Four Poems by Caroline Kessler

Caroline Kessler

Caroline Kessler

Caroline Kessler, originally from outside Baltimore, is a freelance writer and editor in San Francisco. Her prose and poetry has been published in The Susquehanna Review, Anderbo, In Bantam, Collision, and New Voices, among other places. She is an honors graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, where she studied creative writing and religion.  


given a tongue                         given a map with no street names                  
I'll use it for danger                             I'll forget what home is
I am the summer solstice                     becoming the day that refuses to end
singing to the dark-eyed junco                       until you join in
I crouch atop a settled log                  observing the sunset from every angle
low to the ground                                              I catalog the few psalms I know
take note of the                                                  spires pricking the skyline
domes curving their histories              through the gray
The question becomes                         a chorus of questions 
how to leave you                                 before you leave me
the answer                                           an echo
is the foghorns' mourning song                      the muttering of the bay




What I Want

You asked and the answer
            is my mouth nibbling your freckled shoulder, tasting
the stewed salt of your skin                until I leave violet
crescents beneath your jawline, a mark
                        that will last for days. This far west,

you can't
            tell the sky from the sea, mirrors of each other
thin light slanting into us, all reedy and dim. I could

stare     open-mouthed            at the Pacific
            all        day, surrounded by manzanita,
listening to you say the words                        rough-hewn
            over and over and                               over, until

the sound is so distorted, I lose
                        it among the sluicing of the waves and
               the gravel-mouthed crunching of foreign tires /
until I'm drunk off the sound of your             voice, the spraying mist,

            the way you plot a map on my back,
dragging your fingers along my spine until I can't imagine how I existed
                        before this moment.

                                                            You asked
and my answer is the pen
            I used to sketch a path
between           your ribcage and hipbone,
            scrawling questions of the body,
the ocean, the you, the me,     this      us.



These Human Things

When you                    leave
            you will forget fluorescent supermarkets,
rows of stacked neon and plastic. You will

forget steering wheels with your hands
            stationed at ten and two, brakes
whispering against sand soft enough to          sleep on,

            street signs and their human
text (buckle up, next million miles). You will
            forget              a mouth made

entirely of salt, the slick swallow
            of tequila, the suck
of lime, these invented rituals.

You will                      forget
            more easily than you know,

my hips swinging in the glow
            of your reading lamp, my head
brushing against your slanted             ceiling.





From this high, I'm unsure what's below,
            if it's the ocean or the bay. An army
of dandelion orbs assemble,
            rows of stems, their seed heads
ready to parachute towards the water
            at the first exhale of a breeze.

In the cabin on Mt. Tam, I undress us,
            maneuvering wooden buttons
through all the openings.

I study your eyebrows, furrowed things, as you try to translate
            the shape of my shoulders into honest borders, hovering
your hands until—

After the sun bleaches the red-barked manzanita,
            it mirrors animal bones, smoothed
into familiar shapes: mountain driftwood.

On the night of supermoon, you're asleep
            by ten, satisfied with what you saw. For once, I stay
where I am, rooted, searing my eyes with brightness.
            Northern coastal prairie and northern coastal scrub
linger below the fog line, an abrupt mosaic.

At the kitchen table, I collect fortunes
            from triangle cookies, anything
that predicts you leaving
            me, so that you when do
go, I'm ready. I put on the face
            I practiced: bland
forehead, mouth in a straight line.         

In the eastern foothills, sheltered
            from the ocean breezes, my heart and head and I
set up lawn chairs around the chiminea
            to talk, to agree on how we feel, to look
for the Farallon Islands, twenty-five miles out to sea.