Common Knowledge

Brittany Cavallaro

The boy kicking at the brick wall
can be persuaded with a King Cone.
Ask him what happens at the Sleeping
Bear dunes, which men will climb
into their cars stinking like blood.
It’s the old story again, the blonde girl
in the gingham lace-up espadrilles
dead and her Norwegian parents
tacking up the noose in the lace upstairs
window. It’s true of Traverse City,
that silence, the desperate condos
installed in the cauliflower fields’
desuetude. The Cherry Queen paraded
downtown with her lipstick smile
painted out to her earlobes. A 10-1
picked up on the radio next to the sofa
upholstered in chintz, the rolling papers,
your mother dangling the wrong
question to your telephone father
and the fingers on her throat later
in their bed. You know about this
from the camcorder in the bureau
and from the way your girlfriend
will cry in the closet later, hanging
onto a clothes-hanger with both hands
while you cut open the door with
your dad’s bowie knife. You could leave
for the city, but you won’t. Not when
the West Twin Lake brothers told you
about the headlight competition. About
how tonight the ghosts will cough too loud
and finally give themselves away.


My mother asked again where are
the children. I said I’ll look. This time

I used my hands. The back windows
were vagued by the heat and I drew.

I said Jeffrey. I said I’m out to the store
can you watch the girls. My mother wrote

down notes. We’d been this far before.
Okay she said. In the window, a stick-

man leaned over a smoking stove.
A stick-girl behind him, branch-hands

out. I said gingerbread, lengthy
trail, pitchfork-town. I pushed

back against the glass and made
smoke. The clouds behind were

black with rain. She said where
is he now. Can you call the girls to supper

I said. We’ll try again tomorrow.


I won’t say it again. I mean
it’s impossible to change
direction. I mean
even if no one’s lived
in that house since the fall
I won’t let you burn it down. I mean\
you can’t hold me while it roars.
Not if you still reek
like kerosene. I mean
your truck is always running
when you’re around and those scorched-
out places show your chest
and of course you light another. I mean
green things can grow without water
but then they’re covered in quills.
Where do my hands go then. In this afterdark
I can make out your teeth but
your lips are lost and you’ve stopped speaking.

Brittany Cavallaro
Brittany Cavallaro

Brittany Cavallaro's poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Gettysburg Review, The Journal, CutBank, Meridian, Indiana Review and elsewhere. She received her MFA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she was the editor-in-chief of Devil's Lake. Her awards include a scholarship from the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference and the Chancellor's Fellowship from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she will begin her PhD this fall.