Charlotte Innes – Tar

P Charlotte Innes LE P&W Vol 2 2019

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Poems by Charlotte Innes

Charlotte Innes is the author of Descanso Drive, a book of poems (Kelsay Books, 2017). She has also published two chapbooks, Licking the Serpent and Reading Ruskin in Los Angeles, both with Finishing Line Press. Her poems have appeared in many publications, including The Hudson Review, The Sewanee Review, Tampa Review, Rattle and Valparaiso Poetry Review, with some anthologized in Wide Awake: Poets of Los Angeles and Beyond (Beyond Baroque Books, 2015) and The Best American Spiritual Writing for 2006 (Houghton Mifflin, 2006), amongst others.


Now the street has changed from gangster haven
to super chic, it must be broken down,
root bumps flattened and the tall trees, diseased
and rotten, felled for shrubs with shallower roots.

Without its veil of leaves, the sky’s a vacant
mirror of the unshaded street, whose only
pretty thing is a glittering mound of tar
that forklifts scoop like coffee every morning.

“Another improvement for your convenience
and safety,” says the median’s big blue sign,
as if it were a station—or station of
the cross, more like, for a street about to die.

What drew me here? The light, I think, the air,
so enriched by trees and the sun’s flickering,
it seemed a kind of grace, urging me
to plant, where the rubble is now, lavender,

rockery flowers, long since crushed or stolen.
The sun goes down. The workers prepare to leave.
Around the tar, they place a long straw pallet
bound with twine. It’s like a yellow snake,

guarding the fruit of artifice, black
gemstones. Nothing like the lumps of tar
thrown up on beaches, dark disturbances
we’ve also made, although we never meant to.

Audrey’s Ride

In blue dawn light, in lightly falling snow,
Audrey rides the gulch by railroad tracks
she’s always loved. Her quarter horse Marqué
slides a bit, on ground so smooth and white,

like down, Audrey feels unfazed. She dreams
of old steam engines puffing down the line.
In summers, playing there, she’s found a rusty
winch, a spike, frayed rope, and once a stone

with “Jack Cheng’s Gang” chiseled on it.
Now, she can almost see the Chinese men
who tunneled mountain granite inch by inch,
the bloody falls, explosions, heaping bones

in snow. If she had lived then… It’s sun-up.
Audrey heads for home. The mountain’s red,
like hidden landfill suddenly ablaze,
the snow, still falling, leafleting the trail.


Like bumps in asphalt forced by roots
Like muscles on the street,

Like scraps of orange sky that soothe
Like salt lamps hung in trees,

Like stars we see when power’s out,
Like a life wrung dry of lies,

Like dusty rooms that won’t be swept,
Like grit that hates the eye.

Why Do Some Birds Sing at Night?

Perhaps because, with all the trees cut down,
there’s still a bush to sing in,

to sing a prayer, perhaps, that grass, for all
the drought, has stashed its seeds,

or after weeks of unfamiliar rain,
worms and bugs abound.

Or do they grip the twigs, puff up their breasts,
halloo the dark to ground

because, some birds believe, they have to sing,
that daylight must be freed.

© Charlotte Innes

Photo of Charlotte Innes by Jon Rou