Carla Carlson: 'I have at least two speakers within me'
THE GIFT OF SOUNDS
The way they sayeverything is within you now
yet integrated—he plays his jazz.
I just want birds, andinsects.
Wince on and off. Lovely never works on
fixing men though. She has no real qualms.
I’m of course busy for aset amount of time.
It’s not my job to mistabout in nightgowns
as perhaps it once was.
All I must do is murmur positives. When I am good,
it will sound like love.
We are all flyingdifferent places.
I’m so happy I want tothank these girls beside me—
they are clean. No I cannot handle emergencies.
The pilot has a personality like college.
I worry about the other’s whereabouts—
my husband will stay underwater for a long time
at the beach and get applause later on. One idea
was to remain within the scenery.
Last Sunday he listed fifty reasons for being angry.
It took all morning. I said to myself: “be a cake.”
Cakes are silent, wide-eyed, sweet, waiting for when
the eater’s finally hungry. No one was crying
the moment it all began. As usual the truth was buried.
If I could, I’d scream myself to sleep
like a terrible baby. What I love about planes though
is people drinking Bloody Mary’s at eight am
and talking like morning radio shows. No this is not
exactly what I prefer. A little girl sings high notes.
This is when all the people say Thank God.
They want to capture her and keep her
like a flower or grasshopper. He must know
I’m lost without him.
As a little girl, I disappeared
from my mother’s gaze. She’d look away,
mouthing phrases. I stared like a ghost.
“Mom? Mom?” And so on.
I could be anything I wanted to be—
I swam in races, tried dancing, played piano.
And yet, my mother thought something was wrong with me—
I was so small at birth, she named me Carla,
meaning strong. Still, I disappeared like a weed
in her silence.
Most of my life,
when I wanted to say, “go away,
I’m busy,” I said, “you’re sweet,”
my smile tense and pretty.
One grandmother was light, sent sparkle cards,
the other dark. For this, we kept Mary out.
I am the one who loved the light.
But after a while the light was hell.
I craved the night. Like, I am angry for ten years.
I shun cloying greeting cards
like the grandmother I hardly knew.
She’s dead, and now, I dig in her icy grave,
my claws breaking one by one.
Years ago, I sent Mary a picture of my baby girl.
She wrote back,
“the baby’s a dumpling.”
In pictures, Mary is a soft portrait.
Her mouth, a thin line,
her dress cut from a table cloth.
Long ago, we visited my mother’s childhood home
where Mary set three cakes on the stove—
one apple, the others a blur.
But something went wrong with the adults.
We went away. So I never thanked her
for the moon or the stars, or anything at all.
Q & A with Carla Carlson and editor Joanna C. Valente
JV: Talk to me about your line breaks. How do you determine them?
CC: Ending a line is very much a gut decision for me at this point; the line feels right, or it doesn’t– yet, in thinking further, I will say this: the decision is rarely based on a visual standard such as length, and it’s rarely based on a sound pattern. I believe each line should mean enough, ideally, such that the reader gets a real satisfaction, a full lick from the ice cream cone, or the eyes a cliff-side view to pause at, before traversing to the next section of line.
JV: What would you say is your obsession right now? As poets & artists, we are sometimes defined by these obsessions in our work.
CC: I am obsessed with- allowing what’s been unspoken to rise up in my poem, subtly, or maybe suddenly, yet ladylike. I wonder if this comes from being a female, ie., looking at any little girl, or lovely woman at any age, “people” have not expected to hear a full scope of emotion, in my personal history. They want to remain charmed. They are often surprised to find out what’s behind the lovely skin, hair, body. I’m obsessed with making these behavioral constraints conscious, and fiddling with them.
JV: How does New York’s landscape affect your poems?
CC: New York is of course a living embodiment of surrealism. Walking through neighborhoods, millions of moments are running into each other, and running into my ongoing story. I like to write what I see in the city, then break stories, and interchange fragments in ways that are somehow believable in my memoir. A horse, clopping sadly in Central Park becomes the man in my love poem.
JV: Who writes your poems—what part of you?
CC: I have at least two speakers within me. One of them is a proper woman who speaks in pert detail. She always dresses well. She can impose logic on herself, as well as offer herself choices in how to deal with quibbles, her way. Another speaker in me is an eight year old child who’s just a little too honest. The child, appearing innocent, can ask questions of the adult world; and remind us, at time bitterly, of our vulnerabilities, failures, and all we bury. It’s fair to say that these two speakers intersect, and also complicate each other’s clarity.
JV: I’ve always felt my poems come alive after they’ve been edited—as if I’m carving a poem, rather than writing it. Would you agree or disagree with this?
CC: My favorite part of writing a poem is collecting its pieces in the morning, like collecting colorful tiles to make a mosaic design, then playing with them for hours on the floor to see what may come. Editing can feel upsetting for me, in that, I feel as though I must decide the thing I want to say, thus much of the other good stuff has to be placed elsewhere. Still, when a clear poem finally surfaces, I’m pretty ecstatic for hours, and quickly heartless with the rest.
Editor's Note: These poems originally appeared on our old site.
Carla Carlson’s poetry is engaged with domestic concerns, with the emotional negotiations required by every marriage and long-term relationship, and with the bliss and sometimes painful solitude that accompanies these experiences. She tries to keep her work focused on everyday reality, images, and objects. Her poems are written in a style both open and layered, lyrical yet direct, and willing to experiment with a variety of poetic modes.
She is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College’s MFA writing program. Her poems have appeared in print and online journals such as The Westchester Review, Chronogram Magazine,The Mom Egg, and Catch and Release -Columbia Journal. Her first chapbook is currently being published by Finishing Line Press, and will be released in 2015.