Three Poems – Emily Carroll



winning the lottery


It’s a game everyone plays. In the night-

shift idle chatter, the smoke break grunting,

the conversation with perfect strangers.

When I ask can I get you anything

else? the woman, her face hewn with age, spits

yeah, how about tonight’s winning numbers.

She is a million sagging faces, every night’s rancid

voices and wilted jokes. Sometimes it’s yeah,

a million dollars. Sometimes it’s filthy. Sometimes

it gets big, sometimes you feel lucky, sometimes

it’s just the only easy thing to talk about.

But everyone does. The houses in the hills for their

mother, their brother, the waitress. The businesses

started. The cars, the diplomas, the debts

paid off. My lover says he’d sleep in a different city

every week, he’d never do laundry again.

We rock back on our heels, take another drag, whistle

under our breath, hum that damn song. Everyone’s

got their tell. It’s easy to talk about. It’s not complaining,

exactly. Everyone’s got an answer, even if they’d really

just blow it all on one house with too many rooms, or go

bankrupt playing high roller, or leave it all in the bank

and watch it for years, afraid it would bite. Everyone’s

played this game. I’ve never been good at it, in the way

I don’t have a lot of party tricks. A vast array

of magazine subscriptions, a near-infinite number of

french fries. The truth is, I can’t imagine what I’d buy.

The same things as everyone else, maybe—a new car,

a soothing lie. Everyone knows, when they play the game,

that money is an unstable element, and highly reactive.

That the things we actually want are embarrassingly

small. That a refrain that goes if I had about fifty more dollars

is not terribly catchy. That the one-in-a-million ticket

doesn’t buy the thing we all imagine on our smoke breaks,

the thing we try to imitate in our cheap suits, someone to tell us,

and mean it, that we’re safe,               safe,               safe




after the funeral


the weight of your body/ swollen

tight as a black eye/ settles against my

good clothes/ i thrum/ your sleep/

more useful /than anything I know


padding barefoot through your house/

to load the dishwasher/ and collect

the empties from the porch/ i will be

the only one awake/ for now


i draw the blossoming bruise

of you onto my lap/ greedy.

the last of the makeup rubs off

my cheek/ into the upholstered roses


the muscle of my memory

tightening/ around a handful

of other nights/ spent gathering

you up/ that we were little girls


together/ is a story i allow you

to tell me on bad nights/ to fill

the hush before your sleeping/

the not-chosen one still


here/ to rock you quiet/ my shameful

utility /to some ghost of you/

intact/ i will never be more to you

now/ than the heavy net


of my body/ cradling yours. i dream

of what it is like/ to go slack,

to be held/ like i hold you/

by a kind of stranger /as we are.






Our roommates are having rough sex again.

That’s what they call it

when he calls her a cunt and tells her he is going to kill her

and then they rearrange the furniture in their bedroom.

It is unclear whether any kind of intercourse follows.

Stoned one night, she tells me she thinks

that when you love a lot, you fight a lot.

That she can’t complain—he takes care of her.

She tells my boyfriend—and the cops—that’s how she likes it.

It’s kind of their thing.

A friend asks me once if we have a safe word.

I say our safe word is no, and stop,

and usually just “meh.” That I have never

really liked pretending. That I have always taken for granted

that loving someone strong enough

to throw me down and slide my big ass under him

doesn’t mean being afraid

to break a bottle of nail polish, or forget

the electric bill. That even if I ask someone

to climb on top of me and slap me over and over again,

I can expect that same person to hold me all night

while I eat ice cream about a lost job, that

I might bite down on his neck one night until he screams

and rub his shoulders all through the next

until he stops shaking over our unpaid rent.

That’s kind of our thing.

When her bruises and her stories

don’t quite match, we will have to learn

to put up with it, because it gets rough sometimes,

rents are rising, and there are so many things

in the city that will kill you so much faster,

and other people seem so much better at pretending.




About Emily Carroll

Emily Carroll is the co-curator of Moonlighting, the Boston Poetry Slam’s LGBTQ reading series. Her work has appeared in Guernica and Umbrella Factory, as well as on IndieFeed Performance Poetry. She slings drinks, and sometimes poems, at the Cantab Lounge. If you wanted her to serve you a tonic and gin, you should have ordered it that way. View all posts by Emily Carroll

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