Caitlin Scarano: There Is No Ending
Photo: Joanna C. Valente

Photo: Joanna C. Valente

I know we’re all sick of poems with deer but let me explain


Last night: a forest of hospital beds


I want to ask all these strangers: do you ever think every day you’re getting closer to your death or do you wake in the morning with hope crusted in the corner of your eyes, your teeth already grinning at the air?


Grief is a very complex machine, it told me so itself, a matrix

that takes years

A.     to navigate

B.      from you like teeth


Dear J, I have a few acres all to myself now, you should see them


I’m sorry you had to turn so many stones

while I looked on at a careful distance


The male human heart at age 36

Who knew, I guess


It’s true that I didn’t mind the horses starving outside my window, as long as they

            came when called, as long as they were gentle with their teeth

            I mean, I had many apples going to rot, what else could I have done


I read about how the water in Lake Superior is replaced every 191 years


Remember the spot where I dove under and was rolled by a wave and for a moment I did not know what was up or down, what was past or present, you or⁠—


That winter, the lake froze, trace lines of cracks in the ice colliding, the fractures in my body all met


In another dream, you’re in front of me⁠—solid, tangible, with a dark beard and corduroy pants

I ask you about dying and he you say, Let’s go to this city I know

Then you disappear into a tangled forest and I follow, stumbling, ripped by thorns


You’re always just out of reach, always just turning the next corner


Remember those children we watched while we ate ice cream on that green bench in Sault Saint Marie? Silly

            that isn’t my favorite memory of you, not by far but it’s the one I keep

coming back to


I took it so I should have wanted it

But the sugar made my teeth ache


Every memory is two-sided, like that day we lay in the grass watching ships pass through the lochs

Distance is deceptive

It was sunny, the photos you took prove it

            But the wind⁠—


Or the wind and the rain that day we met at the lighthouse, you wore a black sweater, I hadn’t seen you

            in years, you looked younger, time doing its mirror trick


The scene draws us

We weren’t ghosts but we were

both adrift, though only one of us knew it


When I reach the city you spoke of, it’s been abandoned for decades


Every memory is two-sided, like the time you were driving and the Jeep hit

black ice and spun out

Like the time I was driving and my car died as we coasted down hill


In a human dream, electric blue hydrozoan creatures blossom in the Superior’s deepest water


Every memory is two-sided, and nothing is mine to claim


I run these dirt trails near my house, I think of you, I touch my chest, count my breaths

One day I came upon this mother dear and two fawns, they were tiny, spotted, legs so ready to give out but they did not give out


J, you should have seen them


Generational, Domestic


I drink from the cup that made me

before blood congeals across the top.


Touch the muscles of your back

while you sleep. What does cruelty express?


A fear so deep it creates its own

gravity, the world pours in around


the rim. Despite how light clawed, it could not

get out⁠—not after, not from within. I live by a river


and dream of living by another river. Throw my baby

teeth into it like coins in a well. Wish and watch


water pass, think of how it bows and braids,

think of the circulatory system, nervous


birds on loop. My niece appears in a dirt-stained

dress holding yellow zinnias as they blossom


and rot, blossom and⁠—Does movement remind you

of death or escape? When you bite the inside


of my thigh, what memory of violence 

unfurls like a seed? Generational, domestic. Your mother


tells you she prays for us and I swallow

it whole like a duck egg. A blue mud wasp


taps against my window, where its always

been. While we sleep, bindweed inches up


the walls and ceiling. Coils around the lamps.

Tomorrow, we’ll eat the heads of morning.


A Litany of Dreams You May Borrow


The one where I pick sunlight off my skin like scales or sequins


Or I have a boy’s torso and a jaw

that doesn’t lock when I start to laugh


Any of the dreams with snakes or my mother trapped in a radiator vent

            because they spring from the same well


My little sister and I are teenagers again, still speaking to each other, and she climbs a sugar maple and never comes back


The ones where rain comes through the roof but not the ones where it is snowing in my room


S. and I still live together but a gray horse circles the house, starving

No one names it


My father is in a hospice bed, holding up his rot-dappled organs one by one

as offerings to me


The cow pasture

where I’m in a wedding dress carrying a pitcher of his blood


B. and I are back on the beach at night and she kisses me except this time ocean is made of milk and sweet


No one invents sin so we sun ourselves on the rooftop


Any dream of my grandfather⁠—that skull for a face, the parrot watching on, the white sheet and long fingernails

            In fact, you may keep them, convince yourself there is a lesson


The dream where the brakes gave out

The dream where the brakes gave out


His head is in my lap and the window is open even though it is January outside


A war between nations of men takes place in my mother’s dining room

            My sisters and I watch from beneath a table


Those you can leave: any dream where he says my name

aloud or his mouth is against my hair, any dream

where the dead forgive


The first girl I loved asking Are you sure you don’t know me? until she disappears


