Week 20 of Syntax Sundays: Madeline Carter

Syntax Sundays is happy to be featuring the work of Madeline Carter once again with her swirling imagery and attention to enjambment and sound. Her spacing and language points the reader in peculiar corners of the human experience, somewhere in between specificity and vagueness. Becalmed plays with its definition through repetition: the words, like the title, are unable to move, stagnate in unshifting imagery. Overall Carter’s work provides a sense of motion, speeding through in blurs or standing still in time.

August, last mention of cicadas

Chinese food in lantern-light on the balcony,
doubled white cartons
two and four of each in the cracked mirror, dusty
like the wood I wiped this morning
so that I could line tea lights on the railing.

The smell of cigarettes and gasoline
and skin wet from the dark bathtub
(warm knees and a dripping faucet, there)
I can almost taste it
pure somehow
like the condensation your drink left upon my coffee table coaster
and the thing I forgot to write down the other night.

Listen, that’s the noise of someone calling for a taxi and there’s
the sound of clinking silverware in the blackened yard next door.

I heard the girl who lives downstairs
calling for her cat
maybe an hour before you arrived,
but it was driving mine to distraction in the upstairs window.
She’s gone away now, I think.
You are so good to have shut the door behind you,
to have tugged it tight before you sat
your long neck down on the damp slats

I told you about my sister and the plants that used to live here
and I think you understood
what I meant
I promised I would tell you about the dream I had
(the one about my bones cracking underwater)
and I will
when I can get the wording right.

Listen, there is some static buzzing somewhere and
the sound of the cicadas is burning my little ears again.
I feel wrapped around the fan
and I’m not quite sure but
I think somewhere close to half of me
has blown off down College.
The rest is still frowning over the dripping bathroom
and the empty wall above my bed
and the cat that I don’t think is coming back.

Listen, I know you don’t much like to talk to anyone
but I wanted to ask you what you’d think if I lit a cigarette
and whether you’d help me fix the bike chain
We could go look up the street for the cat
and maybe that half of me

I wanted to asked you a lot of things, actually
I want to ask you a lot of things


Three days ago I
raised my arms up in the bathroom mirror
and counted the ribs
I had never seen prior to
Three days ago I
counted four new ones and
I looked in my eyes and
they were red
and dull seeming
I always thought I saw it
I always thought I knew
about myself but I
didn’t notice my ribs shifting
out of my no longer smooth torso
and how
I am becoming
some fragile bird
some fragile baby bird
with a
long memory
Three days ago I
fell into it again
I haven’t woken up yet
I could
tomorrow night
when I flutter down
upon him
on sticky wings
collapse in his low bed
and long reaching arms
with no memory
of the flight or fall
Three days ago I
forgot about four days from then
in all the quiet
got lost in all the quiet
Three days ago I
soundproofed my body
with a cloak made of
stillness and white fabric and
I forgot
to listen
for the sound of my ribs
moving when I breathe

The upstairs neighbor is singing in the hallway

There are people living in my attic
making a creaking secret
out of my ceiling
They are whisper singing
love songs through the vents
and tapping out short stories
with dancing fingers
and the hiss of the radiator
punctuates their sentence breaks.
They do not know that I can hear them
I do not think that anyone can hear me either
I am speaking to myself
about a woman, sitting on a train
with purse clutched tightly,
who knows that her grown up son
and daughter are
embarrassed of her, I am
speaking to myself about
people getting so sad and different that
they let their little sisters hang about them,
I am
speaking to myself
about wanting to take the
worst treat first
on purpose,
about a wrinkled old woman
telling me to believe
in god and angels in the bookstore,
and about
a child in a parka
asking whether Santa Claus
really, really exists.
When my sister returns home
I will tell her that
“I did not end up going dancing”
and tomorrow morning I will
sleep as though I did,
as though I did not
spend a year
shouting very quietly at the ceiling
about how
my lips are too cut bloody
to be artificially coloured red
as though I did not
spend the last six months
telling the ceiling
quite matter-of-factly
that someone crept into me
with some funny tool
and sharpened
all of my bones to teeth
while I was sleeping.


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