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PUBLISHED WORK

A Cottage Named Rest and Be Thankful

It was shots across the lake at dawn
it was deer season’s opening day
it was cold it was windy it was dreary
it was Thanksgiving nothing moved
except hunters and their prey
it was quiet it was ritual it was family
it was gratitude it could have been bliss
all the leaves wedged into the table
it was marks left in oak from scores
was teen girls it was makeup
it kept for word games for dice games
slight numbers revealed by polish
it was flowers it was candles
it was family it was ours it was basting
a white pop-out thermometer holding
firm it was bird always almost done
it was shadow it was gloss it was mini
skirts a walk in the park before dinner
finally it was time it was platter
it was savory it was steam it was carving
it was breast it was thigh it was dressing
it was mashed potatoes getting cold
on my mother’s plate she was eight
sitting for hours over potatoes
she had slathered with mustard
not excused from the table her lesson
the walls her parents scrubbed
for Depression potatoes it was time
to gather without question but should
we wait for the girls it was slate gray
sky quickly darkening it was roaming
the neighborhood in cars the park dark
it was doe a deer a female deer
it was guns it was rape it was murder
it was mayhem until we stopped the cars
more or less all in agreement the girls
would return when they got cold
enough where else would they go
and later they did
from his point of view also
a suspect but absent a body
did she leave on her own
or is the girlwife framing him
with he said she said is either one
telling the truth if there is a truth
or what about the next story
also a girl witnessing a murder
from the window of a train begging
the question when breath ceases
does the story matter if it is not
murder is there a story to be untold
was the bedroom window
left open that night or locked
who tossed the single white rose
into the river was it a signature
or the return of magic realism
the return of alternate universes

Click below for the video reading

Curtains Blowing in the Wind
 
You and I love have written fiction
together it can be an intimate act
where we said writing in and out
of each other elicited the yin yang
of voices the he said she said
but in the year of the unreliable
narrator the question is who
is telling the truth if there is truth
haven’t we known all along writers
are unreliable narrators and not all
skeletons are the ones in the closet
like the trendy gone girl
gone missing the story first told
by the adulterous husband
from his point of view also
a suspect but absent a body
did she leave on her own
or is the girlwife framing him
with he said she said is either one
telling the truth if there is a truth
or what about the next story
also a girl witnessing a murder
from the window of a train begging
the question when breath ceases
does the story matter if it is not
murder is there a story to be untold
was the bedroom window
left open that night or locked
who tossed the single white rose
into the river was it a signature
or the return of magic realism
the return of alternate universes
The Keening
 
As if someone had been lost
the sound mournful and low
from a human it seemed at first
though the source was unclear
several yards touching ours
turned up empty no moans
from injured individuals
so where was it coming from
downtown a railyard whistle
familiar and daily but not
so what a creature’s paw
caught in a trap or a tomcat
caterwauling not in daylight
a cote a bevy a dole a dule
a flight so many names
for a group of mourning doves
but none feeding on the ground
only a drab female cardinal
pecking around the hulls
of spent sunflower seeds
as the silence lengthened
I returned inside to the table
to pour over a box of half pastels
sixty colors Rembrandt’s
general selection for that day’s
lesson in abstraction earlier
Ed had finished his piece
so I was alone as the low wail
began again and I found
myself opening the back door
once more to stand still
and focus on a large dead bough

 

Loki
Others write about dead men walking
instead I am a walking flower, bright
turquoise white and yellow, edged
in black geometric-patterned silk, a button
on strands of colored thread hooked
around my throat. I am a flower walking
among roses and drought-loving vinca
small white fairy flowers, clematis
thickly covering a cement block wall.
I am turquoise against Russian blue sage
yellow against Klondike cosmos
thick-stemmed and covered with bees
in the gardens planted to replace lawn.
I am walking into the seven thirty dash
for work that follows the shortcut
up Woodcrest, a narrow road over Red
Mountain and down into Homewood.
I am backing the car out of the driveway
as pain shoots through my thigh,
the car still moving into a sharper acuity
of what is caught at the hem of my dress,
the kind of bee others all day will tell me
never stings, boring anyway into my thigh
a red welt forming under patterned silk
Fog
 
The interpreter of my dreams professes
his love for me with the last words from his lips
before the lights go out, then sleeps curled
around my back, one hand cupping a bare breast.
A Shakespeare scholar and devoted fan of Jung
professor emeritus of literature popular culture
and horror a reader of a dozen books at once
a writer with dialogue going on in his head
most of the time, he listens with morning patience
to my ramblings about disjointed dreamscapes
and tells me all who roam there are my own personae:
the one chasing me and the one I am chasing
in the shadow of the moon the moon itself
and all of the others just below the water's surface.
I absorb what he says and nod and go on
as if it's enough to have said the dream aloud,
until near fatal clots travel to his lungs and fog
descends to obliterate the entire dreamscape.
The next morning my throat closes around
a hollowness that takes my breath away.
Name Your Poison

