Five Poems by Caroline Shepard
April 30, 2012
Garbage on 110th St.
Black bags, filled to look
like body bags. Bodies of
fish bones, tissues, condoms.
Sometimes they’re gutted,
pouring out into the sidewalk.
Today it snowed,
turning the garbage into
inviting pillows I want
to jump on. Soft, pure, like
the fair skin of the girls
I went to school with,
All the gargoyles are kings
with their snow crowns.
What a Mother Does
My mother holds the house up with her open palms.
Her long arms are the beams
her hips the studs, easy to find, easy to hang on.
All so my sister can sit in her room
and read about the Paris that doesn’t really exist—
the city that only lives in the minds of tourists,
like a haze after a shower, the green
leaves circling around our bodies
drying up all the bad things.
But there are perverts in Paris.
And gritty areas where you’re still catcalled.
Places where drugs are sold
and chased down,
food that tastes bad, bad Chinese.
Except with mint.
There are drunken men who
spit in your face, your lovely clean face
bright with anticipation for the city of lights.
And yet, there are single moms carrying their
children from block to block, dream to dream
in almost any city, their arms as strong as wood.
When You’re a Woman Walking Down the Street Alone
You’re not going to hear it all.
But you will hear
the sound of the smack of the sweat of the lip.
You know? Multiple kissy faces followed by a
God bless you mama
Give me a smile
Have a beautiful day
Damn girl, you got a fat ass and I wanna schmack it
Which will make you think of three things.
Second, have I ever had sex with a smooching sound in my ear?
And third, How dare you, sir! I am a girl trying to go to work and it’s 6:30 in the morning!
But don’t judge the 55-year-old man
who made an inconsequential grab for your ass.
Because there will be days when you wake up
and no one says anything to you. Even the half blind
Super who catcalls at the transvestites.
Shake it mami
You’ll be dying for an insult on days
when you deliberately stick your butt out
just to get outraged by repulsive compliments
more affirming than whatever your
parents have said about
your decision to get bangs or
eat a grains-only diet in the name of vegetarianism.
I’m not above admitting I need men
on my stoop, outside the subway, inhabitants
of 7th avenue and 113th to tell me how pretty I am.
Except once it went too far.
Like a scarf falling to the floor
or the typewriter that doesn’t end
a sentence, or highway 50.
I went for a run when a man
from his window yelled,
“Yo girl! You got a fat pussy!”
“Duh asshole! That’s why I’m running!”
The way the walls can hold you, the bed that soothes you, the trees that shake
and dance for you—maybe none of that matters. I couldn’t bare to be here
alone. You know when you should appreciate something?
On Tuesday I wanted to die.
I don’t think you should be so honest about the White Album, garages, or your
When I got close to Wednesday morning,
I dreamt about your mother.
Her kind eyes,
the softness of her cheeks,
what we could talk about over tea.
There are people you will never meet.
And this ceiling looks like the mouth of heaven with its white edges. One day
you will have a wife you leave in the morning to get into your front seat and
drive to the lake. I want a mirror.
Sometimes when I go to the movies I scream at the screen. Scream at the young
woman with pretty hair to walk away because the monster is about to ruin her.
I want to tell her to go to the bathroom and wash her face, even though I never
or how that helps anything.
I was hoping you would take me home.
Turn off the TV and tell me what your legs feel like when you sleep. Mine feel
like they’re not a part of me. Like they’re just misplaced posts from the foot of
the bed. I grew up next to a beached sailboat, so I’m used to it all. When I’ve
tried and there’s no place else to go in my mind, I think of Tuesdays and chairs.
The fantasy of death. How long can you sit still? Once I was on a plane for three
Good people read the whole article, carpool neighborhoods, and keep secrets.
But I don’t do. I stay awake to drive someone home, count 18 exits on the
highway and bite the lower lip.
The left side.
All the flesh.
I’ve slept in church. I’ve gone to work without a bra and laughed at the
absurdity of luck.
If I were in the movies, I would be screaming at myself by now. Loudly. Then
you could take me home and let me do this right.
To My Brother Jack
The air changed in a day
and mom’s living room
became musty and smelled of spring.
I didn’t look you in the eye when
you said goodnight. The last night.
I didn’t get up from the couch.
I didn’t turn off the TV,
or even change the channel.
You’re waking up at five a.m.
and going back to base with
Your wife and dog in the backseat.
I will sit in the half painted kitchen
With mom and she will say, “We’ll see.”
But I’ve been looking at you all my life—
watched you sneak out on to the golf course
to drink watered down beer. In the summers you could
eat twenty-five clementines in one sitting after
you would throw your helmet on the bed
exposing your shaved head.
Watched you get beat by dad with a belt.
Watched you drive off to the west.
Watched you hose down your dog as he stood
by the tree and whimpered. That’s the day I knew you
were a soldier, with a smile on your face.
It made me think of you holding down Conor as
he begged you to stop. Watched you drink last night in
Alphabet City, with all your childhood friends.
A circle of celebration. You drove us home
on the BQE and said you liked New York in the fog.
I have always watched you in awe. In disappointment. In rage.
Who will you become when no one is watching? When you’re alone
in the desert of Afghanistan? We didn’t even know that
was a country when dad made us swords from the rotting fence after church.
I don’t want to watch you leave.
Don’t want to hear the radio or see war movies.
I don’t want to smell Polo cologne, making me almost feel the spike of your
teenage greased hair touching the tips of my fingers with their wonder and
giddiness. I’m not going to watch you tomorrow.
It won’t be the same as you pinning me down and forcing me to watch
Full Metal Jacket at eleven. You can’t force me.
I’m going to sit and watch
reruns until this is all over and you’re home.
Caroline Shepard is a poet in New York City. Her work has appeared in Construction Magazine and on her mother’s refrigerator. She works as a public school English teacher.