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Carol Hamilton

Telling the Truth


The child knows crossed fingers

behind your back lets you lie,

but I never bother, blithely

work the art, think it a virtue.

That day we children raked

the withered browns and golds,

all afternoon bathed in the dust of dying leaf,

all for the old lady across the street

in a porch-aproned house

I never entered. But she promised us

a wiener roast and charred,

sticky marshmallows behind her house

at dusk while burning our labors.

I could not wait.  

They must all be having fun without me.

My mother sent me to see. 

The yard was drearily empty,

but I hurried home to report

the jolly crowd I pretended I saw there.

I did not cross fingers

or anything except my mother’s logic. 

The found-out liar stayed home that night,

nursed my tragedy, nurse it still. 

I did not learn a thing, though. 

Ask me how you look

in that new outfit, and,

despite the spiraling stripes

which balloon your girth,  

I will reply, “Wonderful!  Wonderful!”

 "Don't Disturb the Birds"


The desert swallows built their nest

            balanced on the inside lintel

of the double garage door,


perhaps thinking it another of the cliffs 

            surrounding us in glorious golds and oranges

to enclose our sprawling campgrounds.


The garage was a shortcut for humans

        to the main gathering places

(dining room, assembly hall, library,


 nurse's station ) from high mesa housing

         or the desert road, and so the sign.

I often skirted the station wagon housed there


as I trudged and climbed from there to here

            and here to there. I tried to obey,

but chirps and cheeps rained down on me


as I passed through, and tiny balls of gray fluff

            appeared at the rim of their twig and clay bowl.

The sign asking care did not stop


my causing turmoil among the avians

            … they temporarily there just as I …

I stirring things up despite intentions.


Like it or not, our arrival anywhere tends

            to act as steam roller, and time often

tells how ruin follows our human progress.


Warnings are warranted. When they

             see us coming it may be wise

to turn a little flustered, sound the alarm.

A Bridge in the Distance


crosses the Colorado

at the base of the Grand Canyon,

looks too far away after six hours

of agony getting to this flat trail,

hours of jars and jolts as the hooves

of our mules bore us down, down,

so safely down, with each step

pile-hammered up our human spines.

As we descended, I saw none

of the glories of canyon walls,

never thought of swift- passing eons

of sediment. But the bridge

will lead us to that place of preparation

for a new day and our return to earth's rim,

a day to glory in our beasts' soft ascent,

padding upward as we, at last,

can dream the long history

layered around us, the golds,

the carmines, the sand shades

laid down, layers and layers

of sediment dropped, sediment

on its own unimaginably long journey.

But now the bridge is still so distant,
so far from our hope to climb

and imagine eras within only hours,

hours stolen out of our 

so short and fragile lives.

Murphy Bed


In the movies of my childhood there were

often Murphy beds hidden in smooth walls,

perhaps in small NYC apartments, great props

for comediennes. Ann Tyler wrote of an old lady's

Murphy bed she always fearfully looked under

after pulling it down for the night, she, perhaps,

like me, too much taught hopes and fears

by the movies of those days. My friends and I

could walk to see, for 10 cents, a new show,

a cartoon, newsreel and serial (a cliffhanger).             


I never dreamed I wanted a Murphy bed until

my friends got one, a family heirloom, and I was

allowed to sleep on it in their added-on room

overlooking the lake, windows all around. This piece

not like an ironing board hidden in the wall

but an impressive, heavy affair of golden oak

with elegant scrolls of floral design, a hidden bed

to be  moved about with effort and muscle,

a fantasy  meant for elegant, over-furnished rooms

of an era with servants meant for heavy-lifting..


That night, my first visit since they inherited

the stately piece, I slept in Victorian splendor, awakened ,

as always, before anyone else, turned on the coffee,

sipped and watched from among pillows and comforter

as the east lightened, the lake glittered,  and I surely

would have swooned into the arms of any dashing hero

who might have entered into my romantic setting.

Every later visit I hoped to repeat my night

of elegant comfort, but they had pushed the piece

aside forever and returned me to the guest room.


Now the lake house is gone, and the Murphy bed

must have been a victim of downsizing.

I never asked where it went

or even asked myself where "they went," 

those, my youthful dreams of romantic splendor.

 From a Passing Billboard


I write myself on every wall

            I stand and wave my arms

in front of every movie screen


My name is scrawled up and down

the margins in that book you read

and, of course, like Kilroy


and Alfred E. Newman

            my gap-toothed grin is right there

staring up from every hand-held device


you ever dreamed of

            yet somehow like those faces

and giant eyes and hollows


sunk between racked and finely-hung

            bones of starving children

with a flip of your finger I vanish

Scariest Nightmares


The radio informs me children

no longer fear quicksand, and my mind

immediately goes to the Cimarron River,

a hopeful nomenclature,

as it was ever a placid stream

on a wide spread of sand, straw-pale.

Family trips downstate to visit cousins,

times anticipated like the passing

of the ice cream man, were marred

by my terror of the metal and cement

and asphalt crossing-bridge that might

dump us down into  the fabled, fatal

swamp of sucking sand below us.

Today's story said children of the '60s

had the greatest fear of this slippery

maelstrom … always hungry for victims.

My decade, the '40's, came in a close second

with this dread, which only began

as the film industry started up

and spread its tensions by raising volume

on scary music. The number of movie stars

I watched sink, flailing after one unwary step,

grew year by year, competing with the  many

sleeping innocents, blissfully unaware

of the hairy tarantula's silent creeping

up their sheets, soon to touch exposed flesh.

Now the children never think of these things.

I wonder what haunts their bedtime hours …

perhaps finding themselves with empty hands

and a sudden lack of a mesmerizing screen.

Carol 14_edited.jpg

Carol Hamilton has retired from teaching 2nd grade through graduate school in Connecticut, Indiana and Oklahoma, from storytelling and volunteer medical translating. She is a former Poet Laureate of Oklahoma and has published 19 books and chapbooks:: children's novels, legends and poetry. She has been nominated ten times for a Pushcart Prize. She has won a Southwest Book Award, Oklahoma Book Award, David Ray Poetry Prize, Byline Magazine literary awards in both short story and poetry, Warren Keith Poetry Award, Pegasus Award and a Chiron Review Chapbook Award.

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