all this and more


All This and More
Mary Karr

The Devil’s tour of hell did not include
a factory line where molten lead
spilled into mouths held wide,
no electric drill spiraling screws
into hands and feet, nor giant pliers
to lower you into simmering vats.
Instead, a circle of light
opened on your stuffed armchair,
whose chintz orchids did not boil and change,
and the Devil adjusted
your new spiked antennae
almost delicately, with claws curled
and lacquered black, before he spread
his leather wings to leap
into the acid-green sky.
So your head became a tv hull,
a gargoyle mirror. Your doppelganger
sloppy at the mouth
and swollen at the joints
enacted your days in sinuous
slow motion, your lines delivered
with a mocking sneer. Sometimes
the frame froze, reversed, began
again: the red eyes of a friend
you cursed, your girl child cowered
behind the drapes, parents alive again
and puzzled by this new form. That’s why
you clawed your way back to this life.
Photo by Adele Cave on Unsplash

at the sound of the gunshot


At the Sound of the Gunshot, Leave a Message
Mary Karr
That’s what my friend spoke
into his grim machine the winter he first went mad
as we both did in our thirties with still
no hope of revenue, gravely inking
our poems on pages held fast by gyres
the color of lead.

Godless, our minds
did monster us, left us bobbing as in a swamp
until we sank. His eyes were burn holes
in a swollen face. His breath was a venom
he drank deep of. He called his own tongue
a scar, this poet

who can crowbar open
the most sealed heart, make ash flower,
and the cocked shotgun’s double-zero mouths
(whose pellets had exploded star holes into plaster and porcelain
and not a few locked doors) never touched
my friend’s throat. Praise

Him, whose earth is green.

Photo by Max Kleinen on Unsplash



Sinners Welcome
Mary Karr
I opened up my shirt to show this man
the flaming heart he lit in me, and I was scooped up
like a lamb and carried to the dim warm.
I who should have been kneeling
was knelt to by one whose face
should be emblazoned on every coin and diadem:

no bare-chested boy, but Ulysses
with arms thick from the hard-hauled ropes.
He’d sailed past the clay gods
and the singing girls who might have made of him

a swine. That the world could arrive at me
with him in it, after so much longing—
impossible. He enters me and joy
sprouts from us as from a split seed.

pathetic fallacy


Pathetic Fallacy
Mary Karr
When it became impossible to speak to you
due to your having died and been incinerated,
I sometimes held the uncradled phone

with its neat digits and arcane symbols (crosshatch,
black star) as if embedded in it
were some code I could punch in

to reach you. You bequeathed me
this morbid bent, Mother.
Who gives her sixth-grade daughter

Sartre’s Nausea to read? All my life,
I watched you face the void,
leaning into it as a child with a black balloon

will bury her countenance
either to hide from
or to merge with that darkness.

Small wonder that still
in the invisible scrim of air
that delineates our separate worlds,

your features sometimes press toward me
all silvery from the afterlife, woven in wind,
to whisper a caution. Or your hand on my back

shoves me into my life.

“the lesson you’ve got…


Mary Karr
…to learn is the someday you’ll someday
stagger to, blinking in cold light, all tears
shed, ready to poke your bovine head
in the yoke they’ve shaped.

Everyone learns this. Born, everyone
breathes, pays tax, plants dead
and hurts galore. There’s grief enough
for each. My mother

learned by moving man to man,
outlived them all. The parched earth’s
bare (once she leaves it) of any who watched
the instants I trod it.

Other than myself, of course.
I’ve made a study of bearing
and forbearance. Everyone does,
it turns out, and note

those faces passing by: Not one’s a god.

invisible hand


Orders from the Invisible
Mary Karr
Insert coins. Mind the gap. Do not disturb
hung from the doorknob of a hotel room,
where a man begged to die entwined in my arms.

He once wrote
he’d take the third rail in his teeth, which is how
loving him turned out.
The airport’s glass world
glided me gone from him, and the sky I flew into
grew a pearly cataract through which God
lost sight of us. The moving walk

is nearing its end.

The diner jukebox says, Choose
again, and the waitress hollers over,
“All them soul songs got broke.”
She speaks from the cook’s window, steam
smearing her face of all feature.

The tongue is a form of fire, the Bible says,
and in the computer’s unstarred blue
the man’s brutal missives drag me along by my throat.

Press yes to erase.