David Carlson


With pencil augured in drafting paper,
and meticulous design,
my father limned a new room,
framed and milled the attic space.
It took a year to hone so
undone, I took possession.
From the top stair he could watch
me read, dodge unwanted sleep,
spy on intimate moments.

The hallway ended at his room.
Doorless, in the dark, under
my knotted, bookmatched ceiling,
I could hear him thrash and shout.
Once he twisted out of bed,
crushed the nightstand to kindling.
Years on, as his hands slowed,
I gave him a joinery book.
Finishing, I believed,
could offer a reprieve
from the vice of utility.
But my father
never made a useless thing.

What did I know of truing
with such flawed materials?
I see now, work was the caul
of his days, while I get by,
lathing words until they stop turning.

Harlequin Speaks

I may never leave this mezzo cammin
to which I return, again and again,
translating my life. Like a candle flame
passed from wick to wick, I have moved between
the resolving plot and the throw-away scene,
accepting this as a character’s fame,
embracing revelation as profane,
knowing my statue is a figurine.
Half-way, Dante knew he was in hell,
yet he was free. I hold my pity.
We are always in the middle city,
pausing between cataracts and soft bells
listening for our own echoing fall,
sipping from a deep and teeming well.

David Carlson is Professor of English at California State University San Bernardino, where he has taught for twenty-two years. His poems have appeared in Pacific Review, Inlandia: A Literary Journey, and Poemeleon. He is also an amateur painter, working primarily in watercolor.