Happy Lamp

By Catherine Carter

Featured Art: Under the Lamp, c. 1882 by Mary Cassatt

It’s made to make you glad
on dull cold days, keep you
from crying over car insurance,
made to stop the visions
of flogging your flesh with barbed
wire, gouges gone rust-brown,
swelling with tetanus.
Full spectrum, mock sun;
maybe it helps.

At least it makes nothing
any worse. Until you realize
there’s pressure. Even the lamp
is anxious as a border
collie, wanting work
and reassurance. Leave it on
while you go to lunch and afterward
its white radiance
is trembly. It whispers, I shone
and shone and no one came,
no one saw. Aren’t I bright
enough? Are you glad
now?
And you don’t know
what to say.
Its light quivers like unfallen
tears. You sit still, regarding
the light like a dangerous
lunatic, like you’ve never heard
of barbed wire, trying
to look happy.


Catherine Carter’s collections of poetry with LSU Press include The Memory of Gills, The Swamp Monster at Home, and Larvae of the Nearest Stars. Her poetry has won the North Carolina Literary Review’s James Applewhite Prize, the NC Literary and Historical Society’s Roanoke-Chowan Award, Jacar Press’ chapbook contest; it has also appeared in Best American Poetry 2009, Orion, Poetry, Ecotone, and Ploughshares, among others. She is a professor of English at Western Carolina University.

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