Selected Poems by Kristi Carter

A Girl is not a Fruit

The fruit I finally bought
bit back: the apricot
still curdled, after I tested it
for a pulse.

My teeth soft in the velvet cleft,
the acid sharp as dawn on ice.

When I was more creaturely
I gored a mango with my
lesser-kissed mouth.

A crimson thrush rose
from the slime.
My jaw framed a second cunt,
but scabbed over into mouth again.

I’ve calmed down into
a saline being. From time to time,
I scurvy. My mouth isn’t clean
so I must be cautious
thanks to this fact of fermentation:

disquieted girls are often stowed
in fruit cellars. Anyone can tell you

cloying beats brackish, hands down

down down from that tight bulb of pear,
which has not yet bled enough
to unharden and become ripe.

I don’t listen. I caressed it
then whispered,
There can’t be two of us.

Its abortive juices piquéd my mouth
in burs.

My blood does not sweeten.


Anatomy Lessons

You’ve got your hands on a white-hot garland of sound
and you’ve rammed it down into your throat, somehow,
baby-magician. And me, it’s so difficult to let go
of the hard notes your voice uses to cleave the air.

As if to hear the yelling was the same as the palm’s
reaction to electricity: clasp the pain as fragile
lightening erases you slowly.

You’ve got your face framed in holy black smoke
that grows out from under your skin: men are born
with such tender faces that the body allows some
scruff to cover their mouths, always open.

All my blood gave me was a wreath around my vortex
where unborn children keep whispering, just as one
poses behind the sideboard with another’s body,
only the true face appears through the wooden hole.

You’ve got arms that require no tethers
to bind them to your sides, no pectoral muscle
hidden behind fat and glands the world is always grabbing.

But I’ve got no sword swinging between my legs,
no weapon hidden beside my femur, the bone of strength
adhered to the sacred sacrum where a breech baby
will mark its crown in a notch, coming out
into the world backwards.


Inheritance of Ochre

Carve us a cave strong enough to contain our ancestors.
Fixed to the wall in specific coordinates
the stars might have aligned with, some night
before history. Woman and daughter

learn from each other to watch for wolves
and men. Learn whose hands could silence
the other, if necessary, with a smear of ochre
across the neck. Wherever they died,

we remain. These documents of our existence
are still not enough, our lineage kept in primitive:
history held in the mouth only. Teeth shred facts
into legend. Yet, I am the heretic

of our tribe. I have fled the cave of family
and on my exit, rolled the stone over the path
to the chthonic womb you so hoped I’d pass down
through closing the circle of ritual: like yours

my hands would ring the neck of the next daughter
who would appear in chalk, even smaller,
nearly obscured by a fresh red smear.
Her outline in thrum with the curse,

that ochre can only release her from its jagged lines
once someone inherits it from her.


Every woman has her own fire altar

Between her legs are two hands folded into the prayer for fire
but they are not hands, and the fire, it’s already home:

an egg black with life slithers down the vein within her
into a basket of soft tissue. Scientists dissect such

a basket with two necks: its purple viscera smiles
up at the camera, a busted valentine heart—we all know

heart means ventricle tethered to aorta, and vein
means fallopian tube crackling with golden cilia and muted music.

Two fleshy palms folded over the vestibule,
keeping sacred hymns unheard. She goes to an opera

whose notes stir her hearth, leaden her foot, so heavy
on the gas pedal home. There’s a kerosene scent

on the end of her index finger, there’s a golem of moss
whose mouth is full of her own name. The scientists

lace a camera through her dark channels. The video
shows rows and rows of red rings, the throat of life

only ends at the pouch where a meniscus of DNA winks
at its beloved audience. I’m right here, each egg says.

The black coins jangle in her deepest pockets.


Kristi Carter has poems published or forthcoming in journals such as Spillway Magazine, So to Speak, CALYX Journal, and Hawai’i Review. She is originally from the foothills of North Carolina. She currently lives in Nebraska.

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