Sara Cantwell

American Exceptionalism for Daughters

Her daddy slips shinny casings into the press
with hands made of leather and grease,

her brown eyes watching bullets meet powder.
Abundant ammo primed for his hunting game.

She is left jealous of his ample concern
for the reconditioned brass she cannot touch.

She wants her father’s affection when she is unable
to understand the tenets of God; those cartridges.

She is balking before the boom of the rimfire
being kissed by a firing pin, a point of no return,

powerless to explain why it hurts so much
being someone who can’t escape in nature

where, like Thoreau, her father is restored;
male and powerful: individualism glorified

through the scope of a .22 rifle. Seeking, searching out
a thoughtless doe, brown eyes watching dangers 

she can’t interpret: 90 lbs. of dead weight,
a leaded slug in her core, the soulless body

a daughter will drag out of the woodlot at sundown,
eyes unresponsive, while geese fly south for winter. 

A Girl off the Cusp of Ascension Island

The captain’s log is washed in brine and the keel drinks while this galleon goes down.

Up, up small child who wears ordainments
            like a sailor and smells of sun-dried kelp.
            The lower decks cannot hold you.

Up because these decayed leaflets of noise
           from captains past are an archive of your desire to live.
          You are not so far behind if you are willing to read them.

Galician sailors found it, found it, found it: Ascension! But those young de Magalhães
           all drowned before the shore.

Be permeable.

Let the sharks, rigging and disease fade
           through like spectrums of invisible light.
           Your body of lipids will fight
           to keep the water at bay.

You are so far off course but can use recessions
           to ripple out a Morse code
           I don’t want to die alone. 

Silt on the missives, mud on the knees,
           and heads strung along like bobbers
           will never keep you from boiling in a hydrothermal vent. 

Because She Dreams in Noir

For Karen


She says she loves the 50’s and the way
women wore pearls with their hair in waves
while she leaves her hair straight and grey.

As the film noir flashes on her television
screen actresses move from mothers
to femme fatales who complicate plot lines

and demand an actor’s respect. She thinks
about her mother who rallied five girls
and two boys into the Cold War

with rhubarb and canned ham. Her mother
loved her way to grown children with children
and died with a perm in her hair. Her mother

was the grace who hummed hymns in the kitchen
and didn’t take anyone’s lip. This modern woman
is not her mother and doesn't move like women

in noir films. She’s aware of how reality skews
while she raises no children of her own, only wayward
nieces and nephews with their indulgent eyes. She dreams

of diamonds and silk. She dreams of a complex plot
to shove her story to something more seductive
than microwave dinners and Weight Watchers.

She wants her legacy to begin like her mother’s
did, when there were too many people at the wake
to fit them all inside so the daughters hugged

nieces with black dresses and nephews
with pressed white shirts on the front steps
while Amazing Grace was sung in the kitchen.

A contemporary woman with the story and face
of her mother, and pearls around her neck. 


Sara Cantwell’s work has appeared in Sigma Tau Delta’s Mind Murals, the Barbaric Yawp, and was featured in BlueLine Magazine’s college edition. A resident of Massena, New York, she completed a BFA in Creative Writing at SUNY Potsdam, where she is a Department Scholar and recipient of the Maurice Kenny Award for Creative Writing. Currently she is an MA student in SUNY Potsdam's department of English & Communications and works as a graduate assistant in the College Writing Center.