Susan Carlisle

Photograph of Judy, Holding Elk Heart
(after photograph by Laura McPhee)

What is it makes us want
to hold a big wet heart
that just stopped beating?

By the bodies of the newly dead
we linger, talk—hoping
they will hear us,
the ears the last
to close the senses’ door

Judy in her rawhide jacket
in some Dakota barn:
how heavy the elk heart looks
in her steady hands, its minerals.
And how blue her eyes.

Trying to get used to winter
we run our fingertips along
its serrated edge
again and again.


In my dream I am asked to deliver
A spider to Jacques Derrida
At his home on the outskirts of Paris.
His books, I hear, are very special
Though I have never read them.
The spider is nothing special—
No hourglass or bitter fur—
Yet our journey is difficult
And I do not have shoes or socks
And I must seek the help of several
Older women to find my way
To empty buses and empty streets.

I think this dream is really about
My job where I am asked to produce
Deliverables, not knowing what they are.

The spider rests on a sweater and does not move.
My French comes back to me
And I am—for a moment—fluent.

Susan Carlisle

Susan Carlisle has published her poems in a range of literary journals and magazines, such as Epoch, Agni, The Women’s Review of Books, and Many Mountains Moving. She teaches writing at MIT and lives south of Boston.