Since 1996 Volume XXI

Carolyne Wright

Photo credit: Erik Rucker

Carolyne Wright's new book is the ground-breaking anthology, Raising Lilly Ledbetter: Women Poets Occupy the Workspace, co-edited by Wright and published in Lost Horse Press's Human Rights Series (2015). Her poetry collections include Mania Klepto: the Book of Eulene (Turning Point); A Change of Maps (Lost Horse); and Seasons of Mangoes and Brainfire (Eastern Washington UP/Lynx House Books), which won the Blue Lynx Prize and American Book Award. Also published are four volumes of poetry translated from Spanish and Bengali, and a collection of essays.

 Wright lived in Chile and traveled in Brazil on a Fulbright-Hays Grant during the presidency of Salvador Allende, and spent four years on fellowships in India and Bangladesh, translating Bengali women poets. After visiting positions at universities around the country, she returned to her native Seattle in 2005; since then she has taught for the Whidbey Writers Workshop MFA Program and Seattle's Richard Hugo House. A Contributing Editor for the Pushcart Prizes and a Senior Editor for Lost Horse Press, Wright also has been a waitress, hotel maid, hospital clerk, freelance proofreader and textbook developmental editor, substitute bilingual 4th-grade teacher, and Latin America sales liaison for a biotech firm (a position requiring fluency in Spanish and Portuguese). 

 Hence, all the poems here feature women occupying workspaces—as secretaries, school teachers, soothsayers, market vendors, hermit-heiress house-haunters, or perpetual job applicants!


The Cosmic Scholar

 Secretary to the thoughts of others,

I grow, each night, to be the tenured scholar

of all galaxies.  I gaze out

at the ancient history of stars--lights,

years old and centuries apart.

Anywhere we are, my text tells me,

is the center of a universe

on the exhale.  Stars hurtle out

from every other star, like trees felled

by a meteor.  They speed up

as they go--locomotives on an incline

or small boys sneaking out of school to fish.

If we caught up, the novas we've chased

would be old suns, ulcered with spots. . . .

By now I'm lost:  the Horsehead Nebula's nostrils

quiver, I race Ferraris around Saturn's rings.

Before sleep, I shift down-spectrum--

blue to gold to red--and gather, soberly,

my scattered notes.  Assembling once again

a face, like a chart of the periodic

elements, I leave it for the morning,

--the ditto sheets and cold white stares--

and follow the receding pulsars of the heart,

the stellar vapors reeling as I go. . . .




Publication Credits: 
The Christian Science Monitor

 Stealing the Children, Ahsahta Press, 4th printing 1992.

Copyright © 1978, 1992 by Carolyne Wright.



Spokane Reservation School Teacher:  Wellpinit, Washington


 They used to have a dentist all day

Thursday.  Now, you wait three months

or hitch to Spokane when the root's ache

breaks your stoicism down.  Sharp operators

still cut Indians open at the B.I.A.

To live here, stay on automatic, keep

emergency systems on all night,

miss your lover only once a week.

When the bookmobile wheels in, hide there,

read how missionaries staked conversion

claims on tribes, worried at each others'

like tribe terriers over buffalo scraps.

Your school's an old God-trap of theirs,

earthed up now like a sod-sided council lodge.

Teenagers pass furtive peace pipes

through the fence at recess.  If you weren't

the boss, brought from outside like a Jesus book,

you'd join them.  Instead, you skirt the rules

like the obscene Salish scribbled

on latrine walls, follow the pretense

of coincidence, catch the braves red-handed.

Alright peace chiefs, back inside.

Finally Friday.  You close the grade book

in the late light slanting over empty desks,

catch the last rush-hour rattletrap to town.

Your lover got the letter, thought it over,

lounges for you by the baggage counter.

All weekend you try to intersect

with something worth saying.

Sunday evening, it's like your blood's run thin,

your language dying, buffalo gone north.

Nowhere left but the reservation.

The white man leaves you at the depot;

one quick kiss and he's gone, remote

as a black robe, council fires smoking

on far bluffs, a leaf spinning into the night.

Now you know how they felt.




Publication Credit:  Stealing the Children, Ahsahta Press, 4th printing 1992.

The Conjure Woman
                        (São Salvador da Bahia)


 She blows on the crystal ball,

tells me I can have anything. 

Hibiscus flowers.

Jacarandá-wood charms.

A powder from the Mercado Modelo

that drives men wild.


In the waiting room, the man I want

drums his fingers, makes eyes

at the honey-colored woman

stirring something in the kitchen.

