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Matthew Carlin

Summer 2009

I still haven’t read Augustine.

C. K. Williams

In the dark, I feel it, that empty space of right here, this moment.

It’s June and hot, and I’ve decided I’m done convincing myself that I was ever in love

because I wouldn’t feel the way I feel about her now,

or about me, how so much of it was an imagined me with an imagined her.

I’m online, looking at stills of NFL cheerleaders

because a fire has to start somewhere, and I’m bored from the sudden emptiness

of summer, let down by the beginning of adulthood, the finality of it.

I’ve used images of women like this before, secretly, to fill me only with feeling:

wireless connection, pixels, screen and cursor,

the absence of their names or histories, turn it into a hit of some warm drug,

and I take a hit and I take a hit until it’s

several hours until daylight. I know to pray for forgiveness after every night like this,

but the prayer is as much of a compulsion as the act itself.

Mornings after, I pace behind the coffee kiosk in the espresso machine steam

and sunlight, remind myself, yes, you looked again,

yes, you looked again, but that little pleasure chemical hook hooks me even then,

even when I’m coming up with plans to stop for good,

to be a good Christian. Man up, the mantra of a summer built on obsession and spasm,

but then it’s late August, and I should be getting ready for college

and not still thinking about her, but I’m not and I am, and this obsession lets me be

absent to what I can’t stand. Within the year,

the women I watch will talk to the camera, look right at me, and still I’ll watch,

forget everything but the feeling mounting. By then it will be spring, I’ll be nineteen,

but feel so much older, and feel and feel and feel

my eyes grow large as bays filled with the names of the women I won’t believe

could have their own obsessions, their own wrecked loves.

Fire Sermon Fragments

To wander.

To steady one another

with our hands.

The marriage is over, darling,

the honeymoon suite still as a photograph

in my mind—

your eyes in the vanity mirror,


Listen: There is a crashing like a drawer of silverware

that is the soul. This is not theology, but it has the heft of annotation,

pages of it.

A gathering of dust.

What union leaves two halves halved again and again?

I used to love kissing your eyelids, how you would unbuckle my belt without breaking

your gaze—

how to beg God

into the bright folds

of our exertion

how to be useful, an immaculate vessel,

something that can hold much and not buckle

Can you hear it?

Can you hear the chamber spinning?

to make a blessing out of the scraps of


I watch daylight fade while waiting for the bus. When it arrives in the dark, there are no other passengers. The driver nods silently, and we begin crossing street after street, the only vehicle on the long, unlit road.

The houses we pass are unlit, too—their doors blank

as canvases.

Maybe hell is this.

A scratch of light.

Contradiction in the landscape, stone crumbling

to reveal bone. We are the landscape and the contradiction.

We wait for God in the ruins

while lightning spreads its fingers

across the sky.

We wait for the thunder.

We wait for the thunder to roll in.

Rooms by the Sea: Oil on Canvas: Edward Hopper, 1951


To build a voice from the ocean-swell,

to turn that voice into a room—a space to hold

every mistake, every lost chance, every distance

crossed for nothing or for the wrong reasons,

every unhinging, every clutching,

every turning toward and away from,

every season brought down

and trampled on—all of our stories built up,

one on top of the other, until they come crashing down,

wave after wave.


I have said that Hopper’s light is particular, that it does not seem to fill the air.

Instead, it seems to adhere to walls and objects, almost as if it comes from them,

emanating from their carefully conceived and distributed tones.

Mark Strand

A kind of confession booth

where nothing needs to be said,

a chapel with the door thrown open,

sunlight raw on the white walls,

the walls white as eggshells

and scarred, a current running

through them, thin, trilling,

white hot, incommunicable

distance, not unlike music,

yet quiet and slow, almost silent,

almost gone.


As if these rooms where made for communion. Almost.

To be redeemed by being touched—a thumb dragged down

another’s lips, wetting them with seawater.

All the ways two people could move,

could turn a space into their movement.

If you and I

could enter this space,

sleepless as it is, and rising, slowly,

above the waves.


And now,

let us make what we can

from what is left behind,

the blue of water and the blue

of sky. Wander the rooms with me,

mark every surface with a brushstroke—

I with the water, you,

the sky.


Matthew Carlin is a poet from Auburn, California. He holds an MFA from the University of Pittsburgh, and his poems have previously appeared in Pittsburgh Poetry Review, Vinyl, Bodega, and Ekstasis. In 2019, he presented a Pecha Kucha on writing a poetry manuscript—you can find his presentation at


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