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Wyvern Lit

Four Poems

Poetry by Emily Carroll



On a stack of monitors in the Guggenheim’s

concrete cathedral, a woman in white

scrubs a skeleton with a rough brush,

recalling, the placard says, the death

rites performed by Tibetan monks.


She directs the force of her narrow limbs

like she is playing a giant stringed instrument,

virtuoso in a white gown, somehow gaudily austere.


In Tibet, a corpse is being prepared

on a mountaintop by laughing men

who set tables for birds.


At the hands she must pause, moving

her grooved thumbs through the grooves

of thumbs, stubborn joint to stubborn joint.


Her soapy fingers mesmerize, the body remembering

a truth she has forgotten, the unyielding grime

of the hand forcing every counterpart in her

to forget its garish purpose, neglect the white dress.


Somewhere in the museum of her body,

a picture of her own death is being hung.




“When I look over the photographs Stieglitz took of me—some of them more than sixty years ago—I wonder who that person is. It is as if in my one life I have lived many lives…His idea of a portrait was not just one picture.”

—Georgia O’Keeffe


A hand, a breast.

He’d learned something of her

fastidious curvature before he ever saw her.

Fell in love with the paintings he’d hung

in his gallery before the bony creature appeared

in New York to demand he take them down.

In the early ones, he’s still married

to another woman, still making pictures the old way.



He wasn’t subtle—a moralist,

German-trained, he liked angles

and machinery. No wonder

he loved her hands, they had

a tender implacable logic

of their own, the way he must

have imagined law.



He loved to take her in the afternoon,

in the little studio West of the park,

when the light was best.

There, among her easels and things,

she and the work were of one body.



This is what it’s like to be loved, not perfectly,

but categorically.

The way he must have loved

her dormant missile of a body,

to never make her look

like a painting.



Degas spent his whole life making pictures of women,

and found, by the end, some continuous poetry between them.

Stieglitz spent his whole life making pictures of one woman,

and found something closer to religion.



Somewhere, he forgot

the difference between discovery

and creation, the turning back

of the sheets and the violent possibility

of the blank canvas. To think

he could uncover the body,

and not the woman. This is a portrait

of love in a violent century.



This is the difference

between a romance and a love story—

the way he hated

her big black Model T.

The way her hands

on that hubcap had the threatening

magic of her desert pictures,

made far away from him.

The way the portrait was never

quite finished. The way she just

continued and





for Saartjie Baartman

domestic violence, we say. so easy. rising out from the homeplace, seeping into the groundwater. praise how you painted its name across continents, poured forth a river of daughters to sing your real name. praise pap smear and hysteroscopy and episiotomy, all their parts still humming on wet mount slides, all the parts left cut open or festering or ignored by rapists and doctors and husbands. praise the woman who reminds them of you, something inside her ruptured and bleeding in their white emergency room. praise the part of her whose name she will not know until it is taken from her. domus, one home, one violence. praise your labia, entombed in a jar for one-hundred-fifty-seven years. praise the women who fought to bury you in your first soil. praise so many of their own unmarked graves, the flesh from which we carved immortal experiments, the others cut or sterilized for science or sport. praise the branching, shrouded clitoris. you had been dead a century before we ever took its snapshot, knew how far it reached, that rarest orchid, flower they would not see to cut. praise your still undiscovered body, all the parts of you they’ll never find.




In the waiting room, the women

are either pregnant or sad.

Everyone tries hard to make eye contact

with the pregnant ones, kind or hopeful,

which is to say, we will steal joy if we must.

We all hope they will sit in the center

of the room, so that the sad women

can cling to the walls, eyes on their phones

or in their purses until their names are called,

little betrayal by the calm nurse. The women

who are both pregnant and sad, no one looks at,

though the waiting room is full of those

who were or will be like them, which is to say

that these women know that to hurt

is not to understand pain. It seems

as though I should cede the room to them, 

though it took a two-hour bus ride

and seven years of wrong doctors

to reach the waiting room. The woman

with a set of instruments and half a hand inside me

says I am doing a great job—which is to say

that this is not my fault. That she knows

how easily the body becomes prison,

butterfly pinned to a slip of Latin, your mother’s

worst fear. How easily you could never be anyone’s

home. How it would take days and days

to pour you out. How it is important

not to look too hard at anyone.