Katherine Carle
author photo by Rennie McQuilkin  
In The Uncommon Nativity of Common Things, her third book, Katharine Carle presents us poems by turns raucous and religious, witty and lyrical, iconoclastic and philosophical. A tomboy become a devoted mother, she looks back to the past nostalgically but forges into her 85th year with “a joy, an exulting.” A continuing undercurrent in the book is the belief that though “we’re made of different colors…no one [is] below, no one above.” John L. Stanizzi says that “Katharine Carle is that rare poet who can look back at myriad memories, sweet and bittersweet, and do so without a single trace of sentimentality or melancholy. Instead, her poems are commemorations; she does not bemoan the past, but illuminates it. She speaks of the past as ‘parts of a puzzle’ she will assemble, ‘And out of their jumble / there it is, the portrait / of that fly-away day / you thought had gone astray.’ And she does not shy away from making it clear where such veneration for life – past, present, and future – is born. She writes, ‘Oh Lord, bless us, / capable of / great evil and great good, / raise us up and make of us a light divine.’ I cannot recall a book with more wisdom, more reverence, more light than Katharine Carle’s The Uncommon Nativity of Common Things. It is luminous.” And this from the Rev. Patricia M. Hames: “These poems do indeed connect us with the ‘common’ of life. Through her keen observation, Kathy Carle directs our gaze to an array of events, objects, people and places, then flips them over from top or bottom or inside out. With wisdom, wit, and gravitas, Kathy brings alive the ordinary and infuses it with a spirit that can open our souls as well as our eyes.”
Cover photo
  cover image after a painting by Scranton H. Redfield

Born in the vortex of the Great Depression, Katharine Redfield Carle grew up as a tomboy in New Haven, CT. Marrying early as a freshman at Wellesley College, she mothered two sons while working in cardiac research to help her husband through medical school. In her second marriage to a man she describes as “the good husband,” she inherited two daughters. As owners of travel agencies with a focus on educational journeys for museums and schools, she and her husband traveled much of the world. A Christian and a Buddhist, she tries to practice the Zen proverb that urges us to “chop wood and carry water” as a way to achieve enlightenment, which for her occurs in the process of washing the dishes, writing the book, and trekking the fields. Katharine Carle’s work has appeared in a number of literary journals; in the 2001 anthology produced at The Frost Place, where she was an invited participant in the Robert Frost Festival of Poetry; and in two previous books, Enter the Wood and Divided Eye. She leads a writing group at the Seabury Retirement Community in Bloomfield, Connecticut, where she also plans literary events. In 2014 she continued her life as a traveler with a visit to Yosemite National Park, where she became fascinated by the culture and spirit of the native people of that region.

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ISBN 978-1-936482-81-8

Copyright © 2015 by Katharine Redfield Carle

6" x 9" paperback, 100 pages


copyright © 2015 by Katharine Redfield Carle



They’re words, used, discarded,
found in gutters and scrap heaps.
Pick them up, listen to what they say.

If they’re rusty, polish them.
Bent? Straighten them.
Too big? Whittle them down.

Put them to work, fit them –
like parts of a puzzle – together.
And out of their jumble

there it is, the portrait
of that fly-away day
you thought had gone astray.


Under dirt and debris, a slab
I sweep clean.

Crouching before it I see a lichen-covered surface,
a hole at its center. I carefully
dust and watch some glyphs appear.

Mysterious, perhaps a leg, then two,
a beak – no, a rune, no,
they look like letters –
a K, an R, and something that may be a date.

Now it comes back.
His man’s hand guiding mine,
we have pressed our initials into the wet cement
of a footer
on a warm November day: our first collaboration.
Now the date comes clean.

11/40. Seventy-three years
have passed since we put our heads together
in his basement realm of tools,
reading his diagram
for what the footer will help support.

Standing by my initials or his (they are the same)
we see the diagram come to life:
a flight of stairs and a landing
emerging out of the unoccupied air
as we inhale the wet mud odor
of lime, silica, and water,
savor the smell of wood new cut for stringers.

I am my Dad’s helper, apprentice,
glowing in his approval. I am not yet the girl
he hoped would be a boy.


for Joy

We are air planing,
one leg planted,
one leg up, back,
and in the air.

Arms are out making our wings –
heads are up, looking forward
as the captain of his airship does.

