Two Poems by Kai Carlson-Wee





Outside the bookstore in downtown Seattle
we huddle away from the rain. Two days
out of the mountains and looking to hitchhike
a ride down to Plain. Scrape a few dollars together
for food. Cars move quietly over the road.
Rain beats down on the blue-plastic awning
we’ve jimmy-rigged over our heads. There are
three of us asking for spare change and handouts.
Night falling slowly away from the stores.
The girl named Saturday plays the guitar.
My brother and I sing softly along, working
to keep us in key. We look bedraggled and crazy.
We stagger and weave in the limited range
of the tarp. I think to myself I am not this
hungry. I am not this desperate for any
clean thing. I am only a few more weeks
on the west coast. Living off food-stamps,
volunteer work at the Bellingham food shelf.
Squandering yogurt and left-over bread from
the Trader Joe’s dumpster on First. I say I am
working to make myself better. Learning
the rhythm and speed of my heart. The same
three chords and the harmony failing. Nodding
along to the sound of my brother’s voice.
Trying out the words in my own mouth until
I am finally able to sing.






The spirit is not broken by cold. By the blowing snow
or the shattered bone, the pale shade of your grandmother’s face
as she wanders away from the world. The spirit
is broken by something else. More common
to the root. Dithering light in the blood bank lobby.
Lull of shame in your younger brother’s voice.
Waiting in line at the Sundance Six for the Saturday
matinee. Hoping to sleep in the dark back row
where the ticket-boy might not check. Spilled pop.
Week-old Sour Patch Kids on the concrete under
our shoes. When we found our seats in the crowded theater
the strangers sitting beside us moved away
because of the smell. The dirt on our hands.
The strain in our eyes from going the last two nights
without sleep. We could hear them muttering
under their breath as the lights came down
and the screen lit up with the opening shot of the sea.