Sarah Carleton

The Art of Forgetting

Summer will trickle out in November
leaving mosquitos in its wake, wasps in soffits.

We’ll know it’s over when the lawn stays static
and sedges stifle themselves

as the A/C goes silent in the afternoon.
Days will compress, diamond bright, 

between the darkest hour and dusk, and we’ll roll windows open
and stop droning that the heat has settled in, 

noting instead the way hours whiz past like fastballs. 
How easily we’ll toss aside all reference to the bygone slog

—the scary sun beating forever through moist air—
as if that particular turn of the earth had been a one-off.


My American Circus

The kids giggle at clowns squirting water from daisy corsages,
small elbows jostling on the bleachers.
At the interval, they chase one another round the field 

with glowsticks, drunk on the sweet-salty heat 
of popcorn and cotton candy, till parents call, 
“Come back! It’s time!”

And any minute now, my child will flip from spellbound to ramped up.
I haul my bag of worries, too busy fussing with its slippy strap 
to feel the luminousness of the moment. 

I—doubter of rainbow sabers in the night, trapeze bliss
and swings of human flight—
am dogged by awareness of human error. 

When the women air glide from one pair of hooked hands
to the next, I cross my fingers, having no faith in sinew and poise.
We all have off days. I hope the net will hold. 


Rest in Peace, Down Comforter

By the end, after decades of puffiness, quills 
squeezed through the seams and shed fluff all over the bedroom

but I remember the good times, eight-hour cycles 
of insulated oblivion before the feathers pricked their way out.

Nights in Dublin, I curled with a hot water bottle in my arms 
and another at my feet, slumber seeping in, my cold forehead

poking from the duvet and my body snug as an incubating egg.
Dozens of ducks and geese lost their loft for that sleep,

had their down plucked so I could drift in a shell of heat 
thick enough to make dawn crack

and when at last I pecked through the covers, my nose met
the city: rain, peat smoke, brewing stout, steeping tea.



My husband labors with baguettes
joining the ranks of viral breadmakers.

The wands aren’t as magic as the YouTuber described,
but that guy measured flour in grams, not cups,

so we take his promises with a grain of salt.
Our loaves shine golden brown, crisp on the outside,

dense and white inside with none of the gaping
airiness of baguettes.

I can’t wait to set my teeth in one, feel the crunch
as steam pours out of the crack I’ve made

and watch the gluten gather in my bite mark and spring back. 
My husband says it’s all wrong, just a bread tube—

a Parisian would reject it as a baguette,
but this is as close to a real one as we’ll get until

the numbers stop rising and countries ease open again.
I imagine a French person pressing mushed graham crackers

into a tin for a keylime pie crust, saying 
There will be no trip to Florida this year, but c’est la vie

while his sweetheart looks at the mise en place sugar and zest
and knows it’s all good.

We’re stuck on our big continent, but the next batch 
of batons baking in the oven smell like an adventure.

With cold snapping through the window glass
and The Crown streaming on my laptop,

we spoon jam onto hot slices, 
watching Princess Di dance wildly and vomit her frustration, 

hollowing herself out, making room for more loneliness. 
She sneaks a soldier home under a big wool blanket 

in the back of her car, layering disappointment with comfort.
After resting for thirty years, her luminous goodwill

and half-baked coping skills are perfect for public consumption. 
We sip tea, as does the Queen, 

who never roller-skates around the palace or hugs her kids 
but perches on the edge of her chair

while the whole point of the royal family teeters. 
She’s carved out air pockets to stay lifted, 

pretending to need neither love nor exuberance.
We snuggle close under a sleeping bag and double down on our will 

to enjoy, hands slipping out to lift morsels of not-baguette
from plate to mouth, all without shedding a crumb.


Climbing Wall

It’s a shipwreck stuck with debris
(doorknob, coral, bakelite bauble) 

a grey hulk barnacled with loot.
From a carpeted pit, a boy ponders

the whole scavenged world, displayed in fragments
—teal, white, yellow, olive hunks of rock and bone—

then steps up to hug the exhibit.
Spider-limbed and grippy, he clambers over conch shell, 

sea-glass, marble, fin, like a beach comber moving
through ocean bits and broken artifacts.

His toes and palms check the soundness 
of each wedge before shifting weight

from igneous nook to translucent lump—
a measured hoist through the treasure. 

Hands hook the top. He hangs by fingertips, then drops,
soft as a thief, but leaves plunder pegged to the hull.

Aground, he swigs and sweats, studies 
the collection, launches himself again:

embrace, stretch, heave, balance, grab the edge,
dangle long, release to land on padded feet.

He’ll climb till closing time, then abandon this bounty
for the loose trove at home: floor-to-ceiling wood planks

loaded with snake skin, bosun’s whistle, semi-precious
stones. His motion’s set; he’ll scale the shelves like rigging.

I’ll peer in and find him up high, clinging,
one arm reaching for a garnet.


Over There

Outside the coffee-shop window
stand palm trees with green fronds flapping
and dry ones hanging down in bunches like grass skirts.

Leaves glitter. Women sit at outdoor tables, 
their hair blowing forward. Empty cups tip over.
A guy studies his shirt buttons, pressing a phone to his ear 
as if staunching a wound.

High over the next lot flutter the stars & stripes
on a pole and below that a ketchup-red
standard with a yellow M.

I want to move to Iceland.

© Sarah Carleton

Sarah Carleton writes poetry, edits fiction, plays the banjo, and makes her husband laugh in Tampa, Florida. Her poems have appeared in numerous publications, including Cider Press Review, Nimrod, Chattahoochee Review, Tar River Poetry, Crab Orchard Review, and New Ohio Review. Her first collection, Notes from the Girl Cave, was recently published by Kelsay Books.

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