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Karen Kilcup

Spring Again

This one was bad:

I’m in bed with someone,

I don’t know who,

and I’m wrestling

with sweaty sheets. My mother,

who is sleeping in another bed,

has run to the bathroom, to vomit

endlessly. I can’t see her but can

hear the awful river, hear someone

saying your mother’s sick, so sick.

I can’t move, can only listen.

Was it the sad poems I heard

last night at the Zoom reading?

More reports from Ukraine, with all

the twisted bodies lying untended

on a rural road as trees leaf out?

Guilt for not being home when she died,

left me, for good and not for good?

This cold April morning, when the rising

sun first blares in the north window again—

summer’s coming—I climb the steep

stairs to my office, only five years younger

than she was at last, and find her

everywhere: in the ivory and rose

and teal prayer carpet; her trapezoidal

business sign for Foremost Builders;

the rush-seated chair, its ribbon back

incised with hearts; her child’s wooden

footstool with tombstone ends,

painted antique green.

In Praise of Mistaken Identity

Goldie Hawn and Sandy Duncan were not my idols,

and I was irritated when people told me I resembled them.

Didn’t they resemble me? Perhaps it was just the haircut.

Taking compliments at face value isn’t easy

when you’re young. Look outside yourself,

for a change. The red-breasted nuthatch looks

like the white-breasted nuthatch, just a little more ruddy.

Yesterday, as I stood gazing at the lilac’s spent lavender,

a wren landed, rustling. Then spun and launched toward me

at eye level, a winged missile that landed on my hat.

Did I look like a fence post? When I stirred, the wren

took off, pulling me up into the sugar maple, singing.

Salisbury Redemption Center, Early 80s

Outside, the yellow banner:

Open for Business.

The stained screen door moans,

its spring broken. Behind the counter,

a colorless kid, with transparent brows,

shows us all The Way.

In tin can heaven, everything

is segregated: separate bins

for plastic orange seltzer bottles,

aluminum Budweiser cans.

No grace necessary, just a quick flick

of the irreverent wrist.

A couple shoulders in,

D.A. and bouffant blonde, greased

and glued in place, both still stuck

in the 50s. Here the original sin’s

dented and dirty merch, for everything

should be saved. The kid shuts shop

at six sharp. My redemption’s

a buck and change.


Farm girl, rock climber, and professor, Karen Kilcup feels fortunate to be getting old. Her forthcoming book of poems, winner of the 2021 Winter Goose Poetry Prize, is titled The Art of Restoration.


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