In her hand my neighbor held out a box

offering me nerium oleander a poison

as toxic as the fairy tale’s shiny apple

in a kit of age-defying seductions

but what she didn’t know is I know

oleander aka rosebay the bejeweled

pink or white clustered blossoms lining

my mother’s sea-sprayed Carolina yard

with subtropical fragrance the leaves

narrow and willow-like linear lanceolate

oleander the most poisonous of garden

plants in zones 8-10 along the coast

even deer know poison when they find it

planted in a ring around the roses

to be fair I don’t think my neighbor meant

to poison me since she used the product

herself and it’s not the first poison sold

as potion this one a cardiac glycoside

acting on the contractile force of the muscle

of the heart disrupting its function as if any

of us could know exactly how the heart

functions with so many emotions

streaming through its arteries/veins

The main artery in this midwestern town

a mythical Main Street with some storefronts

empty Radio Shack closed also The Times

an old movie theater and up the road

deserted factories never enough jobs

so selling nerium oleander becomes one

in a rat-a-tat tat announcement of a get rich

quick scheme for the price of a sales pitch

oleander with the sound of a round O

this is the way a pyramid is formed

by women you know a cousin a friend

a woman at work selling baskets or makeup

or storage containers that burp this time

the reward a Lexus instead of a pink Cadillac

the real money going to the usual suspects

which among them is not an old white man

while in the news on Sunday my neighbor

fainted several times also in the ambulance

as her heart rate slowed to 40 beats a minute

while we who want to understand googled

to find oleander can kill but also redemption

for oleander as the official flower of Hiroshima

having been the first to bloom following

the atomic bombing of the city

Strange Angels

American Horror Story haunted an old 
house a gorgeous Tudor with Tiffany 
fixtures transforming light 
into ordinary horror not so terrifying 
until the second season when the Story 
took up residence in an asylum 
also not so frightening for most 
no more than a haunted house 
but it was the asylum of my nightmare 
where three strange angels knock 
on the door while D.H. Lawrence 
shakes his fist at me and shouts 
admit them admit them and when I do 
open the door I find Norma splintered 
in a Picasso portrait with her blond son 
Norman the father of my children 
holding the hand of the third angel
an anonymous towheaded baby girl 
wandering off into a clouded dream 
without an answer to these questions 
1) is it true that angels represent 
what has been lost and 
2) what am I to do with these three 
barefoot angels that elicit body memories 
of pregnancy the little souls moving 
around in my belly four times 
creating in me a certain vulnerability 
all hormones and love we were young 
then twenty somethings seeking romance 
and orgasms playing house and haunted 
by Norma who had never agreed 
to give up either of her sons to marriage 
meanwhile with each birth my focus 
turned more inward first in utero 
then towards the small warm beings 
it was during those baby years 
when the last two girls where born 
a year apart that I lost track of myself 
and world events as they unfolded 
a peanut farmer president hostages 
taken I think I forgot to vote 
the year an actor was elected then later                                       
the Iran contra affair and other whole 
blocks of news I never followed 
or music that changed with the body 
politic all a blur until the marriage 
finally shattered after Norma decided 
to reclaim her sons and send me  
to an asylum transference a doctor 
would later explain she the strange angel 
who would take care of everything 
and even when I heard it as crazy talk 
I could feel the sensation of walls 
closing in of doors slammed shut 
gauzy claustrophobia wrapped around 
me in Central State Hospital the place 
where my own depressed mother 
had volunteered as a Gold Lady 
and though that asylum was closed 
years ago claustrophobia still 
finds its way back to me in dream

Her Body is Small in the Box

On a ship anchored off Tortola the island  
named for turtle doves I watched tenders 
in the distance transport tourists back and forth 
while I stayed with Mr. Fox: A Novel that twisted 
and turned in on itself a metafictional plot 
of murder and mayhem when the father 
who murdered the mother was viewed 
by his daughter as small in his coffin 
this muse brought back to me my own mother 
dead these few months not murdered 
unless I did kill her by insisting on morphine 
for the intensity of her pain
 
either way at the end her body was delivered 
before dawn one Sunday in June to a deep South 
funeral home tastefully set back in time 
where cremations were complicated 
by the need for signatures from every sibling 
as a defense against drama our own family 
unpredictable in that way since years before 
one sister had hijacked the burial of our brother 
the one closest to our mother and the only boy 
so we didn’t seem to mind that he was her favorite 
until he broke her heart the year she said 
he drank himself to death
when we discovered we could bury her body 
without all siblings signing since a body 
could always be exhumed to settle a fight 
discussions turned to a sea island cemetery 
three states away Spanish moss palmettos 
azaleas and a thousand brown live oak leaves 
behind a three hundred year old church 
the double headstone already engraved 
with her name but not the year of her death 
and after a couple of gin and tonics 
the good sister thought we could kill two 
birds with one stone like the aphorisms 
so common among our mother’s people  
 
we could bury her in the mink stroller 
her name embroidered in the lining 
of the coat she waited so long to own
but none of us now could imagine wearing 
until that night I reread her will
with her request to be cremated
and I felt her claustrophobia punch right 
through the lid of any satin-lined coffin 
we could choose so it came down to the third 
girl a notarized signature I finally asked 
for and she did offer more out of the shock 
of the death itself coming within a day 
in what as children we thought was meant 
by the quick and the dead in the creed 
that told us what to believe in
but leaving only my identification 
of her body to the mortician he said
he had prepared her in a cardboard 
box for cremation and as if she had shrunk 
that last day ever she was small in the box

The Story of Life

We could feel the evening falling around us
though it was noon when clouds covered the sun 
above the chapel lit only by natural light 
filtering through the windows 
and upwards from the window wells 
the guidebook said low light lent an ancient 
and melancholy air to the fresco we had come 
to Italy to see God the father creating Adam 
their fingers almost touching except for a small 
space left between the two in anticipation 
of that moment when God would complete 
his creation but in the dull light the fresco 
distant and blurred by macular degeneration 
and glaucoma for Ed who decided to ask 
the guards what time they would turn on 
the lights after all in the story of life God 
had risen into the sky with arms outstretched 
to separate light from darkness evening 
and then morning of the first day but that day 
Ed was one of those the official husher tried 
every few minutes to quiet the crowd forever 
changing but always always looking up and sighing
casebeer photo_edited.jpg

LINDA CASEBEER

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