I’m out again at Mix’s pond
where the flag is up, the pond is frozen.
We’ve tramped miles, skates on shoulders,
to lace up and glide off on smoothed ice.

I’m gliding down wind
down the ice, lifting one skate,
holding its blade in my hand,
lifting it skyward, an aerial split.

A joy, an exulting
I can neither name nor
fully express
flies higher than I.


With a primordial ache I long for her
as we only do for the familiar
earth, trees and stones of family and home.

I’m visiting my sister.
I need to touch her – her intimate thoughts
and memories obscured from me.

I remember monkeys grooming each other,
sometimes mother and child, sometimes siblings –
I long to companion her like that.

I coo bird-like, lean forward,
lightly touch her on the arm, but it’s a poor way
to read lost thoughts.

I yearn to be a monkey on a branch with her.
I’d sniff her scent, locate her itch, and scratch it.


I’d want to be healthy –
all of me.

I wouldn’t be at war with me;
each part would do its job.

I’d want a balance, an equity
between each part and system.

Fair weather for my upper part
wouldn’t cause foul for the nether.

Food for my bread basket wouldn’t
starve my soul or my brainy bean.

I wouldn’t cut off my left hand
to please my right

nor favor my fairer regions
over the darker.

I want to be healthy –
all of me.


I am sporting my gold medal
after the polo pool battle.

I growled like a beast, bared my teeth,
grappled with Mary Ann for the ball,
beat it out of her hands, screaming
“Mine! Mine!” I think she let go in surprise.

I’ve spent 81 years trying to
become a lady. (The first four
don’t count – when I went naked, etc.)

I was five when I bit my mother’s
college roommate in her leg,
told her “I don’t yike compady.”
I don’t remember this. They tell
that story often, and until today
I’ve been trying to do better.


A crescent moon is rising
with Jupiter above,
Venus bright below,
the atmosphere so clear
I have a vision of how the world
must have looked
before a single fire had been lit.
I smell the moon shining,
hear the sound of star light,
feel the heat of the music,
become a song myself.


I must go down to the woods again,
to the lovely woods and the sky
and all I ask is a full sun
and a path to guide me by.

I must check on the birds,
make sure that they’re fed,
see that there’s grass for them
to make a bed,

find me the rabbit’s hole,
the spot in the brambles where
the homely little vole
beds down with the hare. There,

a clutch of old berries that cling
to a cane
will fall to the ground
at the season’s change.

They’re wizened, they’re dark,
but on tasting one, I
find a bitter-sweetness
with which I see eye to eye.

The moral of this story is:
some things old can be delicious.


for Jeff

Grey and worn, it’s been lying on the coffee table for years
since my neighbor gave it to me – some twenty years now.
I’ve not paid much attention to it. Redwood, I suppose.
“Driftwood,” she said. “Found it on the beach north of Golden
Gate Bridge across the Bay, wild and deserted. Must have
floated there from up the coast where the redwoods are.”

Now he wants to know if I would mind his borrowing it
to clean it up, stabilize its weaker branches,
polish it with Tung Oil and the sweat of his hands,
discover what the living wood says, or is, or wants to be.

This master craftsman is himself being shaped:
broken almost beyond repair, he is emerging from surgeries,
not just put back together, but re-aligned.
He is feeling his way along, just as now he’ll search the wood
with his good right hand, check for weathering, rot,
undiscovered wounds.

He says he’ll clean it, debride it, discover its vascular system,
just as his surgeon will when he restores this carver’s hand
before it loses its touch.


Mother or auntie,
she’s generously made,
a canary yellow blouse
covering her full-breasted frame.

In her grocery cart
two kids yelling “Agin! Agin!”
as she whirls them in circles.

Round and round they go
with a larger child clinging
to the cart’s outside
in excitement and terror –
“Do it agin!”

Until they catch sight of me,
the only white about,

and the whirling stops.
The smaller boy says, soberly,
“Makin’ too much noise
gon’ get us killed.”


to be performed by choir and congregation

We know, we know
that God and the Spirit are with us.

We believe and can feel Christ’s love.
Why then, do we shiver when the words
warn we have not life if we do not believe.

Let me be possessed by God.
May the Spirit seize me.

Many have heard him,
some have seen him.
But I have not.

When His voice is gone from us,
when the sight of Him is hidden,
bring your Son to us
that we may hear and believe.

Come back to us
like the songs of unseen
birds of the air
whose clear calls tell us

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.

after 1 John 5:9-13

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