A Journal

"I'm going to come back to West Virginia when this is over. There's something ancient and deeply-rooted in my soul. I like to think that I have left my ghost up one of those hollows, and I'll never really be able to leave for good until I find it. And I don't want to look for it, because I might find it and have to leave".----Breece D'J Pancake, in a letter to his mother. 

Caroline Shea

Soliloquy for Macbeth’s Witches 


Speak, if you can: what are you? I am pentecostal. Think blackberry-stained lips, thick haze of
May against my gums. Think blades of grass origamied to sweaty thighs. Think soup of summer
fog spilling across the thruway, the snap and scatter of pearlescent beads of rain on the car win-
dow. Windshield as crime scene— See, this is where they argued. This is where he tore at her
necklace and it cracked like a wishbone. The maid sweeps the pearls into a dustpan, marvels at
their perfect circularity. How could anything so compact contain the echo of so much color? She
could deep-sea dive into those pearls, slice through their luminescent depths with folded hands
and Bolshoi feet. She slips a single sphere into her pocket like child stealing candy from the cor-
ner store. Sometimes she thinks she sees the woman’s face, staring back out her, pleading for un-
derstanding. Oh, honey.  She understands. She understands the word “trapped” the way a fox
does: blood is a better option. The clasp on my pearls snapped a few years ago and I haven’t
worn them since. They marinate in dust, neck and fornicate with frayed friendship charms and
gold chains. Some things are easier to leave broken than to begin fixing. Not a metaphor, just a
fact. He says: be as fire. I think of summer nights laddered with want, I think a wedding bouquet
of long-stemmed matches, I think his hand around mine around a blue bic lighter. When they
spoke in tongues the people thought they were drunk. When we are drunk, we think we can
speak in tongues. My French is going stale, I stumble to construct greetings on the street in
Montreal, my diction painfully American. In our country we like words to compartmentalize,not
to slur all cocktailed, not to have lover’s liaisons on the chiaroscuro edges of sentences. Were the
madwomen in the attic ever really mad? When they take your language you have very little left.
They burn your diary. You die offstage. The first migrations were impossible until we had the
vocabulary to say— look, over there! Is madness a precondition of captivity, or a byproduct?
Here’s my pentecost sermon: set the damn house on fire. You don’t need the house. You don’t
even need the word for “house.” I want to unshackle myself from expectation, forge a language
that is clear, shuddering, pristine. An escape from miscarried meaning, from sentences stillborn
and bruise-blue. But then what is a word if it is not impregnated, swollen to bursting with its
meaning? My language drips over my lips like clotted cream. I’ve been thinking a lot about how
I say things lately, he says. I want to make sure I come across the right way. I envy his belief that
he can evade misunderstanding because maybe it means that he can.  No matter how well
constructed the message, we cannot pre-program the response. Our voices warp,
unwarp. The story depends on where you’re standing (and who you’re standing with). I do not
think fire can be misinterpreted. It carries itself with a clarity of purpose we lack, a satisfying
single-mindedness. Be as fire. Alright, yes. So you cannot fix the pearls, or you can. You’ve
killed the king, you’ve napalmed the drawing room, left the tea set all fogged with ash. Think
thunder, a sound on the edge of sound. Think lightning lancing across the sky. Think rain, pris-
ming the leftover light. When we meet again I will speak a language of my own invention and it
will taste like sex and death and God all at once. 


On Asking for Directions Home 


“Every landscape is autobiographical.” —Alison Prine 


Landscape 1


Wind whips against the car like wet sheets
as we speed through the backroads of Vermont. 
Struggle of zipper, hook, and snap— agony of air.
It’s like licking a refrigerator, you say.

Sun plays in honeyed slats across the snow.
Crunching over powdered bone. Rugged jewel spill of Texas Falls, crags of jade
and aquamarine polished slick with riverflow. I want to string it ‘round my neck
until the ice melts in pools above my collar bones. 

Embroidered thread of highway stitches through burlap hills.
The cool car window pressed to my temple—
one final, insistent reminder. 


Landscape 2


The brutal punch of wind
scrambles the words in my cheek like slick broken teeth.
She fumbles with a lighter. I wonder what you’re dreaming of tonight—  
The skeleton woods, laughter on a Saturday night,
the empty bottles singing windsongs on your window sill?

We walk back along the lakeshore, our faces novocaine numb.
A man in a blue jacket tells us he is looking for a stray cat
to give her something to keep the cold out. 

I think of my useless swaddling of fleece and wool— Northface nativity—
and the way January burrows its way through our tin ceilings,
ice splintering through the bottom of the bathroom window in spiderwebs.
The cold always gets in. 


Landscape 3

We shove the warmth of our bodies
into the air like an offering.
The streets bleach whalebone white.
I excavate their secrets with bitten fingernails
and bring my findings back to show you—
Look, here is the ellipse of wheat field that is my childhood,
here the crook of mountains that snag in my chest,
here the parched neon street that croons hope, hope.                   

When I was young I drew maps of imaginary places
because I thought the diagrams made them real. I wish
I could explain myself to you, give my body up to the annihilation of understanding.
Instead I settle for memorizing the way the way light laces the lake,
the way scars heal chalk white, the way I have stitched myself
into these mountains so even my crooked hips seem like summits. 


My favorite souvenir is a notebook printed with teacups that I bought while at a writing workshop at Kenyon College. Not only does it remind me of my two weeks there, but it also was the notebook that I wrote in for the next year, so its dogeared pages chronicle the highs and lows of my freshman year of college are full of ticket stubs, photographs, and accidental coffee stains.  

Caroline Shea was the Editor in Chief of the 2014 Kenyon Young Writers Workshop anthology, where her work was featured. She recently was a featured poet on Pankhearst and her poetry has appeared in WOLVES Magazine, Yellow Chair Review, and Moonsick Magazine. She lives in Vermont where she avoids hypothermia, writes for The Vermont Cynic and is Co-Editor in Chief of Vantage Point magazine.