Caroline Shea


previously published in COG Magazine

"There are knives that glitter like altars."— Charles Simic 

Each Sunday, I would bring the cold lip of the chalice

to my closed mouth, swallowing only air.

We learn early to approximate the holiness 

we cannot capture. 


And always there was the question of what to do with the loneliness

of my wrists— lily-white and barren 

as the altar before Easter. This took longer to learn.


The first time, the blood pearls along the vein like stigmata, 

each thin line erupting into raised red braille. 


Not a prayer but an attempt at alchemy. 

Even the Holy Ghost marveled at my knack 

for the miraculous. I took each rotten rib

and wrenched it out. Injury as a mode of transfiguration—

turning static into something sharp and starved. 


Pain demands 

a form to cling to— a crucifix, a mother-tongue, a scar.

When the marks first began to fade,

I mourned them, each dash a stillbirth nestled in my gut. 


I tilt the cup to my lips without thinking now, 

mouth fuzzed with Christ-blood.

I am still trying to unbend the glittering altar of my body

into something livable. In the future I will be shaped

like something I can forgive. 


I don’t want 

to wake you, so I breathe around 

the ache. I am so good at making space

for the body’s inconveniences. 

The ones we carve into the rind

of each day and the ones which carve

themselves into us. There are moments,

looking at the muss of your hair,

where I think tenderness might be worth it. 

How do I have to hurt for it to matter?

I have been asking this question

since the bluish-bruise of me crested 

into the unasked-for earth. 

Our bodies, the summit 

of someone else’s desire.

Little lineages of lust and hope. 

Some days it seems almost silly—

to want to own oneself. 

My silence grows fertile and limp.

In the morning, I will bury

it by the dumpster. Bleary-

eyed, you ask me what the time is.

Speech breaks through shell and membrane, 

slips like yolk over my lips.

You know me by the inch,

this flesh and mess of me.

I imagine my other body: a divine machine.

I do not think I would know my form unmarked.

And now —the thought uncoils—I do not want to.

Backstroke with Lightning

The rocks sunned a Rothko red, their edges scabbed and slick with moss,

I am debating the benefits of becoming

more mysterious. 


The tin sheet of afternoon wavers against shoreline,

shimmering with almost-rain. 

The lake churns in thick slabs of slate, cradling us back towards the rocks,

spraying quartz, water droplets strewn through our hair like diadems. 


I obliterate myself, leave prayer flag scraps waving

on the spikes of late-night conversations. I want to learn a way of existing

that isn’t as an open wound. 


We dive under on a count of three, hair suspended in seaweed tangles.

I would like to live here, in this wild in-between. A fossilized moment,

free of expectation. 


Light tessellates across the lake floor, 

a net of sun buoying our bodies back towards being.

We emerge breathless, laughing, baptised.

Breathe in the ripple of thunder, taste of lightning metallic on my tongue. 


Retreating to shore, I watch the storm descend without apology,

puckering the silk of the sand. 

This is a necessary letting go. Here, watch me skin myself whole,

and let the lake lick the pink of me clean. 

An Index of Common Mid-Atlantic Tree Diseases

previously published in Maps For Teeth Magazine

The first time I came home,

The neighborhood was naked and raw 

as a summer leg or a chicken after slaughter. 

They had cut down the trees and the empty space ricocheted 

off the backs of my eyelids. 

Trunks once lined both sides of the street,

neatly framing eighteen years. Their bark blighted and branches sagging

with rot, it was necessary to remove them. The messy business of sickness

is usually better done in silence. Or not at all.


Stumps throbbed

in manicured lawns like ingrown toenails. Without the arc 

of their white-blossomed ribs, the straining corset of the street 

came undone. 


They don’t tell you your bed will feel borrowed

the first time you sleep in it again,

a stranger on the bus, pressed too closely to your side. 

Everything familiar slants foreign, eventually—

or is it the other way around? Regardless:

I struggle to navigate myself among the jetsam of my childhood,

to calibrate my reactions based on outdated maps. 


It turns out nineteen is a year of liminal space—

halo of highway crowning New England’s scalp and the burnt scab of rest-stop coffee.

Change sits more easily with me than it once did. When you say:

You didn’t used to be like this. I think, yes,

but so what? My pain is a dead language I once spoke,

its words now unwieldy in my mouth: 

Melanconium betulinum, Nectria galligena, Botryosphaeria.

Syllables grow ripe and cankerous

before falling bloated to the ground. 

They don’t want my sorrow unless they can own it,

but it’s not mine to give. 

 Sneha Subramanian Kanta is a GREAT scholarship awardee, and has earned a second postgraduate degree in literature from England. Her chapbook titled Home is Hyperbole won the Boston Uncommon Chapbook Series (Boston Accent Lit). She is the founding editor of Parentheses Journal. An old soul, she runs a patisserie.

Caroline Shea was formerly the Editor in Chief of Vantage Point Magazine. Her poetry has appeared in Bad Pony Magazine, COG Magazine, Souvenir, Moonsick Magazine, and others. She lives in New England and works as an editorial assistant for a local women-run press.