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Summer Local Writers Series: Feature 3: Carolyn Hembree

The Summer Local Writers Series features works produced by New Orleans poets and prose-writers as part of NolaVie’s ongoing correspondence with the city’s arts and culture. The writers selected will be drawn from diverse sets of intellects in order to paint a broader picture of the relationship between language and community, art and structure. The series will focus on writing that speaks to these critical relationships.

Most importantly, the series aims to carry on New Orleans’ legacy as a literary entrepôt. We will experiment with various forms of supplemental material, but the center of each feature will be the text. Put simply, the Series seeks to spotlight some of the good writing that’s happening here, and we hope you enjoy it.

Carolyn Hembree’s poems have appeared in Colorado Review, DIAGRAM, Gulf Coast, Indiana Review, jubilat, and Witness, among other journals and anthologies. Her poetry has received three Pushcart Prize nominations, a PEN Writers Grant, a Southern Arts Federation Grant, and a Louisiana Division of the Arts Fellowship Award in Literature. Before completing her MFA, she found employment as a cashier, housecleaner, cosmetics consultant, telecommunicator, actor, receptionist, paralegal, coder, and freelance writer. Carolyn grew up in Tennessee and Alabama. She teaches at the University of New Orleans.

Her debut poetry collection, Skinny, will be published by Kore Press next month. The cover photo is credited to Valerie Galloway, the design to Lisa Bowden and Sally Geier, Kore Press, 2012.


A Real Movie Star *

A killer in flat olive skins tonight inside this far-off island
dream would lean fast under a low ceiling now against the blank

bandstand then against the long wall of a basement of a long dance hall
and out his dual knifeneedle take.

Crowd keeps while breakneck we
onto a designer street, a day wind northerly against us, us running as if

the world ought a forest be—tall and winsome and all the good
air and time and talk you could take you’d be brought.

Bird: Saw you got sick to carnival ruin, Skinny, why?
Make sad.

Let envy stop at your door, not in, for head and heart’s a store
robbed by the many flights of her blonde dreamy satiny head tossed back

like a real movie star enameled hugely, a face framed in
a dream by a curtain not so bright as the red,

red of her heart matching her dress with wintry
spots designed. This star, these rolled hills, us in stars tossing spies

her head up to a biggest box listening hard—says, Ow
asks if her ear is burned.
Skinny: I don’t say, just a little melting is.

Bird: You’re glad by it.
Behind her, the killer in metal-burned skins (fingers and nails

around her chest) says, Come back to us and out his dual knife-
needle takes and gentle in her throat as if love were given and

last upon her face a new tool like a hairbrush electric (needles not bristles)
places until with egg speckles covers she, us sees.

Skinny: That a sad thing got in me.
Bird: I swear you don’t know shit, Skinny.

Skinny: And won’t since my best one went all’s a blue coil in me.
Bird: Not your time yet, Skinny.

* previously published in Copper Nickel; also, from debut collection Skinny (Kore Press, 2012)


Pastoral *

Tell me—for crying out loud—how at 500 fathoms that’d flower here?
Flame Creeper knotting at one’s hip bone, th’other’s knee.

Something’s to it. Foam in an eye corner (his, hers, mine);

bubbles beading through one’s bottom teeth.
Those lips fixed; these a hair apart.

Anybody’d want to reach inside his cheek.
Any’d want to tuck a pinky inside his cheek

to see are you here—are you plasterwork done like flesh?
are you shale? are you
flesh? Oceans ‘part.

Her: Goner, I can’t get o’er—sweatin’ him out in the crook o’ my arm,
dabbin’ with kerchief tip his hairline, his either eye—

him under eiderdown at the prow glintin’.
Him: You can be made to be as you was moments ago, can’t you?


Enterlude danced emptyheaded with torso

Some—I—set eyes (whose?) on the notched petal, the spur at her
knee that cannot unbend, that can flower in colder springs under glass.

Just like that.
She chatters.

I set eyes on him.
He on an old jay stopping, tail feathers up. Squint: a quaver keeps it.

Her sideways in the chair, a side of her face lit.

