The Real Warnings Are Always Too Late


I want to go back to the winter I was born and warn you

that I will flood through your life like acid

and you will burn yourselves on me.

On my sixteenth birthday, I will use the candles

to set the basement aflame and run out laughing,

wearing smoke like a new dress. With a pocket knife,

I will try to root out that life you so eagerly started.

I’ll dent the garage door with my head, siphon Crown Royal

from your liquor cabinet, jump from a gondola in Venice. I’ll smash

my ankle with a hammer, drive through stop signs

with my eyes closed, cost you thousands

in medical bills. Forget about sleeping.

I’ll dominate the prayers you keep sending up

like the last of flares from an island no one visits.

For every greeting card poem, I will write four

to hurt you. Some will be true.

Other people’s lives will look perfect

as you search the house for its sharper pieces.

And when they lock me up I’ll tell the walls

I'm sorry. But these warnings will come like candles

after a night of pyres. I already know

how you will take one look at that new life screaming

into the world, and open your arms,

thinking, if it looks this innocent,

it cannot be so bad.


From The Real Warnings, Anhinga Press


Lullaby and Goodnight


Mothers across the city, sleep tonight, sleep

through the hours of crash in the alley, siren unfastening


red from its cradle, sleep through the gutter-

cat licking its claws, the hemlock

tapping its code on the window. Stir not


from your dreams of knives heavied

by butter, of dew in the meadow assailing


each hem. Rooms away, a stereo’s

coming on softly: valley so low, hang your head

over… sleep through this song reaching up from your childhood


and sleep through the family

dog’s whine of dementia on waking, lost


in the foyer, circling the rug. There will be time, soon

enough, for your breaking attention: the boxing

of sweaters, the twice-washed dish. Sleep




well tonight, mothers across the city, none of your sons

crowded five to a cell, none bowing


from the bridge rail toward dark waters.


In their beds, in their footy pajamas, they keep

faith in nightlights, in mended


bears, faith in the Lord whose existence


you’ve promised. No wolf

zipping itself into sheepskin, this house no house


of straw, all your young men


tonight accounted for—blood

alcohol at zero percent, teeth by nicotine


unstained, skin unfolding


its scars as their dreams leave,

on their faces, soft eddies—dream with them: Tomorrow,




by the clock of the coffee’s slow drip, he


departs, your eldest, for a shift


at the grocery. Hear the register

ping, jets misting the lettuce, the mop slap the floor with its


kiss. Now watch him return, come evening, to


you. He steers the garbage to the curb; empties


his plate of seconds; then lulls from the piano

all the old songs, an octave too low, making up


for the C that won’t sound. And into dusk


he rocks beside you on the porch


as the other mothers

of the neighborhood, mothers of the city, call in


their youngest, every single one of whom drops


his bat, his bike, or ball to come running, running


in the light just now begun

to vanish. Watch them slam


their happy doors. What happens next,


you do not have to see to know:


bath, books, and that hum in the dark, that battle

not to close their eyes.


First appeared in Crab Orchard Review


Iseman Trull ’99 and her husband are the editors of Cave Wall, in Greensboro. Her poetry collection, The Real Warnings, received several awards, including North Carolina’s Brockman Campbell and Oscar Arnold Young awards. Her poems and creative nonfiction have appeared in the American Poetry Review, Prairie Schooner, The Southern Review, and elsewhere.

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