BILL CARTY.January 2022


Photo by Jeff Sirkin



We make wide arcs around the children

playing in the surf

tap the little yellow box

of focus

tiny sun

to get the light right

not so much light

that the surf looks washed

cloudy in the shot

we want the background rocks and strangers


not too close, not too busy

I point and tell them where to look

I hold a thumb

to the screen the position tips

the scale of light

on these bodies

(we love them the children

in the photo

their bodies being circled

to get the light right)

we love their acceptance

as we pass

closed playgrounds

juice box straws

buried in bark mulch

lights blinking

on empty sidewalks

we hardly find a door


chanting the fuzz

off my mouth one day

in a crowd I want you here

listening to the neighbors

get a little loose

listening to rain drown

the pollen

rain slick on the hides

of small creatures


we’ve freighted

with meaning all spring

we’ve freighted plot

on something as simple

as what happens

at the birdfeeder

and where

was the president

my child asks

when something bad


hiding sorrow

in profit, I say

probably afraid

yes, very bad

I add


completely worldly

and it was only

one day

how to say

when each lasts

so long

as long as rocks

The Rocks

they are called

in one painting

by Van Gogh

and they do seem

quite specific

when I turn

to see them in the sun


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*** ** ***



We were walking, then circling,

to find the third level. We

passed many islands. Grandpa

(not mine) told the Pig War

story. Michael left his hat

behind. I knew the name

from his coffee cup. He left

that too. Tom worked here—he wore

a badge. An enormous chain

held a barge in place. It was

sculptural, proof we could bend

metal beyond utility.

Or proof of another world

where circumstances were huge

and crying over small things

meant crying for ourselves.

We floated toward a harbor

known mainly for its weddings.

Fathers queued at the coffee shop

to compare percentiles,

head shapes. There was paperwork

for everything. It showered us

like confetti as we moved

to the prow. Would there be flowers?

Sometimes I brought flowers.

It was night when we landed.

Coins lit the eyes of cold houses.


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*** ** ***




“Many were the thoughts / Encouraged and dismissed . . .”



