January 29, 2021

Nicole Caruso Garcia

WARNING SIGN

He threw me over his shoulder in a caveman’s carry.
His townhouse full of partygoers, I struggled, Put me down!
Did they think it was a game? My hair grazed the ground.
One shoe threatened to fall. Were they daunted by his golfer’s build?
He hauled me up two flights—basement to bedroom—right
past Catholics with high SATs. Once he freed me, I’d see 

him hurl the photo album at the wall. Was I okay? No one came to see.
That tantrum, months before the wound I’d ultimately carry,
started when his buddies razzed him. I pleaded, They took it right
out of my hands! I forgot that photo was even in there. I retreated down 
the basement steps, but it only made the ugly in his eyes build. 
He would not be laughed at, not on his own stomping ground.

When he ordered me upstairs, I stood my ground:
You can’t make me. But to help the crowd unsee    
that photo of him in a mask of my red satin panties—lest it build
a reputation—I had to be sacrificed. Now I’m too volatile to carry.  
Hyper-vigilant, some might say. Yet if I let my guard down,  
chance may dredge up my mortified face. Even when men do right.

Upon seeing a firefighter bearing a survivor on his shoulders, I’m right
back on that staircase. The newsfeed rips the ground
from under me. Vowing to never again be upside down,              
I too often cast myself as Wonder Woman. My first landlady I still see 
flicking her cigarette: Frank ever put his hands on me, they’d carry 
him out in a pine box. Love a gentle man, and wager he won’t build  

a gallows, your footing at his pleasure. No matter the life I build—
degrees, publications, travels, a love who treats me right—
I was that upended woman. Mentioning a black belt, a permit to carry, 
I make some prick at a luncheon uneasy, so he probes for background:                     
Geez, what happened to you? He squints to see 
which wire to cut, the blue or the red. But Calm down

is just another way of saying Bow down.
Of saying I’m afraid what an angry woman will burn or build. 
Of saying Look at you on that staircase. The whole party can see
up my skirt, bystanders knocking back beers while Mr. Divine-Right- 
of-Kings carts me off like spoils of war, ass six feet off the ground. 
I became, though once heaved into that caveman’s carry, 

a woman who began spitting fire and rock into the sky in downright
anger, not knowing it would build for her solid ground, 
that with each hiss of lava entering the sea, her voice might carry. 

from Rattle #70, Winter 2020

__________

Nicole Caruso Garcia: “The career aptitude test in high school said I should have been a forensic scientist. I didn’t much like English. Yet in college, when in Kim Bridgford’s poetry workshop she selected exemplars to share, I marveled at how those poets managed to convey the ineffable. Their poems shone like little miracles. This was possible? I was willing to gamble that if I worked hard enough at the craft, I, too, might be able to say the otherwise unutterable. A poem can be a kind of forensic account, shining a light on the hidden or overlooked, and providing a framework for the evidence. Even if you don’t get justice, you’ll have the truth. It wasn’t until years later that I first heard the phrase ‘storytelling is activism’ or suspected that writing poems was, for me, an act of defiance. When my full-length manuscript was allegedly finished, my gut said that the narrative was incomplete—not in sequence, but in scope—without this as-of-then still unwritten poem. I had been rolling around the intention in my mind for several years, but why had I avoided tackling it? Sure, a warning sign is a hard truth, but no more unpalatable than the other material in the manuscript. Ultimately, I demanded of myself that I wrangle this sestina into being, and here it is, the final poem I wrote for Oxblood.” (web)

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