What Is Left | Carla Rachel Sameth

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What is Left

Carla Sameth’s poetry captures the sudden calamity of the pandemic and the way it has made us redraft the future, hold the helplessness of loss from the quiet of our homes, and continue to love despite the distance. The lens of the mother is at the heart of her poems–a mother who knows loss profoundly, a queer mother, and mother to a Black son–and offers potent and urgent currents of protection in a shaky world. She also delivers surprising notes of levity, and we find ourselves in those moments too, and we ride the waves of both demise and recovery.



Who in this time hasn’t been “stifled by need / to see your face / … speak to you / unmasked”? What Is Left is a record of family life, outrage and grief during the COVID-19 pandemic and this new yet old era of racist violence in the US. Carla Rachel Sameth’s lyrical record is at once searingly personal and politically astute. There is surprising humor. There are fresh attempts at connection and tenderness, in particular between a mother and son. Above all, there persists in these moving pages a compassion for one another’s shared state of fragility. Hope emerges from this compassion and from the sensory delights that somehow go on—say, a flower’s “bold and delicate scent of possibilities.”

—Chen Chen, author of When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities



Carla Sameth’s What Is Left is a beautifully absurd witness to the early days of the pandemic. Many will recognize the obsession with birds’ songs and sourdough bread, but as a mother to a 20-something Black son, Sameth creates poetry that deftly explores what parenting means in a world that does not allow for care. As she moves the reader from spring 2020 to summer 2020, poems excavate the tragic public murder of George Floyd and what breath means in a pandemic where Black men are not allowed to breathe. With her son in constant danger and she at a loss for how to protect him, her poetry finds comfort in music and home. This collection is honest, tender and poignantly humorous. It will feel like a touchstone to many.

—Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, author of Posada: Offerings of Witness and Refuge 



Carla Rachel Sameth has a voice textured with strength and longing, grief and humor, wisdom and resilience. These poems tell of loneliness and loss—of human contact and touch, and of community—but also of an unwillingness to give in and give up. Sameth’s inventiveness and wit are fully present in this collection, along with the depth she always brings to her work. These poems are not like pills to be taken in doses but more like rich and aromatic cups of coffee to savor and relish, wishing there were more.

—Shuly Xóchitl Cawood, author of Trouble Can Be So Beautiful at the Beginning



The feel, focus and flavor of What Is Left bears fruit familiar and fresh. Face frontiers fueled with foresight that flower form and function. Flames flirt and flail. Familiar furlough fools. Foundation frames future.

—Gerda Govine Ituarte, author of Future Awakes in Mouth of NOW




Carla Sameths chapbook, What Is Left comes out December 7, 2021 with dancing girl press. Her debut memoir, One Day on the Gold Line, originally published in 2019, will be reissued by Golden Foothills Press in 2022.  Her writing on blended/unblended, queer, multi-racial and single parent families appears in a variety of literary journals and anthologies. Carla’s work has been twice named as Notable Essays of the Year in Best American Essays. A Pasadena Rose Poet, a West Hollywood Pride Poet, and a former PEN Teaching Artist, Carla teaches creative writing to high school and university students and has taught incarcerated youth. She lives in Pasadena with her beloved partner, Milo. https://carlasameth.com/





Sometimes I feel as if I’m undone,
a big spool of yarn
rolling down a steep hill and out into the street,
down the garbage-gathered drain.

Other times, I’m standing in front of Ramon’s 
apartment building in DF. Remember 
when I broke that bottle of Tequila Herradura. 
It shattered in big shards and little slivers. 
¡Híjole, y fue uno de los buenos! 
the doorman lamented watching the smooth 
white liquid spill onto the sidewalk. Lost. 
I wonder would they say that about me 
as I fall and crash to smithereens? 

I want to laugh out loud when I see 
I’m as solid as a snow cone.
As if I could be slurped up, tossed out or simply melt away
As if I could be a sweetness craved, a crying child’s
dream on steaming summer days.

Prescription: Wrap arms tightly 
around chest, imagine freshly baked challah, 
imagine a Friday night when you allow 
yourself to rest your shredded senses,
and put on that white lace Brazilian dress.
Do not think of shards;
think instead of strong vigas, high
ceilings, an unobstructed view
of the Big Dipper, Leonard Cohen 
carrying your darkness in his secret chords.
Sing Hallelujah.
Sing Hineni,
I am here.