Issue > Poetry
Catherine Carter

Catherine Carter

Catherine Carter, born on the eastern shore of Maryland and raised there by wolves and vultures, now lives with her husband in Cullowee, near Western Carolina University, where she teaches in the English education program. Her chapbook, Marks of the Witch, recently appeared from Jacar Press. Her latest full-length collection (LSU, 2012) is The Swamp Monster at Home, and her work has also appeared in Best American Poetry 2009, Orion, Poetry, North Carolina Literary Review and Ploughshares among others.

Ways To Talk About Decay

Gone bad, we say, as if milk were an apple-
faced innocent fallen into rough
company, smoking the wrong
bacteria, hardening like cider,
as if the loyal, patriotic Longhorn
had tasted blood, bedecked itself
with mold-pocks and become
a deadly man-eating cheese. Gone
over, we say, as if there's a line in graveyard
loam, this side, that side, and last week's smoke-
steeped chicken stepped over: now
it's a plat-eye, guarding its cursed
treasure, hoarding harm, wanting
you to come over too. And then turned,
we say, as if orange juice's bright sting,
which you took for a friend or at least
a forgiving slave, has finally remembered
what it used to be—an ovary
for generations, a thick, wedding-
sweet blossom, whose child you took
to be pulped and crushed—so now it's turned
its back on you. Or the butter has turned
like the meander of a river, taken that sour
curve it's yearned for ever since the churn.  
Or you and the milk are walking together
on a dirt road whose berm you thought,
and maybe even the milk thought,
ran clear to the illusion of horizon,
but suddenly the sun has slipped,
the air forewarned evening chill,
the downhill ruts and gouges grown
a worm-curl bend. There could be anything
twenty feet on, fireflies, prehistoric ferns,
tall stones, and the milk
in its carton has gone on ahead;
it's already out of sight of where you stand
baffled, betrayed, alone on that torn road
in the autumn twilight. There's no returning,
and you don't want to follow, oh, no,
but for a moment you can't discern
just what to do. And over its curved
shoulder the milk didn't spare you a look
before it went that way, before it turned.


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