Hatch (First Song)

The Farm

Wild Wall


The Fox

Slown Site (Both Sides of Glass)

Motion to Treasure

The City





What you’ll find, fellow reader, on attending to Caryl Pagel’s poems, is not comfort. Nor beauty if beauty is ease. Nor confession if confession absolves guilt, and in so absolving guilt, makes of the poem a particular use. These are not poems to be used. Nor are they poems that refuse use—that is, in cleverness shift shape in your hand, so that what you thought was a hammer ends up being a moth, a moth ends up being a rag, a rag made of taffeta . . . and so on through the whimsy endemic of our particular poetic age. Caryl writes, as you’ll soon see, in old form: Eclogue and Apostrophe. Nor does Caryl seek archaic voicing as a means to escape the deep crisis of contemporary poetics. She writes in the form and the voice she does to unveil difficulty, to approach it, to be responsible to it. Here is a poet not self-vaunting, and more challenging, in her compulsion toward self-accusation—the poet accusing herself of the persona of one who writes poems!—not self-coddling, not holier-than-thou, striking against her humility as hard as she strikes against her pride. 


What I’m trying to say is that reading Caryl’s poems is a distinct privilege—for hers is a poetry that attends to difficulty in difficult ways. This is not an intellectual exercise, nor an emotional purging. Caryl’s poems don’t trust themselves, nor does the speaker trust herself. She senses poems do work, do some kind of work, but never assumes that her poems are doing such work, or that if they do, never assumes the work once done stays done. One feels in Caryl’s work that the only answer is to read the next poem—to trust that the effort of making meaning, of sowing meaning, of raising and razing meaning, never accomplished in any single poem, builds into an accumulating whole that does profound good . . .


The good of attending to a poem that attends to itself attending to the world. A bit of a riddle, yes—but what strives toward clear truth that doesn’t begin in such riddling complexities? One should—I do—feel grateful for the clarity carved from such honest confusion. And I learn from the refusal to take refuge in that clarity.


--Dan Beachy-Quick




















Must have choked—



outside the craggy shell


exotic sounds


faint whir of dawning




Wonder each song its direction



its stake in

self— sent out from the throat


a cord to loop

around the earth and back—


imprisoning its owner




What can be captured with a call



now that we’ve broken free




The position of each note


fluttering or tremulous

along a chord


makes sad tremendous sounds





A strangle




What can be wasted


What cannot be contained




Inside the shell

no noise coherent




Meanings may not change


they will lie


in many versions

outside the shell


wild wind rustles and wakens sigh


Silence the gift



The gift or the gift’s limit




Kept we look farther


learn songs


to bury

so once through blue walls we can burst


again in trilling reach





Call it disclosure

Call it surrender


Push open to call and lose something
















Every day we pass by
the cows stand
sturdy— propped

against the sky. I see them.
I see them whispering
little. They are cued

by unheard signs.

We move out to the farm

having lived
because the land, you say
is an introduction.

And, an excuse.
My cards read we
are acting

in a time of general
rest. If I believed in anything
it would not be

written. Look
how corn becomes my filler.

The field pours forth falsely

as a mouth I want to dig
out of the earth. As seeds
for a sustainable word.

A few lines
are incomparable with
crows that slowly lasso

clouds— narrowing the distance—
to an unsuspecting meal.
How is one so hungry

patient? These things only
the work
will teach us. We must load

our guns silently.

We won’t have much

to share unless.















Co-producer you are
of this junk-yard
assemblage; this pieced up po-
poor stage. If I write
you wanna star me? Wanna risk it
put me center? You work curtain.
I'll spill big bad lies so sweet
to have 'em sobbing.
Off go gold wretched lights:
I take a bow
and then a secret bow for fooling.
No one ever knows
because I am monster
I mean master masquerader.
Sometimes comes the dark wig,
others the worn torn
dress. I don a thrilling front.
No costume. No tone change, dirty
style. I've got my big eyes.
And a story.
Watch this gesture drive me
mad all the time.
Only way to let it out
is false, so word I formed you
to mask me. Word, I ask
you perform in place.























