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.