Nicole Caruso Garcia
Nicole Caruso Garcia is an American poet who writes mainly Formalist poetry. She was born in New Jersey in 1972 and currently resides in
Connecticut. She was educated at Fairfield University in English and Religious
Studies, and after seven years in corporate industry, she left to earn her M.S.
in Education from The University of Bridgeport. Her poetry has appeared in print and online journals such as Mezzo Cammin, Willow Review,
The Raintown Review, The Sow's
Ear Poetry Review, Soundings East, The Ledge, Poetry Midwest, and Small Pond
Magazine of Literature. Her work also appeared in the poetry anthology
Mother is a Verb. She received the Spring 2010 Willow Review Award. She
teaches Poetry and Creative Writing at Trumbull High School. Despite her
penchant for formalism, her rapping alter ego, Capital G, often visits to bust a
rhyme for her students. Her first video, "Plagiarism Rap," debuted on YouTube in
2012. She was also a Summer Institute Fellow of the Connecticut Writing Project
Those homos, Mother sneers. Oh, here she goes.
Of all the rows,
we’ve parked next to a bumper that offends
her. It contends
LOVE MAKES A FAMILY. She mocks it, sighs,
and rolls her eyes.
For now I’m spared her lecture’s holy fist.
The grocery list
awaits. She raised me well, yet now her milk
has made me ache,
imagining the brimstone on my plate
if I weren’t straight.
She’d go full apoplectic if she knew
the work I do
at school, the hippy Jesuits who teach
my mind to arch,
not what to think, but how. The art of Why?
I want to say,
Some scholars claim that Michelangelo
was gay, although
he worked for seven popes till eighty-eight,
pried heaven’s gate
ajar from vaulting canopies of gray.
Could you still pray
beneath the Sistine ceiling if they proved
it’s men he loved?
Would you insist that he was just a perv?
Did he not serve
the Lord as well as any splintered saint?
From dark constraint,
he rescued figures trapped in marble. When
God shaped that man,
He knew that earthly hand would paint the grand
Observe the fingertip of God, the thin
space left between
His hand and Adam’s reach, the quiet shout
of it. And might
that space be freedom, or is it a wound,
like love recoiled?
I see God tether Adam with His stare
and hold him there,
although the gift of spinning Eden waits
with all its fruits.
But I can’t ask her this, the atmosphere
back in the car
so hot and still, cool apples in my lap
like globes of hope.
In Praise of Discipline
As green as Goldilocks, no formalist,
upon that four-post bed I flung my dress.
Then you arrived—a real foot fetishist—
and coaxed me into ropes of slack and stress.
You showed me dexterous ways to fit chateau,
champagne, and chattel in a sonnet’s box.
My free-verse friends are skeptical, as though
it’s kinky to prefer it orthodox.
I love the way you shout, Verboten! Nein!
I need restraint in order to be free.
You turn a blindfold to a crown, enshrine
the sacred sheets where we make poetry.
Some judge me as a twisted character
but haven’t scanned a quatrain in my shoes—
(or iamb-studded collar, as it were).
I’m happy to play hostage to you, Muse.
Yet when I miss my freer days, the thrill
of swinging from the chandelier, form tossed,
we role play in blank verse and you fulfill
my fantasy of tennis with Bob Frost.
So slap my bottom if my lines don’t scan;
I’ll wrestle till we come to a détente.
I rule my sovereign kingdom with élan,
though you pretend I’m not Frau Kommandant.
Now come, mein Zuchtmeister for whom I purr.
Let’s couch our iambs in pentameter.
La Femme Obscure
Though sailors woo her, flashing galleons
and cannon bronze,
let phalanxes of stars retreat. She needs
no glinting guards.
She is both empress and the castle keep,
her fortress deep,
five thousand fathoms of obsidian.
Dismiss the moon
drawn like a scimitar against the throat
of creeping light,
for she is sanctuary strong as stone,
her court within
great vaulting halls of coral tapestries,
smooth decades strung like pearls around her wrist.
With merely mist
for battlements, she stands a citadel
At daybreak she emerges molten gold,
both coy and bold,
behind her ear an orchid of white foam.
