Selected by Bunkong Tuon, Poetry Editor

Peter Neil Carroll: Three Poems


I never met her, before or after. She
was up for parole, she needed a letter
for clemency. I had good letterhead.

Back in the 70s, a 20-year-old woman gets
40 years-to-life for believing a liar: lending
$400 to her boyfriend for a car, but instead

he bought a rifle for a gang of radicals.
She hasn’t seen or heard from him since.
She has already served 22 years good time.

She stands near the gate, watches the yellow prison
bus approach. The telegram yesterday brought
her a reprieve. Did my letter matter? Unlikely.

She waits with the wind, buttons the blue denim
jacket. She worries where she will live. On parole,
she can’t meet old associates (as if she would).

Her parents have passed, she’s lost track of a sister.
She’s a new woman, no longer interested in men
(she thinks). This is America; she is free to start over.


Club Bonobos

I pick a stool not far from the barman,
a chance to listen in. He pours me Scotch.
I take out my 3×5 spiral, a blue pencil,

get to work. My specialty is chit-chat,
my hangout the place where folks can
talk their thoughts whatever they think.

My sister’s about to marry a four-time loser,
a woman announces while tugging the waist
of her turquoise polyester pants. I’m jealous!

Me, I’m zealous. She brightens, leans close.
What you writing? Story of your life, I say.
She pulls back, glares. I buy her a refill.

The barman lingers, I see you’re writing, says
he, adding he’s a former high school teacher,
got tangled with a student. Nothing happened,

he claims. His eyes say nothing happened yet…
when in comes a pair of mature ladies in jeans,
bragging how they just won a harassment case,

eager to guzzle margaritas. Against who? I
ask. Who do you think? she snaps. I hear
trouble in all directions. Shame is no problem,

nor is privacy a constraint. All they want is
to get it said, people begging to be heard.
Drunk or sober, they know what I want.


Of Gamete and Zygote

He holds the open textbook
with two fingers, scribbling
his biology test as she enters
desperately late, takes a seat
at his side, her hand grasps
the book at a different page.

She too writes rapidly, answers
neither of them will remember
in a year. Today they search
fine print, sketching diagrams,
purple glands, green fertilized cells.

Their taut faces show no sense
of desire. No word passes, no breath
audible, their torsos twist away
as mirror images. Obviously

intense yet they seem unaware
of what lies ahead, what a human
life cycle means to beautiful children
on the cusp of tenderness.

Whisper, I want to say. Touch.
It’s not too late not to flunk biology.


cover of This Land, These People: The 50 States by Peter Neil Carroll
This Land, These People: The 50 States by Peter Neil Carroll

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