The Real Warnings Are Always Too Late
I want to go back to the winter I was born and warn you
that I will flood through your life like acid
and you will burn yourselves on me.
On my sixteenth birthday, I will use the candles
to set the basement aflame and run out laughing,
wearing smoke like a new dress. With a pocket knife,
I will try to root out that life you so eagerly started.
I’ll dent the garage door with my head, siphon Crown Royal
from your liquor cabinet, jump from a gondola in Venice. I’ll smash
my ankle with a hammer, drive through stop signs
with my eyes closed, cost you thousands
in medical bills. Forget about sleeping.
I’ll dominate the prayers you keep sending up
like the last of flares from an island no one visits.
For every greeting card poem, I will write four
to hurt you. Some will be true.
Other people’s lives will look perfect
as you search the house for its sharper pieces.
And when they lock me up I’ll tell the walls
I'm sorry. But these warnings will come like candles
after a night of pyres. I already know
how you will take one look at that new life screaming
into the world, and open your arms,
thinking, if it looks this innocent,
it cannot be so bad.
From The Real Warnings, Anhinga Press
Lullaby and Goodnight
Mothers across the city, sleep tonight, sleep
through the hours of crash in the alley, siren unfastening
red from its cradle, sleep through the gutter-
cat licking its claws, the hemlock
tapping its code on the window. Stir not
from your dreams of knives heavied
by butter, of dew in the meadow assailing
each hem. Rooms away, a stereo’s
coming on softly: valley so low, hang your head
over… sleep through this song reaching up from your childhood
and sleep through the family
dog’s whine of dementia on waking, lost
in the foyer, circling the rug. There will be time, soon
enough, for your breaking attention: the boxing
of sweaters, the twice-washed dish. Sleep
well tonight, mothers across the city, none of your sons
crowded five to a cell, none bowing
from the bridge rail toward dark waters.
In their beds, in their footy pajamas, they keep
faith in nightlights, in mended
bears, faith in the Lord whose existence
you’ve promised. No wolf
zipping itself into sheepskin, this house no house
of straw, all your young men
tonight accounted for—blood
alcohol at zero percent, teeth by nicotine
unstained, skin unfolding
its scars as their dreams leave,
on their faces, soft eddies—dream with them: Tomorrow,
by the clock of the coffee’s slow drip, he
departs, your eldest, for a shift
at the grocery. Hear the register
ping, jets misting the lettuce, the mop slap the floor with its
kiss. Now watch him return, come evening, to
you. He steers the garbage to the curb; empties
his plate of seconds; then lulls from the piano
all the old songs, an octave too low, making up
for the C that won’t sound. And into dusk
he rocks beside you on the porch
as the other mothers
of the neighborhood, mothers of the city, call in
their youngest, every single one of whom drops
his bat, his bike, or ball to come running, running
in the light just now begun
to vanish. Watch them slam
their happy doors. What happens next,
you do not have to see to know:
bath, books, and that hum in the dark, that battle
not to close their eyes.
First appeared in Crab Orchard Review
Iseman Trull ’99 and her husband are the editors of Cave Wall, in Greensboro. Her poetry collection, The Real Warnings, received several awards, including North Carolina’s Brockman Campbell and Oscar Arnold Young awards. Her poems and creative nonfiction have appeared in the American Poetry Review, Prairie Schooner, The Southern Review, and elsewhere.