Go to: Karl Young Home Page or Light and Dust Anthology of Poetry



by Karl Young


a speck
of dust
that wetness
can form around
a sword
so sharp
it draws blood from the wind




There's a small leaf,
deep green,
dark veins,
serrated edges,
deep in the drain
of the sink --
it must have fallen
when Mary Ann
watered the plants.
Above the leaf,
lying across it,
about its own size
and shape,
the last fragment
of a pure white
bar of soap
that just slipped
out of my hand.
Ships in tropical seas,
eyes of jungle birds,
cue balls on felt,
snow among pines,
the sink
around the drain
is sparkling white;
the leaves
on the bathroom plants
aren't as dark
as the one
whose point and stem
frame the soap
deep in the drain.



A huge chunk of ice
left behind by the receding glacier
was slow to melt here
as the rest of the glacier receded;
as the rest of the glacier receded
it sent back from its thaw
rock it had abraded
into sand and pebbles and stones,
a stream of rock
that gathered around the hunk of ice --
when the ice itself finally thawed
its water was the first
to fill the lake it had made.

Lying in bed this morning,
next to the lake created by the glacier,
an early spring wind in the trees outside,
my dream melts:
what will the wind
bring with it now?



blown rain, filtered by screens,
dampens our shoulders,
collects in the glass.
through the rhythm of rain
             feel a single drop
from the rhythm of skin
             extract one hair

             and lose all distinctions



Waking from a nap to answer the phone,
I discover the house empty,
the sun setting over the windowsill,
over the trees waving by the river,
its light full in my face.
Susan was here when I fell asleep;
the sound of gears winding down on Bartlett
still comes through the window.
I lift myself up on my arms
to look outside:
the Phillips' boy from across the street,
five years old I guess,
is walking slowly, walking backwards,
up Kenwood Boulevard.
I've said "yes" maybe a dozen times
to whoever it is I'm talking to
just so they'll know I'm here.



I saw a man with his back toward me.
He looked like a friend
I hadn't seen in a long time:
right size, familiar clothes,
right hair style and color --
he glanced sideways quickly,
showing an unmistakable beard and nose.
I walked up to him, slapped him on the back,
and said, "Hey, how's it going --
it's been a long time . . . "
The face I looked at was a stranger's.
I then remembered that my friend
had been dead for nearly a year.

Walking home,
night's eyes move
in the spring wind.



Waves rush and their crests
are white diamonds --
no: they're whitefish, alewives.
Coughed up to the waves' troughs
they ride the waves' sides up and are tossed
into air--on the surface of this dying lake,
on a day as windy as this,
you have the wild dance
of dead fish . . .
their scales shimmering down
like sunlight on water.
No, don't nod.
Look me square in the face:
see the glittering in my eyes.



Anna Young
Feb. 6, 1889 -- May 15,1980

I lift a spoonful of food
to my grandmother's mouth;
I open my own mouth
as the spoon touches her lips.
She must have done the same thing
when I was a child.
I open my mouth again
as I lift another spoonful.




On this melon
the nerves in the ridges of my hands
feel ridges and valleys
older than the shapes of my cells,
and know the fibers,
the oceanic swell of clear wetness
that breaks through them,
that someone decided to leave at the last minute
here between the magazines and candybars
in the aisle of the checkout counter . . .
well, I move forward, face the checker
and those miners,
sometimes during heavy fighting,
slept in those caves,
beneath the pictures the Sioux took
as the drawings of god.
My hand leaves the melon.
Miners chipped a little gold from those walls.



I haven't been in this alley for years.
Last time I'd been drinking
in a friend's back yard,
the moon was full,
the air was full of the smell of summer,
and we walked down the alley,
commenting on the plants and cars and furniture
in people's yards --
we found a child's pool
and splashed and pulled each other down
in its water.
Some men are building a garage;
the smell of sawdust fills the air as I pass.
There's my friend's yard --
I don't know where she
or any other friends from that time are now.
In the next yard an elderly man paints a table.



A boy has a dummy, about his own size,
fastened over the spinerest of a bicycle.
It has the head of a frog, made of dark green
rubber or plastic, with bulging white eyes.
Another boy caresses and kisses the dummy
in a grandiose manner. The boy on the bike
seems to be telling the other one to stop --
the other's kisses and caresses become more
exaggerated, until the rider peddles the bike,
pulling the dummy out of the other boy's hands.
The boy on foot runs after him.
He yells loud enough for me to hear,
"Hey, that's my bike, and my dummy."



Her head turned slowly, casually,
until her eyes may have caught me --
I'm not sure.
She turned her head quickly forward
just as I spotted her:
she stood still and rigid as a tree.
I got into the same line
and watched her over the shoulders
of the people between us.
When she had to step forward,
her walk was brittle
and she seemed careful not to turn her head.
Our years together,
our exhilaration and anguish,
the air we breathed together,
have frozen us both.
She has become a tree.
The line moves forward.
Leaves outside are in their August fullness.



