Poetry by Carolyn Ogburn

And the needle was still hanging from his arm

This morning, the world
Lit with morning rain,
I make a second pot of coffee
Rinse dishes in the sink:
Ordinary things.
Without needles.
(But there could be needles.)

Character actor, he was called,
Also The Finest Actor of My Generation
(for we all write “my” before “generation”:
I come from a people unwilling to share
Even the decade of our (my) birth
What generation is that – Post-boom, pre-Y?)

He died, alone,
Syringe silvered
In a vein

We look for meaning in the part,
What was the author’s intent?
What are we meant to feel?
I want to call the women I’ve never met
Mary Karr, Cheryl Strayed,
I want to talk about love and pain.
And how we (used to) fall…
I don’t want to think about his apartment
Diffuse with light yesterday morning
As he lay, still alive.

He was married; well, so am I.
I pour the last cup, lift it to Elijah
To the elements, to the rain,
Then spill it out onto the earth
Where it lays in brown puddles
On magnolia leaves.
A predictably inadequate sacrifice
(what would you give? Micah rails,
What would your God have you give?
No: there is nothing:
Do Justice
Love Kindness
Walk Humbly
With your god.

Never do needle drugs,
I made every lover promise me
Every lover I loved but left –

I miss the coffee as soon as it’s gone.
As I missed whiskey
As I missed wine
As I missed the clarity of sacrifice
As I missed the dissolution of the whirlwind speaking
In a language that’s never been preserved

The needle hung from your arm
Is there any dignity that you still had veins there?
That we weren’t condemned to watch you die,
Spared the years of perpetual why.


Before her radiation, my lover loved tomatoes.
We’d bring them from the garden,
plastic buckets full and eat them
raw in dripping handfuls, warm
like Ella sings tomato: red musky
throated voices, a Carmen in deep orange,
a raucous Patsy Cline. Our wet mouths full
of muscled fruit, of ripe Loretta Lynns –

A better gardener would pull the stakes
up in November. The green tomatoes in
and gone, what’s left forgotten slip gray
soft; the vines they’d clung to, twisted things.
I’m walking through them – it’s enough,
not ready, yet, to pull them up.

When She Turns

When she turns to take the knife from me
she slips against the counter,
catches herself with one shaking hand.
We both pretend not to notice.

She slid against the counter,
her strong leg pushed between my jeans,
we both pretended not to notice
as we took each other down.

Her strong leg between my jeans,
I fell against her, pretending to be shy
as we took each other down,
spilling red wine, mangos, clementines.

I fall against her, pretending to be shy,
remembering when we were afraid that
spilt wine, mangoes, clementines
meant something worse than a stained carpet.

Remembering when we were afraid that
there was nothing worse than limitation,
nothing worse than a stained carpet.
Now our table’s stacked with prescriptions

and something worse than limitations
meaning fear of losing them –
Our table’s stacked with prescriptions
our plastic amber laity.

Our fear of losing them,
is that it won’t make any difference:
our precarious laity,
our pharmacy gods and prophets.

They watch you without deference.
You could slide across the counter,
as our gods and prophets watch you
fall across the floor –

if you slid across the counter
letting broken spilt things lie
you pulled me to the floor.
But not this time –

Letting broken spilt things lie,
she stands, follows my gaze
— it’s not, yet, time.
As if we were old women at home

she stands, dodging my eyes,
then holds out one shaking hand.
As if we were old women at home,
she turns to take the knife from me.

In the Pink

Pink bubbles, freckles, dimples,
ponies, ping-pong, peonies,
pink pebbles, delphiniums, flamingos
by the patio. Pink slips.
Pink triangles, pinky rings,
Elvis pink and black.
Babies’ cheeks and fingers,
possum’s snout and paws.
Sycamore’s winter
bark, puppy’s tongue.
Pigs. Strawberry shakes.
Pink gums, pink eye,
pink and white carnations.
Pink crowns at the coronation
of the homecoming queen.
Pink plastic flowers falling
from cemetery to ditch.
Pink nails, pink hair,
pink pierced tongue.
Pink hickies on her neck.
Pink scabs picked clean,
needle tracks, pink lipstick,
pink lips pressed to tissue
cherries in the snow.
Pink cantaloupes and lady slippers,
painted lady blossoming beans.
In the pink, sitting
pretty, pinking shears,
freshwater pearls,
pink salmon, blush
or sunburn, frost bite,
blister, chill blain.
Pink curl of maple burl.
Persimmon, pear,
crabapple, cherries,
brandywine tomato.
Redbud, Judas tree.
Forest pansy, sumac.
Pink dogwood
where the nails have been.


About Carolyn Ogburn

Carolyn Ogburn (c.a.ogburn@gmail.com) lives with her partner and a small menagerie of animals in a small home in the mountains of western North Carolina where she does any number and all manner of things for love and for money. Her poems have been published in The Potomac Review, The Indiana Review, the Asheville Poetry Review, and elsewhere.