Back to Issue Thirty-Seven

The Answer



When my son cried out
in the night I woke—ready—

and scrambled to his room
without even putting on

my glasses, pulled through
the dark living room and down

the dark hall by this instinct
I’m still sometimes surprised

to possess. By the time
I got to him he’d fallen back

to sleep, of course, and so there
I was, awake, squinting down

on him, twisted up in Paw
Patrol sheets, his body emitting

that constant low heat of the still-
growing. What a miracle,

I thought then, that I’ll always
get to recall the slant look

he gave me when the nurse
first brought his new face up

to mine and I could see even
then, from the start, he was

sizing me up, finding me
somewhere in the adequate-

to-lacking range, though
he must’ve known—must’ve

come knowing—that I’d
have to do. Trying to untangle

him from the sheets, I woke
him, of course, and he looked up

at me, mystified, my face
inches from his. When he asked

what I was doing there,
I answered, I’m not here, go

back to sleep, and he did.
Once, my life was neat.

It was a handkerchief, folded,
slipped into a back pocket.

No one had to know
it was even there. Now,

it’s opened. And wasn’t it
this I prayed for in some

distant, quiet place, all
alone, all lonesome and alone?

Wasn’t it God I asked
to allow me the grace

to one day learn the names
of all the dogs on Paw Patrol,

all the ponies on My Little
Pony, all the Pokémon, good

and bad, the Care Bears,
the Transformers, the enemies

of Batman, the friends of
Batman, all the good guys

and all the bad guys forever
and ever, amen? Make it

real. Wasn’t that exactly
what I’d asked for?





I flush the latest dead fish down
the toilet before the children
come home. We bought the fish
to be little responsibility lessons
and then little death lessons
for the children, though the fish
keep dying for no clear reason
and somehow I am the only one
who is ever home to partake
of the death lessons. The children
are at camp learning to be bored
and itchy with a few moments
of wonder and one to two friends
each. They are having childhoods
and I am having adulthood,
watching the silver body that just
this morning contained a life
flash like money one last time
before vanishing down the drain,
trying to decide whether or not
to tell them when they arrive,
their faces red from sun and chlorine.
I pray here, over the toilet, that in
the moment, I will tell them the truth
and that I will tell it well enough.



Carrie Fountain is the author of three poetry collections, The Life, Instant Winner, and Burn Lake, winner of the 2009 National Poetry Series Award, and the YA novel I’m Not Missing. Her first children’s book, The Poem Forest (Candlewick Press, 2022) tells the story of American poet W.S. Merwin and the palm forest he grew from scratch on the island of Maui. Her poems have appeared in Tin House, Poetry, and The New Yorker, among many others.

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