The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Julianna McCarthy

When the Headlight Trail Crossing the Ceiling Wakes


We check the clock & if it's after the bars have closed

we sit up & listen for heavier wheels, for flashing

lights doubling down in the mirror red yellow

anywhere near next door or up a little & we shuffle

into shoes or boots, robes or coats over pajamas

or gowns & go out in the moonlight or deep dark with

the others huddled together throwing our shadows

like huge stalagmites against the trees. We say we tried

to call the house, we say we're afraid it's the mother,

the guest, the baby.



Julianna McCarthy

Cynthia as the Moon


Three a.m. The bus driver down shifts past black vinyl

buildings to the Trail Ways stop while Cynthia, pressing her forehead

against the glass, peers into the night. I must look like a cat in a window,

she thinks, hunting the shadows. 

                                                A man comes down the aisle

to wait on the sidewalk as the driver pulls a duffel

from the baggage bay. 

                                                            He has Cynthia's complete attention

from his not-a-stetson cowboy hat to his open pea coat. 

Wish he'd look up here, like to see his eyes.  Bet he has gray eyes. 

                                                            He waits to cross until the bus

leaves and Cynthia stands to watch from the opposite window. 

No one meeting him, no car or truck at the curb, he walks

to what or where or to whom. 

                                                            Flat country now with a skirt

of ground fog, which Cynthia loves. Where is the horse. There

should be a horse here. Beside a tree, the mist hiding his legs,

seeming to float in the field. She waits for the horse as the bus climbs

into the trees.  Leaning back, she pulls her coat up to her chin, the sky

an open hatch to an errant star, slender clouds.

                                                            This is her road home, one she travels

every weekend, and it is among three things she is certain she knows:

that the bus driver sings Guantanamera to himself, although

she cannot hear him above the engine, that her gray cat is turned

white in a puddle of starlight asleep on her bed, and she knows

                                                            when she leaves the bus this early

morning she will say, “Good night” to the driver.



Julianna McCarthy

Ars Poetica

              “If your father ever saw the filth you wrote he'd break your leg"

                                                                          Sr. M. Emaline, ssj   


She stood, an axe of a woman wrapped in perpetual mourning, waving

a note she had captured. My note to Mary Dolores Weir about

Saturday night back-seat calisthenics with a boy from Cathedral Prep.

The note that, mercifully, did not make it to my father. It did,

however, keep me after school, leading to my missing my bus home,

leading to my mother having to come and get me, leading

to my banishment to my bedroom where, limbs intact, I was free to write

all the filth I could imagine.




JULIANNA McCARTHY is a Schieble Sonnet Prize winner, a Pushcart Prize Nominee, and a Marsh Hawk Press Prize finalist.  Her poems have appeared in The Antioch Review, Spot Lit, Tidal Basin Review, Nimrod and Finishing Line Press released her chapbook PHOTOPLAY.  She holds an MFA from New England College.



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