Kara Dorris



I will not remember that red streaks of sunlight
mimic the bloody streaks my brother secretes
or the red spots with golden auras
like lesions of his stomach lining.
I will not remember fog, an intangible cataract,
is like memory. That I always discover new ways to lose.

I’m afraid, does the world love you in proportion to you loving it?

I will not make-believe I see silhouettes or solace
as I plunge into the clouds of blinding dawn & flash fog.
I know it’s not heaven; it is only temperature
& dew becoming too intimate, earthly.

It is not the soul trying to slow the morning & say: remember.

I will not remember the room I carry
where my grandmother bakes sugar toast.
Where drawers are full of her fineries: best dress,
two handmade quilts, three disco suits. Not that other place
of anti-depressants & musical chairs,
the woman always pacing, always asking,
“could you please move, dearie, so I can have a seat?”
Not where lace doilies are choking hazards
& mirror is suicide.

Bind them at your wrist as a sign.

I will not remember all daughters carry rooms
full of things we loved into ruin: Ring Pops & candy necklaces,
Cabbage Patch dolls & adoption certificates,
fields of big brothers drawing animal clouds,
the black lab puppy full of worms I found
behind my grandmother’s house,
the one she told me to drown.



I am failing everyone who loves me, especially the ones
with tumors. I’m failing the way cowards fail—
running away & wishing.
I’m failing the natural order
by adding sugar to blackberries & salt to tomatoes,
by not becoming my mother.
I am failing late night calls of pain
& matching blue spider veins. You don’t know, my mother says,
but I do—we do it to ourselves,
can’t unlace like petals, so we close in,
steal water from stem
until dying weaves into living—all lace.
& what is the body but a swimming pool
for the drowned & drowning neural vines of memory?
I am failing implicit & explicit memory.
I’m failing metaphor.
I’m failing my grandmother & her wish that I stay
“just the same,” a “good girl.”
I am failing the sky
& everything that falls from it.
I am failing wisteria & belladonna, rattlers
& garden snakes. I am failing girl & woman, student & teacher.
I will fail erasure because there are some places,
some people we can never be anonymous to.
I will fail like the words “Kara was here” smeared
on dirty windshields, like a car in a car wash fails its past.
I will fail my shadow & stillness. & when I move on
I will fail movement. I will fail to know when enough is enough.
I will fail this ending, this white flag, this tilled earth,
& the next.



My mother says the painting looks like a hand
when you make a fist
& draw a face on the side of it.

The palm a gaping throat, wider
where the grip is weaker.
She peels her fingers away like a rind.

My mother’s hands used to be dispensers
of leftover dog food, her sundeck
a skeletal ark for scavengers.

She would say we lived in a flood plain,
& although our house was a sheet anchor,
someday, dressed in thunder,

the heavens would open,
& we would embark onto the face of water.
But how was survival translated

to the animals of the ark?
Can you peel an animal’s nature away from itself
like skin from a mandarin?

My mother says the painting looks like
the torn & splitting cuticles of a nail biter,
but I see a mustang dragging a naked body,

flesh skinned so fast it blends
with dirt & wild grass, horizon & shadow.
Once a feral cat led

her fog-gray kittens up our steps,
nested in a pink flowerpot.
Our dogs killed them all, mouthed & muzzled

those soft bodies. For days after ravens circled the field,
dug up the graves. We learned to kill
before we fell in love,

& to stay in love
with those who would kill for us.