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Three Poems

My mother cracked each day open like a gutted fish.
Her hours, a tarp draped over a stranger’s head.
The way grief works:

a mirror the chemical
that ruins the body,
a window, a small blue prayer
gone missing.

In a kitchen far away I draw
my mother’s mouth.

It’s hard not to remember certain people
as a ghost-house caught
in a storm of lilac. It’s hard not to want
to be remembered.

Through the corner of the window
a shock of jays tilt their beaks in sun
then go on in warm oblivion.

If I go on
it is the story of a turquoise girl
crossing a meadow. I press my tongue
on the peach of her shoulder.

If there is reason
to be human, this is its search ground—
light pulled apart as a trout’s spine.
When she speaks she is no one you knew.



We traveled northwest
of our intelligence, the lighthouse
whipping its beam
across our backs.

The ferryman
tossed us a lit match
and said
see for yourself.           

What we carried:
violet rooms
that tucked themselves
into more
violet rooms, our mouths
stupid in
surveillance of
the marmot-scattered hills.

Something in us
our ghosts to lift from
our chests so things
get colder and more free.

I am not
colder and more free

but here the wild
kneels down in me.
When the prayer bell calls,
we walk
along the shore-path,
water laps
into the bay.
There are stars.

The steady creak
of a bow. The moon’s a swan’s
neck without its corpse.



For weeks I’ve envisioned an iceberg
on the cusp of breakage. A north star stitched
overhead, calling.

My sisters stand in a frame
of black ribbon, pretty
as two distant hills.

Eleven barefoot summers we scanned
the wharf for snowshoe hares,
watched gulls cut through wind

in reckless vicissitude.
One night I dreamed I was
a caught mermaid netted

inside a ship’s hull. Another,
the three of us cast
in an emergency of waves,

woken just before the drowning.
I learned how not
to be the vanished sister.

To suck meat from crab legs,
peel out the eyes for otters,
place the shells carefully

into the yellow bucket.
To speak as though nothing
and everything was crucial,

as though the wish for two souls
like gulls returning to rock
was possible, night workers swarming

the dock, reeking of fishwater.

Carlie Hoffman is the author of This Alaska (forthcoming from Four Way Books, 2021). She is a recipient of a 92Y/Discovery Poetry Prize and an Amy Award from Poets & Writers. Originally from New Jersey, Carlie lives and teaches in New York City.