Carolyn Oliver

Vanitas with Weather Eye

keep a sharp lookout

cloud syzygy
rail tie   schoolbell   creek

but here’s a table laid by
artful hands

fossil coral honey
comb paper
weight budget skull

shelled acorns floral 
roasted keyboards

a solitary hornet
tests mercury veins
in your feet 

alewives falling 
from the sky

Vanitas with Whether I

choose to recall

fragrance of apples 
lingers in empty bags

crushed cabbage moth
greases the page

tableau vivant
the grapes are glass
where vinegar drips

a pendant web set 
your skin as ornament

how harps accord
strawberries to February

now the first person 
I brought to bed
is an undertaker 

From the author: These poems are part of a series of paired poems, all with “vanitas” in the title. Each pair is linked by wordplay, image, or sound. The series is, I hope, in conversation with the vanitas tradition in painting. 

Carolyn Oliver is the author of The Alcestis Machine (Acre Books, forthcoming 2024), Inside the Storm I Want to Touch the Tremble (University of Utah Press, 2022; selected for the Agha Shahid Ali Prize in Poetry), and three chapbooks. Her poems appear in The Massachusetts ReviewCopper NickelPoetry DailyShenandoahBeloit Poetry Journal32 PoemsSouthern Indiana ReviewAt Length, and elsewhere. She lives in Massachusetts, where she is a 2023-2024 Artist in Residence at Mount Auburn Cemetery. Her website is