Two Poems by Caitlin Dwyer

Assisted Self-Immolation

Your voice over the phone
Recorded, no fresh meat to it
Smells stale, like cigarette ash

On paper dolls I used to pin
Pinks and silks, big hats
Paper hooks that slipped off the shoulders

All dressing and undressing
We never reached the storyline
The ultimate failure of playing house –
a lengthy set-up.    By the time
each frock is folded, everyone’s bored

I am pulling hangers
of clothes, like deflated bodies, off the racks
and examining them for flaws
Shirts limp and lifeless. The hooks catch
and tangle.    No sign yet
of a story.    Smoke stirs in the eyes

Early warning system
Your voice over the loudspeaker, bored
and announcing that we’ve closed for the day,
please proceed to the exits
An evacuation route has been planned from the game

I crouch to the ground and gently unzip
the spine, fold my body into it

Here’s a smokescreen setup
I am the local authorities, searching for signs of arson
I am pawing through the shifts to see what changed
Flames are gnawing on a floral couch but
I am not planning to leave

Whalebone corsets piled in a corner
You said you would play-act the role, or at least
agree to a voice-over
Then the corsets burned while
you handed out needles for repairs
A voice searching for punctuation
over a walkie-talkie: not torn,
but tearing

So please keep talking while

I gently fold the paper hooks
around my shoulders, smooth
the paper dress against my body
There is a fire escape out back
for your convenience



Interrupted pursuit. Bare feet flung
their pale soles into the duff, prickled

by fir needles, until like a plucked bird,
patterned and goosebumped by loss of flight,

we had to stop. Pain at least
had caught up to us. Or perhaps had carried us,

all along – a dim song in the eardrums,
blood tide, taken for granted

but nonetheless constant— as when you suddenly realize
you have been singing out loud

alone at the bus stop;
moth trapped under the tongue, suddenly released

to the whiteness of the world.
Strictly speaking, catch and release

does not prevent the pain of an animal—
but it defines an endpoint. A moment

of equilibrium, as scales slide like minutes
through slick fingers. The fish squirms away,

jaw torn open by the prong of a hook.
The body’s slender single muscle all at once

spasming toward survival.
Hook-rust imbedded in its jaw

stains its sight red. Its murky life now rippled with flame.
There are ways to let yourself be caught,

to let a small metal tip tear open
enough of you to make a mark.

Ways to bear scars like original skin.
In you, some tattered, blind creature
always singing.


Caitlin Dwyer Caitlin Dwyer

Caitlin Dwyer is a writer from Portland, Oregon. When not writing poetry, she works as a travel writer, high school teacher, blogger, and journalist. Her poetry has recently appeared in The Cider Press Review, Notre Dame Review, and Beloit Poetry Journal. She lives in Hong Kong.

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