Poetry Suite by Caroline Earleywine

Editor Sam Preminger, Poetry, March 11th, 2019

"my body my own / temple of unapology"


Poetry by Caroline Earleywine

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My childhood obsession. Egyptian Queen turned
Pharaoh. When her husband died, she not only took
his throne, but his clothes, insisted on being painted
with a beard. I drew a picture of her coronation day
for history class: Hatshepsut on a carrying chair

held on the backs of men, wearing facial hair and eyeliner,
everyone bowing to this rebel in a headdress, this temple
of unapology. After she died, a man tried to erase
all evidence she existed. When they found her
sarcophagus in 1903, it was empty.

The first time I confessed to having a crush
on a girl was in my journal. Hieroglyphics
barely legible, a language I refused to speak:
            There is               a girl
I didn’t dare call it what it was, couldn’t

bring myself to say lesbian. I buried it
in my childhood bedroom – pink and so typical,
in the boys I’d liked at a distance. They found Hatshepsut
in an anonymous tomb, the body identified
by a missing tooth, her mouth claiming herself

even in death. Now I use my mouth to kiss my wife.
To say Lesbian Lesbian Lesbian to strangers, in classrooms,
in poems, at my family’s dinner table, my body my own
temple of unapology, unburied and unwilling
to be silenced.

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Granddaddy’s Closet

So much had built up to this –
my 94-year-old grandfather across from me,
and between us, this secret.

His first response was a question:
Do you think it runs in families?

He then told me about his brother
who never married, who he always
wondered about.

After he assured me he thought no differently
of me, he asked if I wanted any of his old clothes.

My grandfather was always a practical
gift giver. Made us homemade hangers
for Christmas. Gave the girl cousins kitchen sponges

and the boy cousins pocket knives.
But on this day, he brought out a box

of his cardigans and sweaters,
his men’s flannel shirts. He laid them
out on the floor for me to look through,

to take whatever I thought
I needed.

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Ode to Flannel

You rainbow of plaid
lined up in my closet.
The only good part
of winter. I love you
in classic lumberjack
red, like the old shirt
my grandfather gave me.
A slight mothball smell
buttons on a different side
than I’m used to, fastened
all the way up.
Sleeves rolled mid-
way – ready to chop
some fucking wood,
or shotgun
a beer, or hold
a woman close
by a campfire.
I also love you
tied around my waist
like a skirt, or flag
I wave, a splash of texture
with my dark lipstick
all those lines inter-
woven like fingers
laced together under
tables. You queen
of the layer. Sometimes
a light jacket. Un-
buttoned. The perfect
transition piece
when the first leaf turns
gold. You were the only
cliché I could claim,
hanging in my closet
long before I came out
of it. Before I even knew
any of the stereotypes–
only that I didn’t
fit them.

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Doing My Mother’s Makeup

I try my new lipstick on her. Its fire
engine red sirens across her lips.
They look fuller, almost pouty.
Well I need the face to go
with it. She gets comfortable
in her chair. Closes her eyes
and leans into it. I can’t believe
you’re making me do this, she teases,
though it was her idea. I can feel the lonely

as I dab on concealer, shadow
her eyelids, finding parts of me in her
face. The green eyes. The sparse
brows. Tonight is Christmas Eve,
and she will ask my dad to pray over
the meal even though they haven’t
been married for years, even though
we never pray, her wifely duties
a phantom itch that resurfaces
in his presence, like the years I played
my part – kissed men who wanted me
with no thought of if I wanted
them. This year is the first time
I’ve brought someone home.

My future wife sits in the living room.
You both just look so normal, my mom
had once said. Which one of you
cooks? Who pays when you go out?
I’d tried to explain a world without
such rules. But how to explain
this unlearning? When I’m done

with her makeup, she disappears
into her closet. Returns with earrings
to complete the look. Admires,
for a moment, her reflection. I bet
no one will notice, she says. Then
walks back out to the kitchen to finish
making dinner.

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Self Portrait as a Hayley Kiyoko Music Video
                                                    After Danez Smith

I wear Hawaiian shirts. Not ironically. Not dad-
on-vacation style, but Lesbian Jesus style – impossibly
suave, the V of the unbuttoned fabric framing
my sports bra, hibiscus flowers rippling in the breeze.

It’s California, so the weather is always sunset
lighting, perfect for bomber jackets and slight
head nods to girls across the room, whole
conversations shared in the longing of a stare.

Girls are always meeting in bathrooms, not to fix
makeup or gossip, but to lick the salt off
each other’s necks, mouth desire there
like secrets that break against the shore
of skin again and again.

A swagger of women dance. They conjure
the swoon from each other’s hips with just a smirk,
know how to touch a woman but make her wait
for it, tease the air between them until she’s dizzy
with wanting.

There is always a pool table, perfect
for dancing against with a girl
I never kissed but wanted
to. Here, I don’t even wait for the closet
of a bathroom. Here, I kiss her in the living
room, right there in the open
where everyone can see.

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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 semi-finalist for Nimrod’s 2018 Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry. Her work can be found or is forthcoming in Glass: A Journal of Poetry, The Legendary, Words Dance, and elsewhere. She has an MFA from Queens University in Charlotte and lives in Little Rock with her wife and two dogs.



Sam Preminger

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