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Hades Lite

Bereft of dreaming,

you sacrifice sleep for 

search of conscience,

weighing the lack against the gain

Brooklyn is a soft version of hell,

with just enough trees

to make it resemble a home 

but not enough grass to absorb

the rain

and everyone you meet

is bone-dry,

they crust over,

uncovered syrup,

attract flies—

your ribcage is just a frame

nothing gets through

immune to pain

you suffer damage

is it a sign of weakness or

were your elders correct,

a city is a conglomeration

of shysters and harlots

and all of us clawing for

a scrap of bread

ill-used or simply ill, 

nearly two years

and what can you show for it?

a busted body,

mind cracked and melted

as summer pavement,

disengaged and disaffected

unable to carry on conversation

should you feel ashamed

for hating something beautiful

or are you justified in despising

the ruination of man?

the things he builds,

the wilderness he invades

was once a place of calm

and you wish you could see

as your ancestors did

the miles of empty beaches

and the only sounds 

the plash of oars,

hushed voices and

laughing gulls

your friends,

they scatter like the rats

on the sidewalk walking home from 

Dekalb station,

where you’re sure to cross the street

to avoid the men congregating outside,

speaking a language you

somewhat understand,

about things you know

very little about

the parade snaking through

your neighborhood

felt like a battle

as it rattled your ear drums

and you couldn’t get away

fast enough,

as you finally found the gauze

at the drugstore

and sped off with the 

spoils of war,

sanity barely intact

Brooklyn makes you think

every day about poverty:

how to escape it,

how to rip open its jowls

and stuff firecrackers inside,

like the ones going off

out your window each night,

how to break it to your employer

that you can’t stay in the city any longer

and the meager raise you received

doesn’t stop the hum of impending disaster

you think about the apartments older

and fouler than your own,

how we’re crushed into these boxes, 

how your downstairs neighbors got evicted

and their secrets lay scattered on the sidewalk,

you think about why a can of off-brand beans

costs three dollars,

and someone posts a picture online

of twenty-two dollar lettuce

(you could buy plenty of the electric stuff for that)

and the J tracks caught fire a few weeks back

even as they shut down the M on weekends

but mostly,

you get tired of the struggle,

your brain is riddled with holes,

damaged from an illness,

the laundry pile grows

as your energy diminishes,

your savings is drained in a year

and everything you worked for

is simply gone

the depression that almost killed

your ex-husband

is coming for you next,

and yet you feel guilty

for not loving

the greatest city on earth

your heart wanders

between trees in distant woods

in the grit of empty deserts

that finds its way into your shoes

you long for flora,

not flower shops,

the hiss and slurp of water,

a life that resembles

that of the ancients,

dirt and grass,

root and rock,

the absence of automatons,

of machines.


oh look I’m in a magazine

A little snippet.

I have recently begun writing for Barista Magazine, which has been a wonderful new challenge for me. The team at Barista is a dream to work with, and since I’ve been working in coffee a long time, it feels like a nice cozy fit. Check out the digital edition here.

Happy slurping (of coffee),

J Marie Carlan


write every day,

or don’t,

if you can’t stomach what

the hands will say.

let the little fingers twitch while

the bird knocks and the time is counted.

if you can’t tell the truth,

recount this fable.

the king’s daughter escaped her fortress:

she wanted peasant knowledge,

how to toil for food,

live with hunger,

dress in rags,

go unwashed,

fuck for pleasure.

she’s lost her shine, now,

but they all see through her, 

know she is not one of them.

she walks too stable, slips with the tongue,

is too eager to please.

she is polite. no, not one of us.

we should have rescued her by now,

should have fought the devils off

and pressed the maiden

back into her tower.

too late: she wants to be among the roots of things,

to know secrets and schemes,

to peak underneath the shadows.

just children’s tales,

told to bring on sleep, but

no, she is not one of us.

she has soft hands,

a gentle voice,

easily cries.

she must have been protected.

still, we don’t know what she’s seen.

glorious grime,

hideous things.

Yellow Ribbon

Hotel, Dec. 2020 by J Marie Carlan

See: dread, erudite

consolation prize to

the foresighted

and alone,

watch as

I retrace each step:

romance, a cakewalk

with no promise

of sweetness

but here again

the mockery, never serious.

Hard questions, then

the disappearing act.

All pleasantries, illusions,

dull knives to

scrape the edges

of an ideal life.

Then, tired, I return.

Leaves dropped

from the ginkgo tree

(I missed their fall)

will grow again,

suggesting an

auspicious end.

I won’t witness another

first snow

from my high apartment window,

where I let down silken

braided hair

to draw in travelers

just weeks ago.

The floors, the walls,

all shapes are cold.

Our patch of earth,

frozen, timeless,

is unrewarding ’til

the bruise is gone

(weeks from now

or months or years).

Dull wishes

carve out quiet dreams

where we dance

to cavern music

while the dark bard sings.

Complacent now,

refreshed we wake,

encouraged by

a spit of rain–

now satisfied with

unrewarding things.


Clarity brings perspective—

in retrospect, the absence speaks

as loudly as you can name it.

Loss, again, penetrates

joints and bones, 

tired flesh separates

hardship from grieving,

tongueless days where

the only offering is

an hour undefined.

Countless invitations—

to chat, to fight, to fuck

or to do a simple favor

but no real opportunity

for expansion,


a novelty item, 

something pretty on the shelf.

Take me down,

dust me off,

admire me,

my eyes open 

when you sit me up;

everyone remarks,

“What beautiful blue!”

while I blink back.

I have heard

the whispers,

endured a hundred summers

for this small winter,

a chance to hibernate

and cocoon

until the self once known dissolves,

crystalline shell broken down

into base elements.

The cells, ancestral memory,

reintegrate for a kiss 

to drown a sorrow,

break a three-strand cord. 


and wishing you well,

I offer nothing:

my smallest parts

could not recreate a fantasy,

still less,

slip into a dream.


make mention of

high cheekbones

strong jawline

breaking through center

hidden image

forbidden by disease,

overwhelmed by


senseless purpose

each day a cheat sheet

for void,



loneliest cold


lean in

suffer wrath

wash hands:

we drink

we eat

clear the table

to be excused

play nice



synapse twinge





a rejection





make believe

offer solace




you are


you are

On March 20th 2018

he’s too drunk to tell me anything but the truth

(yet all these words, I discover, are fiction):

he tells me that I need children,

some external force to hold us together

like the clasp on a handbag—our disparate parts

cleaved and whole,

to hold valuables inside:

trinket vacations, car purchases,

achievements on the long road to settling down.

He’s hammered, but compliments for the first time

so I know he means it.

“You’re a good writer, you’ll be fine”

(as if in alchemy words can shape the future).

He can only speak the truth but

his deceitful mouth tells me I’ve got a good man who clearly

hides behind me

and he’d give anything for someone who would

put up with his faults.

I’m not drunk, so I lie freely.

“I just want the same gifts I’ve given.”

He laughs, because he knows it’s not true.

In a year, I’ll be a widow,

the man behind me unfettered from my shadow.

In two years, the liar will confess the truth,

and some of the things

he wanted to say, but didn’t.

In two months’ time, it will be unclear

which of us is the greater liar,

each afraid to ask the other,

and he unable to break the silence

the alchemist summoned with her nimble hands.