I’m framed

in a flowered sundress—

yellow wings strapped


to my arms.

Kneeling. Calm-

faced. Pressing one ear


to rippled rings

on a fresh split-open log.

From that angle


I cannot read

your expression

so I stare up


at camera’s

lens. You gaze

down checkered-red


behind me—

an axe swung back

and aiming


wild. At my neck.

My fragile fruitless head.

For the good


of growing more we

must be rid of

what can’t thrive. You said cut


the lesser lines

to let the strong ones

carry on. We came out here



to figure working

out. The picture


snapped too soon: watch

my body

flailing— still.     



















Two shades of shadow meet
at night
on forest's edge. One pitch

black, ending
abruptly in gray where light
from the farmhouse spreads. Here,

I wait- before the light-
staring straight across
the grounds. I hear

a scratching: you,
in your bright home
working hard

to make a mark. The farm
a greater lesson
in laws unnatural-

unnatural but worth
a struggle outside the city.

Time spent in the wilderness

to pacify a wildness.
I make a motion, crackle
coop's floor

and then the forest.
You come to the window, look
across the field

directly into my eyes. You see
a double reflection, know not
how to save. No matter.

I've killed already
all the chickens-
ate one, left the rest

a brutal mess. Aught I have let
your stock live on?
Now you won't have much

to share- unless you learn
a quick defense. In my jaws
I grind the bones of your income,

run back into the woods. Out here,
when hungry night illuminates:
there is no private property.

















Of a strung V some lose out
lost- left jagged

breaking crumbs then falling

The new birds balance on a grate behind the window
They clack into the season

What kind of birds?

There is no way of finding out
things as you think of them


Quiet folds up sleeping wings

while nature repeats
through distant heavy tremors-

heart-placed heart

empty room

glance to build a runway

You stay routing glass
Wait perched up in the frame

just to hear the egg fall


It has been a year of barely breaking

phantoms search for sight
Edges the only left over

What answer
first rejected the shape of a sound

Open the window
Flight out by call

Every sound still returns

in echo

till it turns


Who can help the nesting
the going-getting by

when there are so many frames we've never seen through

Where are you in place

Balanced on the wire- watching flutters vein the distance
reflection shock inside

The image poses

Shows there are all these reasons to be less sorry

Live on less secretive sides


You only bury the bodies
The bodies bury the beaks


From this transparent slate
all noise comes doubling back

No sense- just static
and reduced refractions-

talking right up to


both sides of glass

Who would you be
if not forever standing by?

A louder open window
Clack-clack in their abandon

It is time to shell the bone

It is time to shell the bone


Someday you too will fade away
with all this hearing
and end as what is unspoken in this unspoken

















All right to tip

the shoddy boat



walk blank


planks or dive

straight off


this wrecked

rocking failed-sail

lately labeled

poem. Stuck


at surface without 

both oars


I splash around 



as the floats are pinned

to shore.



loss— lines


caught in the muck—

my mind


a field

just drowned.


If ship was sunk

I'd take it— at least


there'd be some death.

Some hero.


A bottle

aiming home. Pity



at bottom give


me little-shine

to sink for.



















Guess with me

at horizon’s tell: no

clear view between buildings

of the red sky at night—


in my sketch for you

of the city: place I need                           

relief from. Lately,

this well-tread ground


sprouts little; streets

glazed with ice too thin

for support. In hindsight,

the hurried birds


we watched return

seems an omen. A gesture

of what I’m just learning.

Come spring


these piles better melt—

fill a block

with their ink

causing structures to rise up


float away. Prepared,

you’ve started to pack.

I am already on the top deck

of a large boat, teasing out


the surge. Within me

monstrous waves sway.

Strung of silver nerves

they push far


from any shore— soak

my purpose deep

with warning. I write

in my poems I will never arrive—


this far out

you cannot read. My words

open only in the motion: a bottle

mouthing caution to the sea.