Two Poems by Carolyn Oliver


In my house my father sleeps
in perfect darkness.

When I return to the guestless room
to write and raise the shades

his night-breath scallops the window pane,
a bridge stenciled out of mist. A wave.

Another daughter would clear the haze
with her sleeve, or scrawl a message.

Having not yet accepted the river’s
inexorable flow toward its emptying,

I drift offshore in a glass-hulled boat.
All morning, sealight grays our hair.


Nameless, god wakes early, gratuitous
knuckles inflating to batter every

shore’s soft belly to seaglass pulp. And still
you would leave me to seek the morning,

on your knees you would circumnavigate
god’s unbending will, and call it mercy.

But I have tasted ice in the hollow
of god’s clavicle, I have plumbed god’s skull

and found only the silence of the shark
quarrying the mineral broth for shoals

that keep careful distance between bodies,
though their lateral lines fizz with prescience.

Oh my love, night is inevitable
and holy in its darkness. Stay awhile,

my twilight. Let’s wreck ourselves, collide,
forget we’ve been taught to tread water. At dawn

let god’s jaws find us boneless and adrift.

Carolyn Oliver is the author of The Alcestis Machine (Acre Books, forthcoming 2024), Inside the Storm I Want to Touch the Tremble (University of Utah Press, 2022; selected for the Agha Shahid Ali Prize in Poetry), and three chapbooks. Her poems appear in The Massachusetts Review, Copper Nickel, Poetry Daily, Shenandoah, Beloit Poetry Journal, 32 Poems, Southern Indiana Review, At Length, Plume, and elsewhere. She lives in Massachusetts, where she is a 2023-2024 Artist in Residence at Mount Auburn Cemetery. Her website is

Appears In

Issue 19

Browse Issues