Shady Grove

Nancy Naomi Carlson

My fortune was told in tea leaves scattered like ash
in a gold-trimmed cup four decades ago,

but I don’t remember more than the porcelain’s spades
and crescent moons, a pair of geese, a bush apple tree

with a snake’s open mouth—so there must have been
a snake as well—which seemed fortune enough, for then,

and perhaps for now, riding from Forest Glen
to Shady Grove, the end of the line, and looping back

for no reason at all, except, maybe, the sound of my own
breathing to soothe myself to sleep, strangers’ bodies

pressed into mine. Women in business clothes like the ones
I used to wear seep into and out of underground shadows.

Voices collect like confessions of thousands of students.
Stations pass like seasons, and through my mouth, 

breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit—
the Thoreau on yesterday’s tea bag of shapeless leaves,

counsel culled from years of daydreams
counting rings on stumps of trees.


Nancy Naomi Carlson has won grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Maryland Arts Council, and the Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County, and is the author of three poetry collections, as well as the critically acclaimed Stone Lyre: Poems of René Char. She is an associate editor for Tupelo Press, teaches at the Bethesda Writer’s Center, and coordinates the graduate school counseling program at the University of the District of Columbia.


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