Sample Poems by Peter Carroll
Talking to Strangers
I like talking to strangers when I travel
though limit my curiosity to chit-chat,
so yesterday on the plane to New York
I noticed a light-haired flight attendant
whose Irish face reminded me
of Caroline Kennedy. I asked
in a friendly way if she was leaving home
or heading home. She stammered for a moment,
frowned, trying hard to reply.
It occurred to me that Caroline K might not
be as happy as she looks in magazines either.
After we landed, I squeezed into a rush-hour
subway, everyone bulked with coats
and backpacks but a nice Caribbean woman
swiveled around so I could reach a pole
before the train jerked ahead. We stood
smiling with our eyes, the cars lumbering
until I felt a jolt and the train stopped-
tossing us together in a tunnel, lights
flickering, the motor dead. I thought
we shouldn't be meeting like this, and said
it aloud. Stuck for twenty minutes, she had time
to tell me about her children, two grown
and gone, the youngest 13, who, she said,
is obsessed with her hair but she'll get over it.
Yes, I agreed, just as the man behind me spoke
from a shadow, recommending the woman try
a new conditioner he's using, prompting
another voice in the dark to tout a hair salon,
leading yet another passenger to google its address.
Free advice running rampant underground,
we'd created a community. When the train
finally reached a station, I straggled off, realizing
no one had mentioned God's blessings,
the Creator of the Universe no doubt weary
of heavenly shampoos. All this chatter
left me wondering if Caroline K has begun
to color her hair, she's nobody's child any more.
4 pm in a DC Bar
This is my last fling, she says.
I'm going back to Houston
tomorrow. I used to work in
this place. I was a cashier
until a half hour ago. I hate
that fucking bullshit boss.
So I'm going back to Houston
tomorrow afternoon. I'm
going to get up early and walk
around the streets and then
I'm going back to Houston.
No man, I don't want a drink.
I'm not polite, it's not that.
I'm spaced out from this
crazy day. I'm so spaced
that I can't drink a thing.
I'm not meaning to be
unsociable but I'm going
to have some black coffee.
He always bullshits women,
that shit. He's creepy putting
his hands all over me. And
after I told him to keep his
bullshitting hands to himself,
he hates me. The crazy shit.
I thought I'd get him a girl
friend so he'd leave me alone.
But none of my friends would
go near him. It's no wonder.
What can he expect, the shit.
I'm an American, you know.
I was born in this country.
Strangers on a Plane
Because the man in 5B,
hearing the pilot announce
our destination, raced
through the front exit,
I learn from his discarded
newspaper the life
& hard times of
Howard "Knot" Smith,
late of Cairo, Illinois,
U.S. Marine Corps veteran
Pacific Theater of Operations,
member of Veterans
of Foreign Wars and the
First Baptist Church,
worked hard, never married.
Knot was an avid dancer.
There were no sidewalks in Queens
only flat dirt paths that softened
into puddles amid melting snow.
That first spring day I lost my grounding-
the hard, concrete turf of the city.
My feet squished, my knees buckled.
The local boys were accustomed to muck,
braver, wilder than my old gang, diving
into open foundations, robbing stores.
Mickey, the bully, was the most graceful
athlete. Frank the best liar, Ralph shyest,
Billy Hardluck most likely to fumble.
The newest kid, I was the one who couldn't
ride a two-wheeler, who liked to read,
who flinched at the pop of an air rifle.
Uprooted, I never overcame a sense
of unbelonging, a condition I did not
choose and did not mind.