoline
his hair shines gasoline
he flicks the lighter
flames surge up his arms and back
illuminate the dark alley
of his labor
we are not machines he cries
fire consumes his flesh
we are not metal he screams
we eat dust, we cough blood
fall asleep at our sewing machines
they inject dope into our veins
our skin burns with each stitch
we beg for time to eat
we beg for time to sing
we beg for time to strip naked
we beg to see the night
to see the sun rise
we beg for time to piss
we beg to eat
we beg for work
we are flames
we are not machines
we are not the engines that feed your dreams
we are blood and flesh

I burn
I burn for the small chest bones
of the girls bent with tuberculosis
I burn for the days and nights of constant work
I burn for the laws that are pissed on
I burn for my mother and sisters
who sleep on torn blankets
spread on the bare floor
I burn for all my sisters
who spit blood into their cupped hands
I burn for my brothers
forced to die in Vietnam
I am a monk who burns for peace
I am a woman burned by Christian priests
I am Joan burned for liberation
I am a worker burned as she pounds
on the locked factory door
I am the Russian Jew burned in a pit at Babi Yar
I am the child whose burning hands
are thrust through the barred tenement window
I am their flesh, I am their dreams
I am flames
I am not a machine
I am not a machine
I am spirit
I am light
I am love

The Snow Leopard’s Comrades by Carol Tarlen

May 8, 2009

“The new model is materialistic,”
they said, eating cabbage and potato soup
in their cramped, cold apartment.
“You have too many malls in America,
too many autos, too much.
We have nothing.”
“You have the snow leopard,”
their visitor said.

In Tajikistan only the blessed
glimpse the snow leopard’s white coat,
its black stripes
marking its small footprints
etched into ice.
How many are left
now that the walls have fallen
and poachers hunt their prey?

“It’s not the people’s fault,”
they said between sips
of their hot meal.
“They too are hungry.
All is endangered in Tajikistan.
Europeans collect everything.
Even insects belong to the free market.
Maybe we too will end up
on some rich man’s wall,” they laughed.

Their guest was silent.
He had visited empty zoos,
shared thin soups,
trudged through mountains
once protected by commissars,
crystallized icy beauty
now a stock market commodity.

“Oil companies are petitioning
our government to explore
with blasting caps
or whatever is cost effective,”
his hosts said.
“Economics come first.
Even we need soup,”
they grinned.

“What will you do?”
the American asked.
One man spoke.
“Here the people have lived for centuries
off the earth, as part of the earth.
There was no need for conservation.
But we have studied the market place
and we are now green.
We will educate the children.
They will understand.”

Yesterday the American had seen
a snow leopard’s cadaver,
toothless, thin, its coat spotted
with hairless patches.
“What happened to it?” he had asked.

“When a creature who lives off prey
has nothing to hunt,
its teeth fall out.
It’s the process of starvation.
We are all hungry creatures,”
the man explained.
“But we are hopeful
because we are the green movement
here in Tajikistan.
And because we are human,
we are foolish, but hopeful.”
They fell silent, looking
into their empty soup bowls.

The American, too, grew hopeful.
He had wanted to be blessed.
He had wanted to see a leopard,
sleek and sacred,
gliding over the snow.
“How many are you
in this movement?” he asked.
“Four,” they answered. “We are four.
But we are hopeful.”