Strands of blue pearls,

passion-flower lenço on her head.

A little samba on the red floor tiles.

Yemanjá, sea goddess,

smiles and waves her fish tail

from the poster on the wall.


The conjure woman turns her wedding rings

around a long story about the sea.

Bahia dialect--the hushed syllables,

palm trees reflecting

on the water, whole sentences

I want to understand.


Samba school drums at the corners,

cachaça bottles passed around.

Women singing the Carnaval tune

Não se esqueça de mim.

Don't leave me, don't forget.

My future--full of missing words,

eavesdropping at the tables

of the deaf, late afternoon

smell of exhaustion.


 He's gone.  Lady Yemanjá laughs

in the room above the kitchen.

I cross the conjure woman's palm

and go out.  The whole town

is in the streets, masked dancers

drumming their true names

from continents that still would fit


together--embracing face to face

like lovers in the salt and sweat

of their sea-displacing passion.

Fishermen drag in their nets

and fall to their knees between

the silver thighs of women.


 Publication Credits:   

First published in Kayak. 

Poets of the New Century, ed. Roger Weingarten (David R. Godine, 2001).

 Seasons of Mangoes and Brainfire, Eastern Washington UP/Lynx House Books, 2nd edition 2005).  Blue Lynx Prize; Oklahoma Book Award in Poetry; American Book Award.

Copyright © 2000, 2005 by Carolyne Wright.




Aymara Woman on Socabaya Street
(Potosí, Bolivia


 She squats on the corner,

a cud of coca wadded in one cheek.

Whatever the inside of a stone thinks

must shine in her

as she spins a spool of wool

in and out of her fingers,

the center in a wheel of skirts.

Onions in baskets and bowls

filled with corn gruel at her feet.

Shrug of her shawl to ward off my eye

and she's faceless.  A padded

alpaca hump.


Faint bulbs strung in a mine

glow on hands sorting

over the moving belts.

Fingers blink across the tin.

Bulbs swing as a rumble

dawns deep in the rock.

The glow on fingers stutters

as the roof falls in, dark

as shawls pitched over the sun.


She speaks to me

in a tongue guttural as lead.

A creased hand paws my pocket.

I gesture, I have nothing.

Her eyes flint hard against mine,

she spits out her name for me

with a curse and laughs.

What she invokes

turns the corner with me.


That night, my dreams

file like miners from their shafts,

carrying the old words

knotted in sisal, gold masks

from faces with no memories.  

In abandoned cities,

five-hundred-year-old echoes

catch up to their cries.

Over the high ranges,

axes go up and down.

Strange hands loosen on the stone.


 Publication Credits: 

 First published in Quarterly West.

 Seasons of Mangoes and Brainfire, Eastern Washington UP/Lynx House Books, 2nd edition 2005).  Blue Lynx Prize; Oklahoma Book Award in Poetry; American Book Award.

Copyright © 2000, 2005 by Carolyne Wright.


Eulene Stays the Course


Not yet wise to the disaster

imperative, Eulene teaches her eyes

to blur for self-protection.  No visions

no regrets.  Always at the cable station

some worst-case scenario scrolls

out of the control-room fax machine,

defying all final solutions.

Meanwhile, out in the Real World

Eulene keeps on overdoing it,

jostling through the rush-hour

subway tunnels of the baby boom,


a salmon to spawning.  Each year

she adds a whole page to her résumé,

waits her turn on the search

committee's fish ladder.

She eyes the other candidates'

briefcases and prep-school scarves

in the ice-cream parlor waiting room.

She can finger her take-a-number

as anxiously as the best of them,

watch the forward march

of digits on the wall counter


like the Dow Jones closing average.

In these inflationary times

even Eulene's stocks are on the rise.

But she's not taking any chances.

She's put away her love beads,

signed up for courses in computer

programming and lowered expectations.

She knows the Big Boys

watch her glance from right to left

before punching in, her party membership

obvious as cholo-writing



on the housing project walls.

They've got a whole microchip

on her at the National Bank

of Intrigue, and they're not afraid

to deploy it.  Eighty million more

where she came from.  Survival's

the name of the game for the rat

bulge in the gopher snake.

Why didn't Eulene's parents think

of this before they filled up

America with subdivisions?



Publication Credits:   

First published in Willow Springs.Mania Klepto: the Book of Eulene (Turning Point Books, 2011).

PoetryMagazine.com is published by Gilford Multimedia LLC  www.nycny.net

Mary Barnet


Grace Cavalieri

Joan Gelfand

Janet Brennan