Two Poems by Kara Dorris

Photograph by Venus De Milo.

Life Story

They said mustaches are illegal if
you habitually kiss people.
That we can’t carry ice cream
in our back pockets on Sundays
but can marry at fifteen
with parental consent.
They said women can’t cut their own
hair without husbands’ permission,
that one-armed piano players
must play for free—
tell me, my friend, who decides?
Who said, where the crowd is,
there is truth
. Who forgets
he also said, there is untruth too.

Who decides a rapist gets
parental rights?
Who said stillbirth is concealment
& crime? We must fear
our bodies & walking at night.
In a catholic hospital they say do
no harm
includes forcing “proper burial”
after miscarriage, choosing between
mass grave or private
at our own cost, doubling-down
loss when forced to write mother
as “relationship to remains.”

So, tell me, who decides what’s right?
That question, my friend, is
a puncture of terror,
&, sometimes, I am guilty
of closing my eyes, replacing
one darkness with a different kind.

Advice to My Twenty-Four-Year-Old Self

I would say, you worry about the wrong things

falling into routine as if into a salt pit,
rising as quickly as tar

never realize crooked bones don’t make you
sink less or more.

I would say, don’t worry about the small things
be a monster for a little while longer.

I would want to say, debt isn’t invisible
the aftermath like freckles or swimsuit lines

if you never left your own head,
you still beach-waltzed the night in the arms
of an army guy.

I would try to show you, debt can be invisible
a shelter for homelessness

in secondary trauma locked doors & windows
can’t guarantee safety

sometimes giving in feels like gambling.

[…] like the Log Run at Six Flags, assembly lines
of prepackaged chips & Barbies, you’ll be
the girl never stepping out
of bounds. But you should know,

you can reframe, make your own velvet rope
& warning tape

Kara Dorris is the author of Have Ruin, Will Travel (2019) and When the Body is a Guardrail (2020) from Finishing Line Press. She has also published five chapbooks. Her poetry has appeared in Prairie Schooner, DIAGRAM, Cutbank, Tinderbox, Puerto del Sol, The Tulane Review, and Crazyhorse, among other journals, as well as the anthology Beauty is a Verb (2011). Her prose has appeared in Wordgathering, Breath and Shadow, Waxwing, and the anthology The Right Way to be Crippled and Naked (2016). Currently, she is a visiting assistant professor of English at Illinois College. For more information, please visit