Two poems by Caroline Shea

Semiotics of a Dive Bar Gig
(or Writing Your Way Out of The Coffin)

after Nan Goldin’s series “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency.”

Read her body like braille:
lip of sweater gaping, glass of whisky sweating in her palm,
Midas radio waves crowning her skull in a bombshell-blond mane.
What are her cells singing? The floating heads above her glance demurely down,
pretending not to watch, enamoured with the lemon slice of neck
curving from her collar. They clamor to make her legible.
The blue-edged bags under her eyes,
the color of out-of-tune pianos, rendered as sign.
The tin-can of 3 AM rattling in her ribs, transformed to symbol.

After the encore, the wood-panelled walls drip red
and she keeps pace with the boys, throat stung like a salted rim.
This hour slouched backstage, hair matted with sweat, makeup streaked,
is her way of taking herself back. The diary in her childhood bedroom, marooned
somewhere in suburbia, served the same purpose. The diary is a form of control
over life. So she begins again the project of narrating herself, peeling the gazes
of an entire dive bar from her skin like a film of dirt accumulated from summers
tumbling through the woods. It is impossible to survive girlhood
without committing suicide.

She thinks of all the incarnations she has impaled
on picket fences or left drunk and rubber-limbed in the gutters of Brooklyn.
She wonders whether we are born knowing how to mourn or if it’s a knowledge
we accumulate. Her figure a filament of light, golden with the afterglow of a good show,
stubbornly refuses interpretation. The Greek Chorus hums a warning from the wall:
YOU EXIST AS INVITATION. Blood buzzed with liquor and adrenaline,
she dreams of becoming a dead language.


Prayer for Difficult Girls

after Morgan Parker

I was born an apostle of belief,
a thieved pair of ribs straining in my belly.
I mugged Adam on my way out of the womb
and he’s been down-and-out
ever since. I am getting harder
to love each day.
In church, I would lie lengthwise
in the pew, until the light blurred to dandelion dust
and the ark of the ceiling swayed.
Grant me a body to survive a flood in, Lord,
something rough and pretty and expensive. Something untouchable.
If I cry, will you acquit me, Lizzie-Borden-style of my sins?
I forget to brush my teeth too often and I am ruinous
in the body you gave me, careless with its salted meat.
Crack the walnut husk of me open and pick at the goo.
Diagram the fault lines. I calve into such predictable crevasses.
I think I am asking you for permission
to exist the way I do.




Caroline Shea was the Editor in Chief of the 2014 Kenyon Young Writers Workshop anthology, where her work was featured. She was a featured poet on Pankhearst and her poetry has appeared in WOLVES Magazine, Souvenir, and Moonsick Magazine. She lives in Vermont where she avoids hypothermia, writes for The Vermont Cynic and is Co-Editor in Chief of Vantage Point magazine.

One thought on “Two poems by Caroline Shea

  1. Oh god I love Prayer for Difficult Girls so so so much. I must have re-read this 15 or 20 times over already.

    “I think I am asking you for permission
    to exist the way I do.”

    ❤ Thanks for sharing this!


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