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I am an unwilling conversationalist.
Surly even.
I know these kind people are not
And I fear them.
I begin by putting my foot in my mouth
And utter opinions so unpopular
I'll never be invited back, or worse,
Never get a free drink here again.


                 from Dinner with the Ruling Class by Julia Carlson






    Sevier Park, Nashville, TN
Dinner with the Ruling Class
Advice to the Lovelorn
South Dakota Red
Mid-Shift, August
Neon Toilet
Arthur's Seat
The Italian Cow



1 – BIOGRAPHY:  Julia Carlson


My poetry has recently been published in Muddy River Poetry Review, Ibbetson Street, Lyrical Somerville, and Wilderness House Literary Review. I am author of two chapbooks, Turn of the Century (Cloudkeeper Press, 2008) and Drift (March Hare Press, 2010). A new collection, Prayer for the Misbegotten, is due out in 2017 from Oddball Press. My interests include politics, social justice, the arts, rock and roll, and a wee dram on a cold night.






Evening and the smell of hot grass floats up into the dusky sky
In the dips and hollows and along the creek bed
The day’s heat raises the hospital ghosts from their dirt graves
I had thought that the creek would be running red in their honor
Instead it is bone-dry and littered with empty soda bottles
Left by young boys who spent the afternoon lazing there
Under huge green limbs with leaves like a million soft feathers
I wonder do those boys know their luck
That in another time they would have been instead
Laying damp next to death on a black steel bed
The smell of ether, morphine, and their burnt young lives
So strong in the air that even a hundred years couldn’t take it away.


Drinking wine on someone else’s tab
At this lovely society dinner to which I'm invited
Either out of curiosity or my cool factor
Which I am told is quite high
I am an unwilling conversationalist.
Surly even.
I know these kind people are not
And I fear them.
I begin by putting my foot in my mouth
And utter opinions so unpopular
I'll never be invited back, or worse,
Never get a free drink here again.
So be it then, as I try to hide myself as best I can
Talk about my minor disasters
Leave out the huge outrageous missteps
Of squandered affairs and unruly passions
Of rusted fits and starts in all the requisite domains
Of my nasty habit of solitary solitude
Leave out my total disenchantment and disconnect
From our ugly world and mean futile humankind
From the lack of simple goodness
From the abundance of horrors, lies and misdemeanors
From fabrication so slick it seems real.
All this amid the steady drone of my thoughts
Now only slightly weighted down by the enormous amount of alcohol
I’ve consumed so far tonight in my half-assed attempt to fit in -
My sarcastic retorts to their every concerned utterance
Are interpreted as comedy and everyone laughs
As if the truth is funny
As if my truth is funny
As the evening progresses through descriptions of bad haircuts
Fashion faux pas (not theirs, someone else’s)
Insolent children, undisciplined pets
Cleaning ladies who never clean the house the way they would
Shopping sprees, bankruptcies (not theirs, someone else’s)
Unhappy relationships, therapy, yoga, personal trainers
And unambitious/drunk/cheating husbands or wives (not theirs, someone else’s)
I get plastered and caught in this sticky social bullshit.
I feel like i'm sealed in plastic wrap, bound with duct tape
Gasping and suffocating in drivel so pure it hurts.
I hate these people who are so tolerant of me and my boozy state
These people who think I am “cool”
I deeply despise them
And, despite the fact that they’re footing my bill
Or perhaps, because of it, I will never show them mercy.


About that letter you wrote me from the nuthouse where you said
The fringe on the curtains was spun from twisted rope -

People hung themselves with the rope and after they collected it in a big ball
And used it up when they needed to. Well, what now?

Have you made up your mind about life and death, or life or death,
Which one is it? And you’d best set to, hurry up and decide.

From the way you push around the dirt in the yard I don’t think
You know either. All I can tell you is, the ocean is blue.

Sometimes it’s green and moves fast - it can be cold or warm and
The same for the fickle air and the earth tilting us on its axis.

Better dip into the waters, dig into the earth, and taste the air with your tongue.
The sun is red-hot; it’s sinking fast and setting soon.


In South Dakota near this highway I-9
An old Comanche I met at Wall Drug
Well, we struck up a conversation
He pointed out across the parking lot, said
This used to be a meadow
Home to the Buffalo
Men on the high plain
High in their saddles
Killed most all of ‘em
(leaning close in, said
Walls’ sells buffalo burgers
At their diner here
And they’re mighty good)
Those high plains men
Rude, snarling like angry dogs
What's the matter with you
This ain’t no hotel
Straw, dusty men with dirty faces
Even dumb men need to eat
Anything for a dinner or a meal
Steal a horse and run away
Clean clothes and a slave
Or a woman
That's the cowboy western way.
A mother dies a daughter asks
Is Mommy sleeping now?
And the old man finds his son drunk
Tells him, You haven't spoken to God
Since your mother died.
There used to be herds running
In thundering dusty waves.
Now (he pauses) We got the casino
And the landfill and next
It's the nuclear plant and
They promised us that
No sir, those nukes ain’t gonna blow.