Him one arm pushing up from the table top; its leg and hers against his.

Her the whole whole of her face

lit. Flower here. There’s a pasture. The clapboard claps. The dovecote crackles.
Our stables orange. They cave.

the portal porthole

Him: I shifted my weight back and forth—you could tell I was mad—

Her: All’s to gush. Thusly, nuzzle up.

* previously published in Forklift, Ohio; also, from debut collection Skinny (Kore Press, 2012)


O Pony of South Derbigny O Leaping Yellow *

O pony of South Derbigny o leaping yellow
on yellow pole carousel pony of South Derbigny
flooded pony o risen out of cobbled chimney of
shuttered mudhut of shutdown pawn shop
pony of South Derbigny in attic windows
in amphibious tanks in Black Hawks in styrofoam
boats in whale-muraled vans in the alligator belly-
up on the highway pony of South Derbigny
pony of South Derbigny the airboat mother
her Gatorade her S earrings
her babying her baby night-sky baby
blanket slipping off the slipping head
o yellow-crowned night-heron on the
upended light pole the golden
retriever in the black marsh the rotting
rottweiler on chain-
link pony of South Derbigny and stadium domes and sky-
lights of domes emptied of pony of South Derbigny emptied of
spotlights on boys mid-spree horsing and Boy Scout
knots across chests on gurneys o gurneys of South Derbigny
slick jackets knotted at the waist
waist-deep in South Derbigny
chest-deep and dog-paddling
pony of South Derbigny past steeple bell speakers
past six headbanging hotel palms
pony of South Derbigny they crash
onto crashed Pontiacs
past umbrella oars past
hands waterlogged into papier mâché gloves raising the dead
reflected power line for reflected aluminum
canoes to pass past them all
pony of South Derbigny o pony of the mudhut floated into the street
boy clothes still on the clothesline
pony of the thread count of those under sheets their feet jerking
how can they still be jerking
pony of the body count on baggage
carousels body on slate tiles in attics in lawn
chairs in short sleeves the lawn chair in parking lots count on grass in sunflower
flip-flops in rubber banded cornmeal box shoes a girl I remember in shopping carts
in a wheelchair under a t-shirt veil count in off-the-shoulder hospital
gowns in uprooted black-rooted trees in prosthetic limbs the limbs the souvenir boas
the dyed jet hair body in the long-pelted mink backless on chain-link in armoires
count in armories count in arms count
on buses on interstate ramps arms raised like a conductor against
the sky in cerulean housecoats with foam
white buttons I count exploding on South Derbigny
in one drenched sock hand-in-hand
body sighing on plywood in the air on knees Indian style on the airport floor
you pony of South Derbigny in an Indian beaded ghost
suit drying on the shredded screen door I remember
concentric rings in the flood water
cattle dog nosing Black Hawk hovering
pony pony of South Derbigny you thing inside
the long yellow pelts of summer

New Orleans 2005

* Previously published in New Orleans Review and Intersection/New Orleans (Press Street)


Pig *

The pig’s hindquarters flip-flopped;
a cane, finger’s length, into its vagina slid.
Meet its eye; your fear to the wayside dropped.

Incinerator some fifty feet off; the pig stops. You opt
it to get under your skin or not. Off the pig’s side,
a quarter flips (I win) then onto the dirt flops.

Pigs hate the shine. My Exacto barely lifts up
the pig’s hide. By the truck bed, change the blade.
It meets my eye; my fear to the wayside dropped.

Wondrously, the pig yet rubs snout and sloped
head into ground. We have unmade.
The pig’s hindquarters flip-flopped.

Beat the pig to marshmallow. Its breath: interrupt.
I skin. You cane. You can’t tell, with the naked
eye, cane from cane’s shadow onto a pig’s side dropped.

Fifty minutes: its blinking eye to the side dropped.
I am ashamed of my family.
Into the hedge, I, the pig’s hindquarters flopped.
Meet my eye; fever ribbons to the wayside dropped.

* previously published in Cutbank; also, from debut collection Skinny (Kore Press, 2012)


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