The whole room slants and I fall from the bed to the wall as if the house is trying to shake me from itself like a parasite


The dream I had after S. found the knife I hid beneath the nightstand


The one where I saw our sons using sticks as swords, their mouths yellow

and chose not to have them


The first gentle boy from my childhood is back and we are in love


When the church burns down and my sisters and I are blamed


The one where what I love is not unwell, not in need at all, so I shrink to the size of a kitchen ant and crawl away


My mother is my daughter and when she speaks, hummingbirds fill her mouth like arrows


The one where I actually forgive him and he leans back then, rests his eyes, says

            There is no ending



Alessandra sends me two pictures of her son eating his first strawberry


while I’m home alone reading about central sleep apnea because this morning Calvin woke me up at 5AM by rubbing my back because (he said) I kept holding my breath and he is afraid (but doesn’t say) that I might stop breathing all together. On our jog today Cara told me that she’s going to try dating again and there isn’t much out there so she’s meeting a corporate lawyer all the way in Seattle for lunch on Thursday. Part of me is jealous—to get to meet strangers that you might have sex with or raise a puppy with is to feel very specifically alive right? The internet says I cannot suffocate in my sleep. I have this one memory of when I’m four or five and my father is sitting in the tub and I just let myself in to the bathroom and ask him how often he clipped his toenails and he laughs like kids are so fucking werid and says and said Maybe once a week? When we can’t stop worrying about each others deaths this is how I know we need each other. I can’t remember Alessandra’s baby’s name even though I met him once when we were in Portland. I don’t want children but one time on a long drive I imagined a three or four year old kid in the backseat of my Subaru asking me smart and weird kid questions and me giving honest answers and developing this whole lifelong relationship with a human like there is a way to never be lonely. I was startled by a sound but it wasn’t really a sound just a door closing in my body. I didn’t tell Calvin about it. Instead we talked about our little sisters and how we’re scared for them. The internet says my brain will panic and wake me up. I tell him I want him to confide in me but what do you say to I have a very real fear that the next time I hear about her it could be that she’s dead. I get it at least somewhat—what it means to see a boat drifting away from you. The last time I saw M she was more angry than any person I can remember it was like being beside a live wire I wasn’t sure if I could speak if I could even ask her if she was okay without making her not okay like the whole world is made of string and it can unravel if you say or even think the wrong thing. I don’t think there is a way to never be lonely. In the pictures the baby’s fingers are red and his laughing and sitting on a checkered picnic blanket and it looks like real summer in Wisconsin. I don’t really want to date strangers again. Everyone good I’ve found I still don’t know how I kept them. Some days I don’t want him to leave the house for fear of what might happen next. I remember when M and I were little she was hardly ever mad just withdrawn and we were there like two islands beside each other never really able to say what we meant or needed and now my mother calls me and she’s just painted the trim in the living room mountain air white and she starts to cry thinking about thirty years in the house where she raised us that she wants to sell and I say You haven't left yet and she says I’m already gone. Calvin just texts his sister now even though he knows he won’t get a response and I imagine those messages floating in a black void with stars because it all goes somewhere. I write back Don't you wish you could remember your first strawberry? The interest promises me I’ll take another breath.


The mountain has no childhood to speak of


and no child to soothe. Thought it might tell you something

of its formation, even though it does not remember.


Or that there is no universally agreed upon definition

of a mountain. It would speak less about light


and ascension and more about its insides. I have veins,

the mountain would say, a circulatory system of sorts


but no organs. The mountain would predict your disappointment.

It would refuse your offer for a brain and a heart. Knowledge


and loneliness, the mountain would explain, pass from sky

to water to stone. Mountain embodies strangeness, thus has no notion


of strangeness. Mountain understands destination.

It has been desired. It knows you


think it’s trapped; that it has never left and will never leave.

But, if we let it speak, it would tell you: I have touched


every corner and crevice of this carved valley. Has seen so much

come and go⁠—loon, kingfisher, lynx. The people that


tried to erase people. Mountain has hounded

wander. But will have nothing to say about hunger.


If you sit with it long enough, mountain might admit, I am afraid

of dying. Of the slow wearing, the slow away. Wind and water.


Mountain will teach you a word that means both companion

and destroyer. Though it does not sleep, mountain dreams,


of being ripped out by the roots. Mountain wonders

if mountains bleed.

Caitlin Scarano is a poet based in northwest Washington. She holds a PhD in English (creative writing) from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and an MFA in Poetry from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She was selected as a participant in the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artists & Writers Program. Her debut collection of poems, Do Not Bring Him Water, was released in Fall 2017. Her work has appeared in Granta, Best New Poets, Best Small Fictions, Carve, and Colorado Review. You can find her at