Two Poems by Alex Carrigan

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After the Ambulance

Why can’t we break the tension
like how your mother
broke that Waterford your father gave her
on their thirty-fifth anniversary,
the day her body first turned against her?

We allow the silence
hang over us
like the lemon-printed curtains
she gifted us when we moved
into our house three years ago.

We allow our lips to remain closed
like the box of jewelry your mother filled with
pearls, silver bands, and claddaghs.
You locked the box when she lost
her mother’s engagement ring
and we spent a day sweeping the floors
looking for it.

You sit on the couch,
your legs crossed the way
your mother plaited challah
in the days leading to Christmas
before her fingers stiffened
and you took up this tradition yourself.

You look at me
with eyes watered the way
your mother left a thin pool of water
on top of each of the plants that grazed
the window box of her apartment,
that I took down when she dropped
a basil plant during Easter.

We stare at each other
the way she stared back at us
when we found her in bed this morning
before they took her away,
shrouded in black.

We permit this stasis
when we know it doesn’t
honor her memory,
since silence was something
she never allowed past the
frayed screen door of her home.

We do this,
but neither of us wants to admit this betrayal,
so we sit in silence
and wait for someone or something
else to break, if only
to give us a reason to break ourselves.

After Ilya Kaminsky

Four Women Laying Domino Trains

Four women sit around
a mahogany picnic table
for a game of Mexican trains
on a late July evening.
The domino tiles clatter
like the ice in their glasses
of iced tea as they move
their hands around and scramble them.
With the tiles divided, the game begins.
The first woman starts the train
by laying the double twelve piece.
She has spent her
life laying down ceramic pathways
for others to walk down.
She labored to put these paths down,
watching women with designer shoes
nearly step on her hands while she worked.
She imagines that drops of blood
formed by these stilettos
formed the pips on the domino,
and that’s the only reason why
those women’s shoes
have red bottoms.
The second woman spends most of the game
intersecting with other paths
instead of building onto her own.
She’s often found it hard to pick a direction,
even unable to follow the lines
painted on the floor of the hospital
she labors away in.
Playing dominoes is asking her
to choose the gangplank
instead of the roller coaster,
so her train remains on the turntable.

The third woman coyly laughs
and giggles each time
she lays a tile down on her train.
She’s managed to make it
through life grabbing people by the wrist
and taking them wherever she chooses.
None of them ever complained,
especially since she sweetly told them
what laid at the end of the path.
For her, the pips are like the
mole she paints above the corner
of the strawberry colored lips
men like to taste.
The last woman mutters obscenities under her breath
every time she draws a tile from the pile.
She’s struggled the most in building paths
during this game and in life.
Her set of tiles lay on their sides
like tombstones erected in a cemetery following a war.
Her hands are calloused
like a gravedigger’s,
as she often builds down instead of out.

Four women sit around
a mahogany picnic table
and continue to lay down paths for plastic trains
they nor anyone else
can ever take a ride on.
Once they finish,
they’ll destroy those paths
and try to reconfigure them again.

Maybe the next game will
form a train line like the Yamanote,
where the domino lines
form a circle instead of spreading out
like a compass rose.
Maybe then the women
won’t need directions or guidance,
and instead they can
walk carefully between the pips
to see where they end up.

After Mahogany L. Browne and Nina Simone

 

Alex Carrigan (he/him) is an editor, poet, and critic from Virginia. He is the author of May All Our Pain Be Champagne: A Collection of Real Housewives Twitter Poetry (Alien Buddha Press, 2022). He has had fiction, poetry, and literary reviews published in Quail Bell Magazine, Lambda Literary Review, Empty Mirror, Gertrude Press, Quarterly West, Barrelhouse, Stories About Penises (Guts Publishing, 2019), and more. He is also the co-editor of Please Welcome to the Stage…: A Drag Literary Anthology with House of Lobsters Literary. For more information, visit https://carriganak.wordpress.com/ or follow him on Twitter @carriganak.

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