Poetry Suite by Caroline Earleywine

Editor Sam Preminger, Poetry, October 7th, 2020

"Tis the season to be / proud, to trade our silent nights / for this holy loud."


Poetry by Caroline Earleywine

To read an Interview with the poet, click here.
To read an additional Feature by the poet, click here.



Halloween is the Queer Christmas

We decorate ourselves instead of a tree.
Put lights behind pumpkins’ twinkling smiles,
the garland and bows on us, not a mantle. Our Santa
is Marsha P. Johnson or Laverne Cox or Lena Waithe

or Freddie Mercury or anyone who gave us the gift
of their bold, donned a stage in their gay apparel
and gave us permission to do the same.
No awkward family dinners performing normalcy

just candy and a chance to be
someone else, or more ourselves,
the truth called costume
for the night.

We sing our carols at the altar
of a karaoke machine: RENT and Cher,
rounds of Time Warp and Monster Mash, a choir
of skeletons and ghosts and zombies,

all so very alive.
Tis the season to be
proud, to trade our silent nights
for this holy loud.



Ode to the Word Lesbian

They say you take up too much space in the mouth,
all those awkward syllables fighting to be
pronounced – the heavy L, the way the tongue must
              meet teeth to birth you.

              I once took you out of a slide about
              Audre Lorde because my students’ laughter
              at your mention was so disruptive: Black,
              lesbian, mother, warrior, poet. I recited her quote
              about silence, the one that ends
                           it’s better to speak, and ignored

the irony of my censorship. Lesbian, often rejected
for sounding clinical, your sound more like a diagnosis
or medication with a slew of undesirable side effects –
in 1925, you were a noun that meant the female
             equivalent of a sodomite, an inversion.

             When I was 13 and growth-spurted above my
             classmates, a well-meaning man came up to us
             in the grocery store and told my father, Someday
             a tall man is going to come and take her away from
             you. How could he ever
                          have imagined you?

The third section of your definition reads: erotic;
sensual, as if you are x-rated, a word that must
be whispered, much too shameful to be said
in broad daylight, porn shoved
             under the mattress.

             In high school, a boy told me the locker room
             was littered with rumors that I was a lesbian.
             The baseball team decided it was hot, okay as
             long as you looked like a boy could still insert
                           himself in the fantasy.

I have to mention your mother-
land, Lesbos, surrounded by salt-slick
water with Sapho and her anguished
love poems and don’t we all live
there, or wish we did? An island
of women who wear crowns of mouths
that don’t know how to quiet, who damn
the uncomfortable, who owe men nothing,
             who own their desire.



On the Drive Home from the Transgender
Day of Visibility Celebration, We Pull Over

A bird screams
in the empty

parking lot.
My wife tells me

she’s a killdeer,
birds that have

had to adapt
to civilization,

their ground nests
in places like this –

the smallest scrap
of green in a sea

of asphalt.
They are not

toothpick legs

and beaks
all so breakable.

They protect
their nests

by pretending
to have a broken

wing, their screams
a siren that lures

danger away.
After I’d pulled

my wife away
from the men

throwing punches
on the state capitol

steps, we circled
the podium,

the smallest island
of queers, the air

around us heavy
with hate, red

hats puncturing
the sky. Our leader

told us Don’t
engage, said

Look inward,
at each other.

So we fought
back tears

and sang,
got louder when

one of us broke
down and could

not speak. I held
my love’s hand

like a lifeboat.
I could pass

as these men’s
sisters or wives,

but here I am
so visible.

So many
in our circle

have no choice
but to be seen,

every walk
down the street

filled with

My wife just

came out at work
as non-binary

last week.
With her

short hair
and boyish

clothes, she
looks like

so much
of what these

men hate,
and I want

so badly to
protect her.

In the empty
parking lot,

this bird

I wonder

what danger
she sees.



Femme Invisiblity

At the store I try
on lipstick. The pink
shade floats in the shape
of my mouth, suspended silent
in the middle of the aisle.

The waiter brings two separate
checks to the table, overlooks
our still moving forks, assumes
we dined and dashed.

At the family reunion, my dad
introduces us as roommates, friends,
then vaguely gestures at the place
where we once stood.

Sometimes I disappear, but
on the car ride home
you reach for my hand,
your thumb grazing across
my palm and the car fills
with light. I am so seen
I glow.


Header image courtesy of Bo Bartlett. To view more of his work, visit his site here.

Caroline Earleywine teaches high school English in Central Arkansas where she tries to convince teenagers that poetry is actually cool. She was a semifinalist for Nimrod’s 2018 Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry and for the 2019 Vinyl 45s Chapbook Contest. She was also a finalist for the 2019 Write Bloody Publishing Contest. Her work can be found in Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Barrelhouse, NAILED Magazine, and elsewhere. She earned her MFA from Queens University in Charlotte and lives in Little Rock with her wife and two dogs.
Her chapbook, Lesbian Fashion Struggles, is out now with Sibling Rivalry Press.

You can buy it from Sibling Rivalry here.
You can buy it from Caroline here.

To reach out about readings, particularly with GSA’s and queer youth, email her at [email protected].


Sam Preminger

Sam Preminger is a Portland-based poet. Their work has appeared throughout various publications and they hold an MFA from Pacific University.