Author: Charlotte Pence

Charlotte Pence’s poetry has received the Discovered Voices award, an individual artist commission from Tennessee, and three Pushcart nominations. In this next year, she will publish two chapbooks and The Poetics of American Song Lyrics, an essay collection that she edited on the similarities and differences between poetry and songs. The poems published here in The Offending Adam are part of a chapbook sequence to be published by Black Lawrence Press in May of 2012.

from The Branches, the Axe, the Missing


Around wood, around fire, we began.
Roasting small mammals as we sat
in circles. The sizzle-spit of fat striking

flame. And outside the circle: darkness.
Stalk of hyena. Crick-shift of his step.
Then man lifting a torch—jab-jab-jabbing

that dark until the sounds flee back to the
quiet: sizzle-spits. Shifts of logs carboned
and boned-thinned. Ashed by morning.


Biological anthropologists are discovering that
“around wood
we began” is not
Taming fire
led to
cooking which led to
more calorieswhich led to
bigger brainsto
language       speechcommunities
w/ clusters of moms, dads, Bobbies & Sallies.
But w/ everything gained, there is loss.  What
is the equation for this?
Simply: 1+1 is no longer one?
With taming
fire what was lost?


Georgia July and the thought of ice storms occurred to her father.

Fifty-three loblolly pines surrounded their house back then. Fifty-three pines that could ice-over, splinter, crash onto the roof.

They sat on their porch next to the strawberry patch that had given up only three berries all season.

She rarely weeded. She was ten.

Her dad liked quoting Frost and his proclamations of the world’s end—…in fire, some say ice.

He kept ten full gallons of gasoline in the garage.

One chainsaw.

Those pines all fell within seven hours.

A boy biked by with his sister on the handlebars. She wore a headband with bunny ears. Silver fabric where pink should have been.

The sound of falling pines was not unrecognizable.

A sound slow to finish like stacked plates falling after an earthquake. Something impossible to stop, forcing one to stand by and watch.

Just before dark, the chainsaw quieted and the bike squeaked by. The boy wore the ears now. There was no sister.

She began her job of walking through each fallen tree top.

Such rooms within those limbs. Sometimes she did pull-ups to the next firred space. Other times, she ape-swung and jumped down.

In one nest’s weave, she found foil from a chip bag and one wobbly line of red string. Two weeks ago, she had torn her red dress at the edge of these woods.

Aren’t you one lucky kid? her father called from somewhere.

She stopped moving, let the tree hide her. And it did, towering even as it lay on its side.


What was the mind like before language?

            [A bird.]

            [Arc of bird’s chest as it rises from a bay bush.]

            [A man is the thrust of the bird’s breast as it rises from a bay bush.]

            [A spreading of the bird’s wings.
            A lifting.
            A spreading of the man’s arms.
            A stilling.
            His feet still on the ground.]

This is all impossible. The description and the act of man imagining to fly.
                                                                                 That story of Icarus
                                                                             not flying, but falling:

            A crack.
            One crack to one crack to one crack until
            a break.
                        A branch coming down.

                                    This is the story we keep telling.
                                    How it all falls.
                                    How the small world falls.