The "shoulds" assault me
in the Laundromat as whirlpools of
other people's underwear circle,
convinced there is poetry that I am
not finding in the frayed cuffs
of broken-in jeans, the pink swirl
of infant sleepwear, and the syrupy drip
of Tide in perfect dots on the
linoleum. Circles, cycles, rings of life;
if I was worth anything as a poet
I'd be able to make something of
the two toddlers screaming their way
from the Klondike vending machine
to the detergent dispenser without
a single adult attempting to
reign them in something related to
play and abandonment and the half-way
point to exhaustion. Something about
villages and protectiveness so fierce
it turns to isolation; a child
put in the corner, a teenager
fleeing humiliation, a woman
with a pencil still putting far too much
faith in the authority of "shoulds."

Coping Mechanism

I have gotten good at laughing
because there is nothing else to do;
no salve that will heal the hurt of
my mother's hand yanking hair
from my tender six year old scalp,
or the ferocious bite of her tongue
long ago forced into retirement
by my father's interest in kissing
other women. I've no choice
but to giggle when she flies off
the handle all because of my inability
to swallow a single child's aspirin;
at her accusation that I purposely pretend
not to understand my math homework
just to spite her. I shake my head
at the special brand of self-centeredness
that makes her think I enjoy the feel of
her hard palm against my red face,
believing her outbursts are a way of saying,
"I love you," a misconception
my father's back and a slammed door
could not even correct. I have to find
amusement in this house of horrors,
its exaggerated monsters and
unpredictable scares, my high pitched
screams and melodramatic moans
because there is no fire exit,
I just have to live here.

Carla Criscuolo was born and raised in New York City.
After moving to Illinois to earn her B.A. in Creative
Writing from Knox College, she returned to the City
and doubts she will ever leave again. Her poetry has
appeared in The Orange Room Review, The Blue Jew Yorker,
Main Channel Voices, decomP magazinE, Cause & Effect,
and Lunarosity.

2008 Underground Voices