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,
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.
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.