Three Poems by Robin Carstensen

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3rd Annual Contest Finalist

Blue Marlin

The breaking story boasted extraordinary 
catch—one thousand pound blue marlin 
and the fleet of men it took to wear him 
down across three horizons in Cabo San 
Lucas, snag his cheek with a chain
of giant hooks, at long last, drag him in. 
The climax heralded a man from Traverse 
City, Michigan, and his legacy to his sons: 
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime fish. I want 
to take him.” 
                            Near the Blue Memorial
Highway to Padre Island, the neighbor 
bought a chain saw, hacked his canopy 
of sycamore shade down past the roots, 
over three days—the whole Laguna
Madre neighborhood lined up across
the street, keeping vigil on its lost 
shadow, then, and as he poured 
the concrete, parked his Jag, no more 
fret about sap and berries sticking 
to the hood. 
                          So we shook our heads
and hung them low, our arms down
by our sides, and we stood a long time
without speaking while everything shook
its tambourines, the electrons spun
the same dance as their mates light
years on, the dragonflies shimmered 
a blue lagoon among the cricket song, 
the smooth horns rested on the sublime
head of the Longhorn while the bright pink
lips of it cow mouth folded in and out,
munching brambles to an ancient drum;
the sparrows’ bellow and tremolo 
shook the chinaberry into symphony, 
like a Gnostic book of papyrus leaves 
erupting from a Coptic red slip jar, 
buried for two hundred centuries—
tales, words, their black-tipped wings 
flooding the sky, cresting the deep 
with hosannas, released.



The Long Return

Beneath the backfilled sand
mining pits, the thousand tons
of blacktop asphalt, the twisted
steel rope rust, and the Vulcan
Materials Company men
who mined the sand, decade upon
decade from 1961, for a stadium
and their sons who mined
and piled the concrete debris
into riverbeds and streams,
78 million dollars for seats
and more coliseums
beneath the new gladiators
pouring from porticoes—muscles
pounding to the full ferocity
of human blood and voices
like a thousand cymbals crashing
in Nero’s Domus Aureas—
beneath a new freeway construction
for the city, Semper Vigilans, always
moving, devouring four hundred
and fifty thousand cubic yards,
and beneath Cal Trans plowing
the tens of thousands of concrete
walls, waste and demolition debris,
raising it out for the new highway,
the new company men and their sons,
beneath their hauling and clawing
with hulking steel riggers and cranes:
a quiet path in a clear mind, a calm
and a stirring and the river undammed,
the river freed, after half a century
of seasons vanished beneath imagination
and the eternal waiting for sun, the seeds.
In days, the willows bursting
along the banks and reeds, the lake
inhaling, rippling bright plumage
like clouds and the great white heron.



The Hold

Comes pouring you into wakefulness,
the fuchsia bougainvillea fluctuating its arms, 
heart on all sleeves, embroidering its bright
exotic gestures all down the chain link 
fence flanking the overgrown and falling
neighborhood park as you drive past
on your way home from work. You remember 
the sheer drop if not the actual distance 
in which you will someday be cut off 
from this event, and every other, each kiss 
of the planet, this fireball, this molten cave’s
echo where you’ve puffed heavy smoke
rings, leaned back in your mammoth chair 
like a man—leg crossed with foot on knee, 
drunk whiskey straight into dawn under 
a stuffed boar’s head, where still you drew 
slowly the big-hearted rivers, and they flowed
past your prime, unfolding all you could
hope for, and didn’t they always, the apertures 
for breathing whisper to hang on. You were
healing your mortal wounds, that’s why it took
so long to arrive, and how could you be farther 
ahead, when you’ve been trickling from your own 
fissures and pores like a rivulet once walled 
and bound, shedding the violence of should, 
you were hanging on with your best imitation, 
you were ice picking up your cosseted crags,
ascending every impasse subtly here, flamboyantly
there, indulging your various appetites for raw 
innards, your palate for curried fish or malt barley 
grist—old world bitters—you’ve been cruel
to yourself, you’ve been beautiful, you, becoming
so close, suspended by everything gossamer—
this airy mystery and lyric mesh—holding on 
your whole life, each pungent flash, and always,
like these papery fuchsia bracts, on the edge of falling.




Robin Carstensen’s poetry is published or forthcoming in Georgetown Review, Tar River Poetry, South Dakota Review, In Posse Review, Tusculum Review, and many others. She recently earned her Ph.D. in English from Oklahoma State University, where she served as co-managing editor for four years for the Cimarron Review.

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