On Reconnaissance

I spot one woman's coiffed head
skewered on a fencepost
beside an empty shack.
No body. No extremities.
Just a plastic head in this war zone
jammed onto a rusted metal tube.

I curse whoever
concocted this atrocity,
this violent monstrosity. It could be me
with brown hair, flipped at the end
and querulous eyes exposed
in this mannequin's molded face.

Like me, this dummy occupies a space
someone else chose. Could she be
a warning, a woman
in a morality play
who lost her tongue
spying for the enemy?

I cannot decipher
the coded message painted
in pink sunset on her lips
turned up at the corners
as if she knows the secret
handshake for my safe passage

through this bloody world
where I must wear camouflage
and streak my face with mud.

The Rio Grande Gorge in Summer

This is the season of suicide
when young women leave their men
alone without any offering, without
even a note scribbled on lavender
paper. Is it their words
echoed by the owl: who, who
who will find the open space
tucked between red rock lips?

Who has seen the stepping off,
heard the pebbles crumble? Not you
who reads the story twice. No
you step back from that ledge
from the gap-toothed grin of men
who have nothing to lose, not
even you. You would have left
a letter with scratched-out words.

Feet at the Funeral

Follow the prayers.
Cross and uncross. Re-cross
four hundred legs covered
with tweed wool trousers or taupe
silk stockings tapered to toes
rigid with reverence. Some legs

encased in synthetic fabric
waver and wrap one long limb
around the other. This ancient dance
choreographed: apart, then together.
At the chord, tap the carpeted floor
twice and move forward, caught up
in long, tangled embraces. Their

dance an offering, a sacrifice
to distant foot gods. Their best guess
at life. They rise in unison

a morning glory vine in bloom. Heart-shaped
bodies fill space along the pews. So many
leaves. Each face pink, lavender,
white and funnel-shaped. Upturned
eyes above their open mouths. Ready

for the preacher whose thirty mouths hang
slack like wet laundry. His head droops
on his neck, dangles above his feet
in prayer. Shoes resoled and polished.
A black shine beneath his robe. Now
behind the pulpit. His hidden feet

are flat against waxed oak floors. Rubber
soles slide and stick, a squeak
of music, his own refrain
drains away.

Spider veins wind around
old women's ankles,
streak their legs red. Break
even as they unlace their shoes,
knead flesh, swollen like some
exotic flowers. Maybe magnolias
or white orchids turned brown
around the edges. Their corns,
calluses, bunions throb to the tune
of the preacher's prayers. Our Father,

who forecast plagues and floods
and death to all things on earth,
does not wear shoes, does not
have feet. Only His son
washed disciples' feet

clean of dirt, caked on thick
from daily travels up
and down the hours. They slipped
on pebbles that cut through

flesh, through leather sandals
buckled tight
against the day of one betrayal, one infidel.

Today, friends, family, neighbors
and complete strangers converge.
They drag their feet across
the sepulchral floor. They
search for a foothold, settle
for the static charge of nylon
carpet fibers created by
four hundred feet sliding.

Through the valley of death,
bent heads and withered vines.
Small, tortured cries and whines.
Amen. Amen. Amen.

Carol Carpenter's poems and stories have appeared in
numerous online and print publications, including:
Margie, Snake Nation Review, Birmingham Arts Journal,
Georgetown Review, Caveat Lector, Orbis, Arabesques
Review, and various anthologies, the most recent are
Not What I Expected (Paycock Press, 2007) and A Walk
Through My Garden (Outrider Press, 2007). Her work
has been exhibited by art galleries and produced as
podcasts (Connecticut Review and Bound Off). She
received the Richard Eberhart Prize for Poetry, the
Jean Siegel Pearson Poetry Award, Artists Among Us
Award and others. Formerly a college writing
instructor, journalist and trainer, she now writes
full time in Livonia, Michigan.

2008 Underground Voices