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Carrie Etter

the poet

 Carrie Etter is an American poet resident in England since 2001, and Reader in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. She has published four collections – most recently, The Weather in Normal – and numerous chapbooks. Her poems have appeared in Boston Review, The Guardian, The Iowa Review, The New Republic, The New Statesman, Poetry Review and The Times Literary Supplement, as well as in anthologies such as The Penguin Book of the Prose Poem and Out of Everywhere 2: Linguistically Innovative Poetry by Women in North America & the UK. Carrie also publishes short fiction, essays and reviews.

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the poems

A Birthmother's Catechism

00:00 / 00:56

How did you let him go?

With black ink and legalese

How did you let him go?

It’d be another year before I could vote

How did you let him go?

With altruism, tears, and self-loathing

How did you let him go?

A nurse brought pills for drying up breast milk

How did you let him go?

Who hangs a birdhouse from a sapling?

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00:00 / 01:28

Lean forward in shadow. The room is corridor opening into square, passage and purpose.

On the distant bed, a spill of mottled flesh, the white cotton gown fallen to little use. You gape in the doorway. His body is positioned away, toward the window. You stare until he calls, calls you into mutual shame.

Now you must gentle. The mind, relieved, packs away its unfinished question. The bowl of green gelatin has no scent. You hold it to your nose as he draws the cloth up with a tug, his grasp like a bird’s.

No, not shame. Not now. Though he doesn’t know it, he will be glad when you sit down at last. This is your father. The room is white and inescapable.

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00:00 / 02:24

A parent a plinth. The first week he regarded hospital as hotel. So the variables include the kind of stone, its consistency, the velocity of prevailing winds. What’s purer than an infidel’s prayer? How strangely, in the second week, the swollen limbs stiffened. And the effects of climate change: milder winters, more precipitation, two, three heat waves each summer. All American, non-Jewish whites are Christian by default. Incredulous, I realise his bicycle may rust and walk it to the shed. Such an ordinary act of reverence. The pulmonologist, the neurologist, the family physician. A bed is a bed is the smallest of bedsores. Blood doesn’t come into it. Ritual, of course, is another matter. A Midwestern town of that size exhibits limited types of architecture. I’ve yet to mention the distance. Come now, to the pivot, the abscess, another end of innocence. In every shop, the woman at the till sings, 'Merry Christmas,' a red turtleneck under her green jumper. I thought jumper rather than sweater, a basic equation of space and time. Midnight shuffles the cards. Translated thus, the matter became surgical, a place on the spine. Each night the bicycle breaks out to complete its usual course. A loyalty of ritual or habit. 'ICU' means I see you connected to life by wire and tube. A geologist can explain the complexities of erosion. The third week comes with liner notes already becoming apocryphal. Look at this old map, where my fingers once stretched across the sea.

Publishing credits

A Birthmother's Catechism: Imagined Sons (Seren)

Eldest: The Weather in Normal (UK: Seren / US: Station Hill)

Paternal: Divining for Starters (Shearsman)

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