photo of a sign that says "Clam Bar"

Asking After the Past by Wendy Taylor Carlisle

(If viewing this poem on a handheld device, please rotate to landscape mode to provide maximum width for each line.) 

You know, a past—sweaty bed sheets, bars, triple beams, cigarette boats docked on the
intercostal next to the now-demolished restaurant where a woman sat eating clams next to
the cheeky sixteen year olds flashing Rolex Presidentials, a longago when tanning with
baby oil was de rigeur, not horror, when a person was too busy to notice the conflagration
of sun, the moon on the ocean, the breeze across her bare legs and farther north the
crosses burning in front yards or ice on the inside of the kid’s bedroom window, when
mountain festivals featured reedy sopranos, when her house featured Safeway boxes
nailed to the studs and wall papered over, feather-fragile days in which she ate well
because of food stamps and wore Wal-Mart and men’s hands and  drove an old
Volkswagen and maybe had one night out to see Rocky with her straight hairdresser so
stoned on hash brownies that when he put his pretty hands on her she didn’t flinch and
now doesn’t remember what came after just the relief of being in a movie theater she
couldn’t afford, the treat and the escape. She cried. She admired Sly. That. 

Wendy Taylor Carlisle lives and writes in the Ozarks. She is the author of three books, Reading Berryman to the Dog, Discount Fireworks, and The Mercy of Traffic, as well as five chapbooks. Find her poems in print and on the web. For more information, check out her website at

Lead image: “Clam bar” *with edits* (via Flickr user Ian Crowther)