The Kourtesies of Karly


i couldn’t keep the things they left here

so i went outside, out to a clear

patch in the woods

threw matches like needles

in a haystack

and waved the smoke



when it rained the next day

and the ditches filled and drained

the ash and dust and half-burned trust

ran laps to the river

and left themselves

on its bank



i should’ve been a ballerina

i should’ve been a ballerina

listened to the porcelain figurine

flawlessly postured

as it stares at my stomach and my brain

though what’s the difference?

both digesting

both suggesting

that maybe i should try something different

something feasible

something i won’t regret

something redeemable

i suggest we trade spots

she suggests maybe i should just stop

dreaming of trademarks

little kid wants to follow her heart

when does that ever work?

i hear the sound of broken dreams

how will you find work?

with a brain like that,

digesting everything

when does that ever work?

i hear the call of my last dream

how will i find work?

i hear it scream, and then it sinks


so i went to the basement

to find its remains

to make the walls feel warm,

a hair dryer to a frozen lake

and even if i were her,

there’s another reality to face

they never really stop surfacing

underneath the ice of that frozen lake


the people would all leave at the end of the show

the roses on stage will perish where they were thrown

the curtain will take my place

and dance itself shut

you’ll find me slumped against the cinder blocks,

crying off the makeup

this is how i feel on this particular night.

this is how i feel about this particular life.

i begin to think, theoretically

if i was 10

would i be disappointed in me?

i’d wonder where my hair went

wonder where the light behind my eyes has escaped to

wonder how the time has passed so unattractively

and the dust collected on these shelves

i guess i’d ask her,

would you ever feel like i’ve wasted our life?

i spent 18 years writing words i hoped anybody would care about

spent 18 years watching that hope dwindle

18 years making up college plans on the spot at christmas dinner

18 years getting ready to be called a quitter

spent 18 years telling every friend i have what i wanted to do for the rest of my life

and now i’m smearing on war paint and practicing my chant

i grew up

i grew up

i guess i just grew up


choked the little girl inside of me

i’m sorry, malorie,

i’m sorry for the shit i made up

the make-believe

if i made you believe you could be whatever you wanted

and then stood in your way with an axe behind my back

(i found this one in the basement)

i covered your mouth with a dish rag and tried to make you be quiet

because i couldn’t stand to hear you cry

i know she couldn’t breathe, but neither could i

when halfway down the road you asked if we were ever stopping

i told you funeral processions don’t stop anything but the other cars from crossing

something you’ll learn when you’re old enough to start driving

and all that money you saved in a piggy bank

i’ll use on a calculus class

do you care about that?

the songs you wrote i’ll pack in a box

pray to god they all get lost

pray to god that i’ll get lost

and with everything i’ve become,

porcelain and cold,

do you hate me for wanting to be normal now?

all you wanted to be was you

but i don’t know who that is

take the rag out of your mouth and we’ll cry together

hold hair dryers over that frozen lake

and try to make waves until they become tides

so that tonight can become tomorrow

i shut the lid on the piano

like a casket

and used the edge of it like a barre


i think i should’ve been a ballerina

a real childhood dream

i should’ve been a ballerina

like all the other girls wanted to be


the figurine

will stare at me

like a trophy for losing

and i’ll polish it with a dish rag

and warm lake water


Poems by Karly Custer


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