The Real Warnings by Rhett Iseman Trull


Winner of the Anhinga Prize for Poetry (2008)

Open this book up anywhere and you'll find a poem of fierce and uncompromising energy and insight, a poem that doesn't pull any punches or take any prisoners, a poem that will both stun and uplift, even as it wounds and sometimes descends into darkness. "I've never read a poet who understands more fully the brutal paradoxes of love and of loving damaged things, nor have I ever read one whose epiphanies felt truer. Even more than the real warnings, this collection represents the real thing and you'll be changed by reading it"--Sheryl St. Germain.

What a range of feeling Rhett Iseman Trull captures in The Real Warnings! With a dramatist's sense of story and an actor's skill in timing, she gives us everything from adolescent confusion to strung-out loneliness, from the emptiness of unrequited love to the joy of fulfillment, from the celebration of new birth to sorrow for departures. Her foreknowledge is powerfully unsettling, while her respect for the present detail is reverent: "What I can't say, the tipped-over shopping cart outside Wal-Mart / says for me."

Here is a brilliant, caring, and telling new voice. They don't come all that often and never better than this one. -- Fred Chappell


The Real Warnings Are Always Too Late

I want to go back to the winter I was born and warn you
that I will flood through your life like acid
and you will burn yourselves on me.
On my sixteenth birthday, I will use the candles
to set the basement aflame and run out laughing,
wearing smoke like a new dress. With a pocket knife, 
I will try to root out that life you so eagerly started. 
I'll dent the garage door with my head, siphon Crown Royal
from your liquor cabinet, jump from a gondola in Venice. I'll smash
my ankle with a hammer, drive through stop signs 
with my eyes closed, cost you thousands 
in medical bills. Forget about sleeping. 
I'll dominate the prayers you keep sending up
like the last of flares from an island no one visits.
For every greeting card poem, I will write four 
to hurt you. Some will be true. 
Other people's lives will look perfect
as you search the house for its sharper pieces.
And when they lock me up I'll tell the walls 
I'm sorry. But these warnings will come like candles
after a night of pyres. I already know
how you will take one look at that new life screaming 
into the world, and open your arms,
thinking, if it looks this innocent, 
it cannot be so bad.


Instructions on How to Leave Me

Tell me again about that dream where,
in my lace skirt, I'm stealing your blueberries 
faster than you pick them. Tell me how that day

for decades has spread its sweet dark stain 
inside you. Remind me of our feet swinging 
from the church pew, good shoes knocking together. 

Any old memory will do: my Indian-head nickel 
flattened on the train tracks, the bad 
haircut I got to match yours, you winning me 

the onionskin marble from Rush the Crusher.
Or our panic every time we couldn't find 
Bob, your dad's retired firedog 

that Crazy Miss Robins used to take into town 
without asking, letting him ride shotgun, 
buying him cheeseburgers at the drive-thru.

Tell me the stories the grown-ups told on porches 
as they shelled peas and we organized
our army men, adding up our casualties

in little piles of pewter soldiers. Kiss me 
the way you did that first time 
in Dr. Harper's office after hours as we waited 

for your mother to come out crying with the news,
so sure we were the snake was poisonous
and you were going to die. Kiss me like that,

as if to say you're sorry you're about to leave, sorry
for the unpartnered square dances, ungiven presents 
of kittens and decoder rings, undedicated 

late-night radio songs. No. Don't 
say anything. Just look at me the way you did
that first time you thought you had to go. And go.

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