The way a dog feels
when the sun sits
in the trees and makes sweat
eat the tongue
the tongue so tired it just
outside the mouth

A dog feels miserable when
its master kicks its side

The bosses take everything away

standing in the line
the hotness, and not having
the right
to a cold beer.


Of all that is impossible
You are it
Even though your eyes speak
You are impossible

Even when you do not speak
But your eyes speak
I know what you mean
But it is impossible

Even though we never touch
Will never touch
When your eyes speak
I know it might have been possible

If your eyes did not speak
I would never have thought
About you or us or everything about us
That is or might have been

You sit there watching me
I sit here watching you
We will never be one
We will always be two.


These are the words you said to me -
Las Vegas is a neon toilet
The toilet where your mother sank
Desperate as a herring swimming upstream
Her black dress floating in the sparkling aqua pool
Her dying breath sinking her anger tight
Then, you hated her death
Hated being the king of fools
A child king who didn’t see -
Those are the words you said to me
But I love you and your pain
You know as well as I
Pain is all we are, we’ve said it many times
Even though we don't want to believe it
Even though we cut ourselves every day -
Still we do not believe it
Las Vegas is our vacation home
Where we fuck a whore
Think that for once
We’re excused from the exam
We fuck a whore and insist
We know all the answers
If only life were that simple -
But listen, in our arrogance and ineptitude
We preach to ourselves -
We are our own God and
We will flush ourselves down this neon toilet
The shit is pretty there
It glows in the dark.


Twenty-six when I visited
Mauna Loa on Hawaii's old island
High on Kona marijuana
Peering into the crater’s bubbling rock
Molten like the devil's eyes.

Stood on Mount Etna at forty-five
Black lava birthed a month past
Still warm beneath my feet as I
Watched young women in stiletto and hot pants
Trying to scramble up the hill, and failing.

Arthur’s Seat at sixty-eight
Volcano extinct for 350 million years
Its ancient slope now grassy
With wind blowing strong enough
To billow my coat like a sail.

My friend stood near a ledge
With her husband’s ashes in a jar
Tossed them into the wind saying
We mustn’t forget him, he knew this place.
I stepped back to leave her in prayer

And to avoid unwanted baptism
Of white gray ash and grit.
Not so lucky was I, as the cloud blew back
Settling on my coat and my uncapped hair.
I scrambled to brush off the deathly bits

As four young hikers in workout gear jogged past
Oblivious to an impending baptism by that grey dust
Blowing over them and into their eyes
Their run unruined, but blessed unawares
Without bread, wine and holy oil.


It started with a hardened touch -
Government did not that hand forbid
Did not make the secret a disgrace
Had there been a revolver?
The grim set of a policeman’s face
Saw the coming home of harvest.

Seeds were sown long before this harvest
Where disdain, ignorance, and hatred touched
Men walking day or night, their faces
Bright. But Government did such light forbid
Placing cold hard steel revolvers
Again and again in police's hand, disgrace

To end all disgrace.
On street, park, playground, school, this harvest
Gleans and reaps with these revolvers
Triggers pulling soft like a lover’s touch
As if Government would such touch forbid
Night, or day, a storm on policeman's face

Never fear or regret, only duty on their faces
As if duty had solely fashioned shooting’s disgrace
As if no one ever thought to forbid
What these steel guns would harvest.
Victims from any street, some out of touch,
And ended at the law’s revolver.

As if Grace be found in a revolver
As if Grace shines on a dead man’s face
As if Grace stops death’s dying touch
That molten brush of no disgrace
Bodies upon bodies upon bodies, a century’s harvest
A reaping that Government did not forbid.

A harvest no one did forbid.
Magnum, pistol, handgun, revolver
Brutal hardware long stockpiled to harvest
Murdering men, women, girls, boys, too many faces
This has been done without disgrace.
There is no honor in this brazen touch.

For I say, Government and us, have turned our faces
As unhinged revolvers birth death & cold disgrace
An unholy harvest lacking human touch.


Her large brown head with wildly curious eyes
peers out over the top of her stall, horns touching
the sides in the darkened barn. Her ears are
perked up like a big dog’s and she breathes deep
as the odor of grassy clover in the distant meadow fills her.
Her eyes roll about as she tosses her big head from side to side.
She wants to get out of the barn, head to the green spring fields
where maybe she will frot her back against a tree’s rough bark
or lie down under it on the sun warmed ground.
Her pinkish nose and big nostrils shiver, soft, hot,
and if you put your hand under them you will feel
her humid breath as she damply snorts into your palm
patient and impatient all at once.


(from my chapbook, Turn of the Century, Cloudkeeper Press, 2008)
1. Sevier Park, Nashville, TN (Davis Kidd Prize, Nashville TN 2002)
2. Dinner with the Ruling Class
(from my chapbook, Drift, March Hare Press, 2010)
4. South Dakota Red
5. Mid-Shift, August (Ibbetson Street Press, #38, 2016)
6. Eyes (Lyrical Somerville, 2015)
7. Neon Toilet (Wilderness House Literary Review, 2017)
8. Arthur's Seat
9. Disgrace
10. The Italian Cow


4 - Afterword

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