Mary Carroll-Hackett is the author of The Real Politics of Lipstick, Animal Soul, If We Could Know Our Bones, Trailer Park Oracle, The Night I Heard Everything, and A Little Blood, A Little Rain. She teaches at Longwood University, and with the MFA faculty at West Virginia Wesleyan. Mary is at work on a memoir.
Turning Off the Lights
The dogs click down the hall as soon I begin, knowing that this is, in some way, the end
of something. The Tiffany lamp, a crooked thrift store purchase, its stained glass, I save for last, stare at the webbed kaleidoscope of color across the hardwood floor, arched like a cathedral door, that I imagine for a moment, slipping through, and disappearing. Then a flipped switch and the house becomes an unknown, shadowy and shifting. Beyond the window, wind lifts the lower limbs of the oak. When my son was young, he spoke with so much fear of the tree monsters, the silhouetted branches arching then against his window. We are all children, afraid of dark places, where we curl our fingers like claws and scratch to find the light.
I follow the dogs through the dark house. Sometimes the moon ebbs and flows through the windows. Sometimes the dark is a sea around me, impenetrable and endless. Sometimes I feel along the wall until I find the switch at the end of the hall, think about turning it on again, think about leaving it on all night, that light, or always. How simple a solution it seems, and how aware we are of extermination.
Revolution Through a Prism
the day breaking its teeth on the cold bone of night, apparent, and kneeling on concrete, whether or not it is televised, the urgent need of the hour unfolding, the blistered bloodied feet, bruises that bloom again and again, our winter flowers. We share cigarettes, pass them like joints, tips as red and burning as the sniper lights persistent across the river. We count life now in hours.
Mercenaries, those nervous children, huddle and laugh, waiting for another chance to carve their own ongoing deaths into our skin. Let the rituals begin: we kneel, raise our arms, palms clear flags upending the sky. If only we could catch the rubber bullets as they fly, but our fingers are lost in the gas, in the snow, in the reach. My brother sings beside me, low, crooning again and again I will teach you, I will teach you, I will teach you the reach of love.
I can’t sing. I can only twitch in this frail cage of skin, already seeing my own blood flowing, expecting it, focusing instead on what I remember learning of prisms: If light glowing inside the prism hits one of the surfaces at a sufficiently steep angle, total internal reflection occurs, and all of the light is reflected.
Time changes speed, again and again, and we are all refracted, entering each new moment at a different angle. The bullet, in its steel casing, is trapped too, in the prism, and it spins and spins, bursts, breaks bone, breaks hearts, and irreparably, burns, and burns.
My Uncle the Priest Bought a Gun
a shotgun, Winchester, 12 gauge pump action, full choke barrel, from the hardware store in Vanceboro, in the fifties, his Irish Brooklyn brogue purring, purring, at the narrow-eyed man behind the register, glancing around at the other men rocked back in ladderback chairs, there in this small tense space, this place where men gathered in that Southern town.
My uncle the priest, just blocks away from the church he was building, St. Theresa’s, smiled at the men, smiled even as that Church of the Little Flower still smoldered, even while the carcass of that cross they lit still lay on the grass, burnt bones in the ashes, where he’d kicked it down in the dark just hours before. And ammo too, he said, and ammo too, ’00’ buck, he said, that’ll tell em, right? He looked from man to man, smiling, He laughed, saying, That’ll show em the door.
He broke open the box of shells, loaded it there, on the counter, thumbing each up into the flap, until they heard the click, until they all heard the click, sighted down the ivory bead, swung the gun in a long, slow sweep. Yep, he said, that’ll do the trick.
The man took his money without a word, and my uncle the priest pocketed the change, said, I heard that this town sure shows itself to strangers, and now I see that’s true. I’d love to see you all in Mass, he crooned, the shotgun slung across his shoulder, the men flickering, flickering, then disappearing completely, in the relentless shadow he cast.
What Goliath Wants Us To Know
I was a soldier, grown from a mass of a boy, a mess of anomaly and pituitary, perhaps my dna, they say encoded for reach, for girth, even at birth, so big, too big, a twisted bundle of flesh and bone and big knuckled grist. Listen, what’s this boy too large to turn a field, or to shadow sheep, ludicrous to think of tent sales or vending or cheese making or vineyards, or even the butchering, what detailed or delicate blade could be made to fit this hand? Do you understand? Only the cudgel, the staff, the spear, only my body broad, built to bear the weight of armor, for you, for all of you, the weight of all you want to fear. Give me your need for an enemy. I was born to carry it.
What I Really Learned in Catholic School
We were eleven, in 6th grade. Denise & me. I called her Niecie. My friend with her sharp black eyes and cartwheel skills. Catholic school in the 70s. Sisters of the Sacred Heart, nuns in their black and white, their clock-ticking habits. And our classmates, the lawyer’s daughter, the professor’s twins, the doctor’s big blue-eyed son with his nothing-ever-goes-wrong smile, the tobacco buyer’s boy with his half-the-county inheritance–and his miles and miles of hate. We were all eleven, me with my country girl gait, and my nappy gypsy hair, poems stuffed like birds in my pocket, Denise with her pediatrician dreams and smooth black skin, huddled in that corner of the playground the sisters couldn’t see from their lunchtime windows, just me and Niecie, surrounded by our classmates, those strangers, too close, too close, and too white. We learned how to fight, there in the shadow of the statue of St. Peter, shoulder to shoulder, little girls, in our parochial skirts, fending off the barrage of fists and fury, burning already, too young, against a world determined to make us pay, to make us hurt.