Beneath that bloom,
her naked shallows freckled warm with light,
she blinks, and yet
her stoic stare belies each wound or kiss
in her abyss.
She cradles good men whom she could not save,
attends each grave,
yet wrestles scoundrels to her chamber floors.
Despite the boors
who offer bagatelles of bristly lace,
and jetsam in her depths like an ersatz
trousseau, their nets
she silvers bright with fish. And with each wave,
she tries to heave
ashore the contents of her deepest trench,
as if the beach
could bear inscription carved like rare white jade.
Across mute sand
she hears the wind bring ballads laced with rum
and myth's perfume.
Ships' amber lanterns make men's shadows grow
with claims to know
her countless coves, her vast domains;
yet she remains
aloof and sprawling nude from sky to shore,
la femme obscure.
Published in Mezzo Cammin
If You Are Reading This
If you are reading this, my love, then we
have reached “for poorer” since our wedding day.
Forgive this frugal anniversary;
unwrap these fragments, gifts I tucked away:
I gather birdsong, chirps that percolate,
the scent of dew and diesel in the air.
Although the sun unlocks the morning gate,
the moon still lingers, just to say she’s there.
The bookstore beckons addicts to her ink.
I fan through brand new titles, crisp and sweet,
inhale the tomes until so paper-drunk
the clerk ejects me back out on the street.
And then, a quest for subtler liquors brings
me to a dozen dog-eared stacks to search.
I hold their scent of reverence in my lungs
like incense burning in an ancient church.
At home, I find transcendence in the act
of making lunch. Behold this afternoon,
a jar of peanut butter, whorl intact,
a landscape yet uncharted by a spoon.
And soon, above the hammock where I sway,
the clouds are powdered wigs with woolly curls.
While edged in pink and cream, against a day
so blue, a vision of Versailles unfurls.
By night, our yard is filled with lullabies,
when thriftiness has shut off every lamp,
and silent music of the fireflies
plucks darkness softly as a golden harp.
And all these things I gathered just for you,
in case we were too poor for fine hotels
or jewels, furs, or villas with a view.
Reserve the satin sheets for jezebels.
Just cool, clean sheets against our sunburned skin,
sheets tucked so tight we have to wiggle in.
Published in Willow Review; winner of the Spring 2010 Willow Review
Observe the bluish hue before the dawn,
when snowy trees play hide-and-seek, the grove
so halcyon and feathery with hush.
A twig-lash scarcely blinks. As night's last flakes
fall soft as silent bells, a yawning moon
lays down her bobbin lace and fades to sleep.
When dawn turns violet, trees fringed in gowns
of icy arabesque all masquerade
and peek through veils like breathless woodland brides,
too rapt to know that they already wear
the color of surrender. Innocent
and cosseted as lambs, they stand condemned.
Lament the hour when one vermillion-robed
Inquisitor ascends and takes his seat
within the blue tribunal of the sky.
By noon, that wicked star will strip these maids
who blaspheme beauty too ethereal.
He'll let wet lace drip down their length and pool
around their feet. They'll stir the wind with cries
of Miserere mei, Deus, stretch
their limbs toward heaven, shivering with fire
till mourning doves all startle from their hands.
Published in Mezzo Cammin
Coloring Book of the Saints
Saint Francis of Assisi's tonsured head
was purple. My mistake. He seemed to wear
a beanie like the Pope's, so how was I
to know his head was partly shaved, a field
where God's light shone its holy tractor beam?
I felt uneasy, having wronged a saint.
The next page showed a young Italian girl.
Maria Goretti was not yet twelve,
but beautiful. Her story new to me,
it told of how, amid her household chores,
an older neighbor boy, enraged, had stabbed
her fourteen times "because she would not sin."
I tried to thumb its meaning like a bead
within a rosary, its place secure.
And on her deathbed she forgave the boy?
He had no halo, and he worried me,
as if I'd heard a jangling chain and feared
what dog might lurch into my yard or when.
I'd rather they had shown Bartholomew.
Beheaded, first he suffered skinned alive.
I could have taken comfort in such gore,
the barber-surgeon's knife in honest view.
Apostles were the renegades, grown men,
and yet Maria's wounds were on my page.
I searched cathedral rows of crayons, found
bright halo yellow, red, and peach for flesh.
