“Small Deaths” by Carol Tarlen
I tear my hair like the
mad queen of hearts. “What? you
used a whole cube of butter
to fry one eggs?” Leah’s eyes drop;
I refuse to see the lashes cast
shadow on her cheeks, too busy
thinking, I must wipe dust
from under the coffee table, and
I’m tired, my gaze sagging on the
electric wires splintering
the pale blue sky. Her voice
trembles, “I’ll go to the store,
Mommy, and buy it with my allowance.”
Another small death, this time caused
by the misappropriation of fifth
cents worth of cholesterol.
Last night my obscene “friend”
called to awake me with silence.
The telephone company will charge
eleven dollars for a new number.
Friday the boss will sign my
paycheck at three minutes past
five. The bank opens at ten a.m.
Monday morning. This weekend
marks our conversion to
vegetarianism, Sunday dinners
of brown rice, inexpensive
walks on the beach to quiet
our taste for blood.
And this evening, when the bus
winds up and down city hills,
pushing me closer to my 5/6ths
psychiatric hour, when I will discuss
the hostility inherent
in my passive aggressive
overdue bill, I will be grateful
for a seat by the window;
I will be grateful for the sun’s
heat on my cheek, it’s light
slipping through the yellow
and red strands of hair that
I stretch around my fingers
so that I may sing
there are rainbows in me yet.
I am pulling the cord, steeping
onto littered sidewalks, furtively
searching for two-way mirrors,
hidden microphones as I slouch
on the therapeutic chair, pleading:
Carol Tarlen writes poems that are both political and human. She writes about the struggles of living a precarious life- little money, rented houses, unable to pay bills, children to be fed, the rigor and demands of earning a living.
Tarlen brings together the political and human realities of everyday life in a way that is unique, profound and deeply affecting.
Carol Tarlen’s only published book of poetry is titled Every day is an Act of Resistance. The book was published after her death in 2004.
A blog exploring her life and work is here.
A perspective on her life by a friend and fellow poet is here.