It’s not my business, but each time I glimpsea small girl, bleary-eyed, staring downat her shoes, hair greasedfrom longing as the trainrattles on over rats and bits of trashthrough the dark, I wantto make a girl-pactthat whatever she isdreaming there, night flashingat her back, she will go onin spite of. Though it is notmy business justa moment ago you stoodfour-feet tall on the subway stairs,the railing between them:I’ll fucking smack youFuck you bitchas you tried to pullyour mother’s coataway from the years of whatcomes next. Notmy business, but knowthis is not about the story of amother and father gone bad, but worse—it is about a woman and manalone, so many houses ago,picking dog hair from the meatchucked on the living room rug,thick in the part of the plotof your inheritance, and as you walkup the stairs toward the tail endof winter, a twist to your pace,I can only give you this pact:When you grow taller and repulsedby your hair pinned back, the tiearound your neck while you carryhot plates from table to table, your hearta half-stone tugging you inward, when yourrage for the order of things shocks youinto stillness, move fasteruntil you reach a room in a cityyou recognize least, and you willknow to call this home.
Pact from This Alaska (c) 2021 by Carlie Hoffman.
Appears with permission of Four Way Books.
All rights reserved.
Carlie Hoffman is the author of This Alaska (Four Way Books, 2021). Her second collection is forthcoming in 2023. A poet and translator from New Jersey, her honors include a 92Y Discovery Prize and a Poets & Writers Amy Award. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of Small Orange Journal. She lives in New York City.
“This Alaska abounds with birds. Grackles, herons, pigeons, crows, and oil-slick seagulls reveal the heartless beauty of nature and the social Darwinism of civilization. Joseph Brodsky wrote that when one encounters a bird in a poem, chances are that the bird is actually the poet. Hoffman’s birds scrounge, suffer, die and get buried, but they also rise up like a magnificent heron, ‘so blue and big and saintlike.’ Carlie Hoffman’s debut collection is excruciating and glorious and true.”
“When you die you go to This Alaska. When you’re raised from the dead you’re raised by the memory of song and you will go searching for This Alaska. It is a book of heaven that has not forgotten the body nor the shadow cast by the body, nor how hunger leads you to the slaughterhouse and is love.”
“As I read this collection of poetry, I am at once struck by how Carlie seems to know exactly my current situation, how the poems are also pushing against what Michigan and politics insist on right now, a dilution of compassion such that even using the word rings hollow, even light getting lost so that incessant winter becomes the singular season—and even grace disgusts. Carlie offers the true ending of a year, so even that we have gotten incorrect. I return to the poems, seeking what has led us astray, carnival danger leaps out, everything for sale, constant urging to try your luck, for even the dead come into houses, not funeral homes, for I get the feeling that most occupancy is dead to really feeling, dead to possibilities of healing, and this state is delivered in beautiful language of the hope Carlie’s poems offer: soothing cadences of words revealing seldom spoken truths, and that is the actual hope that Carlie identifies, for we must do more than merely hope and dream. For in the end, hopes and dreams are small engines that do not power the cages away.”