Whenever I am in the vicinity

of an opaque Levolor window blind

I know I am far from home

I’d never blot the light like this

if I owned the white walls

or gray floor I’ve skidded

the coffee table across

black marks for future moving day

caulking knife to wall

where I’ve just now hung

the Singer Sargent print

El Jaleo too big for the museum’s thieves

or not enough of a landscape

dim scene empty chair

a few guitars and music

in this room I read about

the wind

about long nights of unsleeping

if you’ve studied the great non-sleepers

you’ll have sighed into

Lorca’s ni mi casa es ya mi casa

and you’ll know the wind

moves everywhere

decides what to destroy or preserve

of our coastal dwellings

salt-lashed marsh shacks

and driftwood castles

it’s said at the end

the whale is winner

but really


takes the parking lot

takes the beach where children

buried themselves

like clams for the bake

in cold sand saltwater seeps

from an imperceptible source

tonight I could have and then did

make dinner and watch a movie

about a father who wants

to sit down for a meal

with his wife and daughter

but always finds himself

choking out the bad guys

with a broomstick

like weather

these fictions

find a way in

the blessing gentle breeze

the blue room’s violence

always streaming

our good knights can’t

resist breaking the idyll

even Wordsworth

noted he lived in a time

of the oppressed and among

the oppressing

yes see how the breeze can cradle

a tyranny

how wind coos against the surface

of artificial lives and whatever

you’d call this poem

at the beginning in the end

it can’t avoid imparting some half-

consciousness to what we know

is unfeeling


we’ve seen rage having escaped the city

and thought it was a tad dramatic

to name our trip an escape

when it’s a wanna-get-away

when it’s only right with winter en route

to turn to wandering clouds

some floating things though

high deep thoughts are there

liberty and abstruse


you wake

determined to walk the whole jetty

and bring a scrap of Lispector

the terrible duty is to go to the end

but that’s a little vivid

so you check on the old bar

fashioned from street signs

in the beach town

where you lived and learned

how weather could be


tonight I’m walking

the harbor to watch boats

snuggle in their moorings

I hear a noise behind me

on the empty street

but it’s only music

an accordionist on a bicycle

I take her tune with me

I used to borrow


would simply float another’s vessel

from the dock at night

in fourteen lines Wordsworth

makes the boat his own

slight sonnet of dispossession

poor Shepherd

I’m sorry

it’s just the stars and their multiples

we can’t spend all night

making crises from

whatever is knocking

in the home beautiful gas lines

gables or the quiet insulation

keeping the wind outside

while the hero in the kitchen

scrolls financial records

conclusions drawn but unexplained

this ovular

rod taps

the sill

some old custom to leave

the window cracked in storms

before the house explodes

though it’s not pressure that does it

it’s the lift of the roof the carapace


in the movie now

a drone strike leaves

its black mark on the desert

once I thought no war could start

if we stood out here at the edge of things

but then I drove home through

the states that elected the bomber

found a dreary winter basement

to watch two wars on television

green flashes from the embassy roof

the other panning black and white

walking across the graves

a historian speaking of trees

as witness

to violence


I send my daughter from here

toward the year 2100 but can’t

by fiat grant her a moral life

it’s her birthday and each red dot

is where a bomb fell

not enough viscera in the color

on a map in a bar graph in the street

a pneumatic tube counts

cars leaving the zoo concert

a plane makes its banking turn

high above IKEA should we skip

all that’s obvious

for the action sequence

another evening

whiled away


an email “I just resent it”

but I don’t begrudge a thing

what I meant was “sent again”

“see you soon” to many people

I’ve come to see only the back of

they drift in the middle of the lake

they drift

in unsent correspondence

we might meet again on the seacoast

taffy stores and t-shirt shops

it really could be anywhere

but it’s more specific than that

colder like a world

without Bach or Belize

or a friend you learned was really

just a circumstance

the light that

lights the switch

that lights the

lamp flickers

in its plastic shell a flame in ice

a way to make the darkness warm

while even now on planet Earth

someone fashions a bell against

despair someone paints a mural

or fires hot air into the lifting

balloon and the film was from

a damp unfeeling place

yet there was allegory to its ferity

two types

of weather

the kind you run from

and the kind where it’s best

to stay put

on Main St. a man hears the call

to prayer and lays a purple t-shirt

in the parking lot another man

is shouting something about Waco

sidestepping them into the gallery

I fall from the canvas into

the whiteness of the wall I duck

beneath hanging caterpillars

I mark the occasional dark glance

among us not that anything

bad would happen until

it does I would never believe

in a bike-by stabbing

but then it happened to me

a yellow bike a street hung with Spanish moss

and then the muscle visible

letting in

the wind

like something of our politics

has me back on Tolstoy’s digression

on bees which was no digression

at all simply the city captive

to the death of its queen

while the baby sleeps

in the next room with Tylenol

with traffic revving

at the four-way stop

one slight wheezing cough

as soldiers approach the hideaway

my father at the fringe

of the march smoking

or not smoking that mist

on the lake lifts

there’s Wordsworth

in the boat he stole

the camera drifts

gray walls of the Pentagon

the lens shifts

among hippies and then

among cops but this

isn’t even one fiftieth

of our story we must



but smaller

a single bee in the frame

its fuzzy thorax two glass wings

flying into this room which

is now fully mine and soon

will lack one wall

I’m on the set

I’ve made I

repair and fix

I repair and

fix and then

I take the blue tarpaulin away


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*** ** ***



The ocean threw forth

its tremendous, proverbial catch,

one fish, rumor went,

twice big as prior nets

had hauled. Along the docks,

rumor of this largeness grew,

and with distance came credulity.

Eventually the species switched:

no longer turbot, but red mullet,

more regal having been

for a patrician’s rosy shoes

thus dubbed. Also, double-bearded

with long wisdom, flood-borne

from the reflection pool

on some coast estate, and having heard

the net’s winch whine,

the fish thought it was its old lord

whistling for feeding time.

Even as a potter prepped

bespoke tray of gold inlay—

how dramatic would red scales

flake upon that hue—

some said the catch must be returned,

wary toward what pursuits

the rich may tend when lacking

docile mouths to feed.

Having commandeered the hot tubs

of many summer homes,

I volunteered to sneak the fish

back through the mansion gates,

and within me an old coach urged,

Act like you’ve been there before,

which I had, having grappled

my baby brother’s eel-like flesh,

struggling to keep the swaddle tight.

He had limbs, of course,

but they hardly worked. Now

he’s thirty-two; I can’t hold him

like that anymore. On the causeway,

hefting something I could

barely fathom, I watched morning break

upon all the taking

that the ocean proffers,

classic rock and the honor system

aboard each outbound trawler,

the future flying full speed,

chop-chop through all of this.

Through you and I and through the fish.


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Bill Carty
is the author of Huge Cloudy (Octopus Books, 2019), which was long-listed for The Believer Book Award. He has received poetry fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Artist Trust, Hugo House, and Jack Straw. He was awarded the Emily Dickinson Award from the Poetry Society of America, and his poems have appeared or are forthcoming in the Kenyon Review, 32 Poems, jubilat, Denver Quarterly, and other journals. Originally from Maine, Bill now lives in Seattle, where he is Senior Editor at Poetry Northwest. He teaches at Hugo House, the UW Robinson Center for Young Scholars, and Edmonds College.


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January 2022.BILL CARTY