Yet blunt with wear, they couldn't be precise.
I knew to hone one worthy, I would have
to peel its sleeve, no measure too severe
when sharpening an instrument of God.
Published in Mezzo Cammin
Reading the Destructions
You don't chew Barbie's nose and toes, otherwise
trading becomes difficult. The fair market exchange—
even among sisters—is one pristine Barbie for five
Leper Colony Barbies. Dolls must be traded
with original wardrobes and accessories.
You aren't the one who hid Sandy Seaweed's hair
behind the couch. You don't trifle with dolly haircuts;
it's tricky business, trying to unload a bald mermaid.
No, you are no barber. You are a dismantler.
Your wreckage serves a higher purpose.
You challenge truth. Stretch Armstrong!
It's more than a name; it's a command.
Test the boundaries, push him to his limit.
It takes you and a friend, but eventually
his skin ruptures and gel oozes out.
High school dumps you in alphabetical order
at a cold black slab. You meet your new lab partner,
and maybe it's just the formaldehyde talking,
but you feel eager. You're ready
to take his hand and cut apart this frog.
In time, you wind each other's hearts
like music boxes. You rest your head against
his chest, its secret physics unexplored.
How intricate the gears and springs.
And you, how inquisitive.
Published in The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review
Inside a diary quite pink and tame,
in purple ink my first love's name was set.
But I was nine, so names renounced became
confetti I could scatter and forget.
Compelled to purge each scrap of evidence,
I ripped. The rabbit on the cover smiled,
more willing to be marred by this offense
than by these false devotions be defiled.
I grew, pronounced my love upon man's lips
in earnest. Feathery, each stroke I signed,
my body scrawled across the mattress. Script
so deftly forged leaves volumes to unbind.
And now, mind stained with my calligraphy,
what can I tear with schoolgirl luxury?
Published in Mezzo Cammin
For My Mother, Who Cannot Swim
You said, "Can't save you if you're drowning," so
you made me take swim lessons at the Y
and public pool, and when the Guppy class
was full, they threw me in with Sharks. "Jump in,"
they said, "we'll catch you"—what a lie—and off
the diving board I went. You trusted them,
but I lacked confidence in strangers who
let water fill my nostrils as I tread
above eight feet of liquid death. How wise
you were, preparing me for wilderness.
One day my floaties slipped off in the deep
end, their fluorescence floating opposite
directions, comedy and tragedy.
They signaled, Caution: Irony Ahead.
To spite them, I decided not to drown.
I soon spent summers bronzed, eyes red with salt
and chlorine, puckered at the fingertips.
In pregnancy you craved black olives, so
perhaps you bore a dolphin daughter, sprung
from rubbery dark skins in murky brine.
And seaweed-haired, I smiled and body-surfed
the Jersey waves, despite the times they swelled
to claw and thrash me to the sandy floor.
Once upright, I coughed salty barks, tried not
to show you that they pummeled me so hard
the sun went dark, as if I'd never see
the shore again where you sat guardian
of limeade, cheddar Goldfish, frozen grapes,
the cooler anchoring our sacred square
of pink chenille where you brushed sand away.
You wouldn't get your hair wet, but we love
that kinky-curly world no bathing cap
will fit. When Dad came home from work and hugged
you in your apron, he'd inhale and sigh,
"I love it when your hair smells like biscotti."
One day I joined you in the pool's blue calm,
three-feet, and volunteered to teach you how
to swim. Who says that forty is too old?
Your ancestors were from Greek islands and
the boot of Italy that stomps the seas.
Waist-deep, I tried to christen you with skill:
a way to save oneself in spite of fear.
In other matters you were fearless, just
as when you took up arms, so unafraid
to wield the wooden spoon of discipline.
Yet like a stubborn lamb with tight black wool,
a lamb who will not even lift one leg,
you froze, refused to let me help you float.
Who wouldn't want to feel the weightlessness?
Like heaven, amniotic, drifting back.
I hear Mahalia Jackson's gospel blues,
"And if you never hear me sing no more,
child, meet me on the other shore" and think
of you, who still can't swim, but who will get
there somehow, dry, and motioning toward home.
Published in Mezzo Cammin