5 Poems by /Tate Lewis-Carroll


Tate Lewis-Carroll (he/him) is a poetry editor for The Ocotillo Review, an editor for Kallisto Gaia Press, and was selected to guest edit the 2022 Texas Poetry Calendar. He got married in October and now lives with his wife and 6 pets surrounded by corn in central Illinois. His work appears in Modern Haiku, december magazine, Dispatches from the Poetry Wars, and more. Visit https://tatelewispoetry.wixsite.com/home for more information and follow him on instagram @tplpoetry.

if i said crows

After Robert Hass

if i said, moles
tugging at the quiet winter
of her skin—

if i said highways
think shoulders,
growing and shrinking
along the horizon of her eye—

if i said final frost,
the first sprouts in her garden
of glossy and raspy fruit—

if i said nightfall,
a moon flower twirls
for a quiet audience—

if i said lemon and mint,
the cafe outside herakloin,
all the darkened mouths
of fields of poppies—

if i said northern wind,
ruffled, hunching
under her worn-out overcoat—

if i said oil slick,
ink smear, a graveyard
welling up with…

if i said blackness,
but meant sleep instead of despair,
or answers alighting, all day,
out of reach—

crows, i said,
always in every direction—
the problem of describing Love.


“At the / end of his life his life began / to wake in me.”

-Sharon Olds

I carry my father now
inside my lungs
where he dreams
and kicks and scratches
his new fingernails.
With every breath
from his womb
a heat lines my tongue
and nostrils with steam.
I choke on his name
but exhale nothing.
When can I finally breathe
for myself, again?
Our flesh never stitches together more, hungrier flesh.
No dormant milk ripens around our bulk of bones.
How will I ever deliver
or abort?


What’s Left

My father left his eyes,
some framed
in wood and glass,
some spilled into boxes
with his clothes
and flight manuals
and metal figures
and Ali interviews.

frosted pine trees—
what else besides perfect?


Cities aren’t that big,
hills still surround them.

Snow falls
on mountains
and my lips.

If I had a peaceful heart it would look like this.

Sharks are born swimming
birds are born singing
we are born dying


Peonies in Reverse

In June, going on May, bushes of yellow and pink ombré crowns,

no heavier than tissue paper, follow the sun East

in my back yard and repel fluttering monarchs.

Their antennae propel them up into the sky 

toward their mending chrysalises where they refold

their delicate wings and re-liquefy. 

Then the mosquito, smeared across my arm in a red goo,

shimmies its thorax, then legs, wings, compound eyes, feelers

back into their proper positions, while the proboscis

re-pierces my arm and injects its bloody serum 

into my diminishing welt before whining away.

The flower’s ruffled layers of carpels, stamens, and cupped petals collapse 

and constrict into buds, green and bald heads, balls of impacted matter.

Ants march backwards from the ends of crimping leaves 

to scatter the grains of sand from their hill and cave-in their tunnels.

The stems wither and shrink and ruin while roots expel watery nutrients 

into the flooding soil; swallowing everything nearby.

Even the slightest weight will snap their twig bodies.

Peonies in reverse crumple down and down,

yearning to be bright and full again, not unlike my father 

when the surgeon explained why a younger patient

moved above him on the transplant list.


The Struck Leader

When I was seventeen, my mother and father sent me away
to the Boundary Waters for a 28-day, Outward-Bound, interception program—
for teenagers who fell into the wrong hands.

Immediately, me and six other boys stumbled down skinny paths,
kicking the pines on either edge, hauling overstuffed backpacks
filled with wet clothes, Epson salt, evaporated milk, granola, iodine,
while passing back and forth three, metal canoes—designed for two.
When another trail ended at yet another lake, two of us paddled the extra boy
and cursed every time he shifted.

Storms whipped through the forest, loon feathers, muskrat fur,
ripped up our tents and scattered our belongings for 25 days,
so, I don’t remember which dark, growling day
our leader, Zippy, told us about another group’s leader
who died on those trails just weeks before. Supposedly, lightning struck him
like a match in a pool of kerosene
and then his group paddled his charred remains forty miles back to base camp.

That night, I saw nothing but the struck leader
and burned myself on his skin kiln firing his heart and bones,
watched his eyes poach, his teeth bite through his tongue,
him, twisted, stiff, on the bottom of a canoe
baking in the sun or bloating in the rain.
In my tent, Felix leaned over and said I would have left him.

And still, on nights when I paddle down rivers of reverie,
lost somewhere in-between further and former,
he returns, tiptoes toward my bow and crackles with fire.

Then I am a locust in a field under a yellow,
roaring crop duster blanketing me with him.
Next, I am a mallard lifting from a pond into the thunder
of his barrel, firing blackened finger tips
into my chest. I bob in the startled water
and wait for his dog to fetch me.

How many wrong rivers did those boys turn down
with him in their canoe? Did they meet anyone wailing
along the shore of their arrival? Why can we never leave the dead and push off from shore in an empty canoe?


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