In the window of the fish store
there's a tank full of lobsters.
The shop is dark, there's a green light
in the tank, illuminating the bubbles
that stream from the tubes at its sides.
The door of the adjacent bar opens,
some people come out and the noise of the bar
comes with them. The door closes and they walk
silently behind me. They get into a car,
creaking and slamming its doors.
People have been getting in and out of their cars
and driving up and down the street
as I've looked in this window.
The lobsters wheel their claws and feelers
around in the green water; sometimes
one runs a feeler over the glass.



you've passed your anger
on to me and that seems to have calmed you
now you try to pacify me
an arguing couple passes outside
someone follows playing a kazoo



the rim
of the brown paper bag
peeling back in the flames
knows why the next hill
curves up so gently
     the sky is grey
the clouds are full of water
the heat of the fire
raises a charred page
up toward the clouds
     the flames whorl
inside and around a delicate ash
retaining the shape of the bag
     the charred page
knows when it'll rain
     the charred page
hovers over the trees
and begins circling
into the valley




With the trees bare and the air clear
you can see where this street
on the other side of the river
you can see the neon lights
of a couple bars
and cars parked in the street

When they fight dragons in the river
the globes and needles
of blood and water rise
over the trees:
the bars close and the trees flower



I knew you'd still be here this fall,
that we'd be talking like this
on the livingroom floor,
books and sketches making an island around us,
the first time the furnace turned on
and pause for a second to hear the warm air
come up through the ducts,
a response from the center of the house
to the cold wind swinging around us outside.
Minerals and acids replace chlorophyll
in the trees above us,
continents float over moving plates of magnetized rock,
the great cycles of air from Alaska and the Caribbean
come round again as the turning earth
redistributes its allotment of heat.
Your skin shivered a little against your blouse
when we put down this book last year.



About four square feet
of plaster
fell from the shop's
landed, in chunks, next to the
sometime just before dawn.
was working when it fell;
was even in the shop:
Ed and Barbara were sleeping,
the bar nextdoor
was closed, and I imagine
nothing much
was moving on thirty fifth street
but trucks
and a few birds. Plaster drips
hang between
the laths above my head.
My feet,
when I move them, move parts
of the ceiling.
I try to align a correction
with the copy
below it:
no one was in this chair
when the plaster fell.



The man at the counter looked familiar;
I smiled and tried to look encouraging
but saw no recognition in his face and said nothing.
I remembered him several hours later:
we had been on opposite sides of someone else's war.
He may have remembered me fast enough
to show no sign of recognition.



The squid's beak
rolls to the side of my knife;
its belly separates easily,
almost dividing itself
in front of the blade.
The cats brush my legs
as they walk in tight circles
under the table.
What can I say about oceans?
Cold water
submerges near the poles
and runs along their floors.



Several girls huddle between the garages,
smoking cigarettes, giggling, talking intensely.
A hush falls over them
as I approach with a bag of garbage.
Is that a trace of fear in their eyes?
Do I represent age and oppression to them?
Their voices resume as I walk away--
old man death with his garbage bags.



A red seed lay in her hair
as we ate supper.
She probably brushed a few locks
away from her forehead,
transferring the seed from her fingers.
I didn't tell her it was there
so I could watch it,
a burning jewel in the streaks of darkness.

As she sleeps,
harvest moonlight
follows my fingers
through her hair,
as we follow each other
into the darkness.




Ten inches of snow
have already fallen today and it's
still coming down--
Where the snows of yesteryear?
Jesus: here they come.



Behind the rounded section of concrete curb
that marks the corner where parking space ends
and the alley begins, a fair depth of ground
has been worn away, leaving a depression
about three feet square and perhaps five inches deep.
This morning the snow that had filled it melted,
forming a muddy pool. This afternoon
it's gotten cooler and the puddle has frozen
to a hunk of smooth surfaced, dark brown ice
not much different in color from the grass around it.
A highschool kid running and sliding out of the alley
spots it and does a sliding dance on its surface.



Light snow covers the runway,
joining it to the mounds
pushed up at the end of the cement.
Stars hang over the ridges of snow:
the crusted snow glitters like stars.
I'm waiting for a visitor
I've only seen in a photograph
taken a decade ago.
I wonder how accurate the picture was
when it was taken and try to imagine
how time may have altered her face.
I imagine myself greeting the wrong person
or forgetting her name.
My image and that of the other people
waiting in the room
show ghostlike on the enormous window,
made visible by darkness.
The stars are strangers
like the people whose shadows drift among them,
like the visitor
who will descend from the sky.



Looking at books in the library
I heard sounds made by water
maybe the kind a rocky brook would make.
I followed the sound through the stacks
some small part of me hoping to find
a grotto or a delicate waterfall
descending a mountain in stages
or a stream between pines.
What I found was a large metal drum
surrounded by smaller cans
collecting drops of water
that fell from a place in the ceiling
where tiles had broken away--
it probably has something to do
with all the snow collected on the roof.
I sat on a table and closed my eyes
and listened to the intricate rhythms
of falling water.



The sky is as dirty
as this snow.
Nearing the corner I see,
reflected in the ice beyond the curb,
the irritating red
of an old brick warehouse,
sky's dirt smearing across it.
I step down on it,
discover it's thin,
it cracks,
and a bit of water
gets over my shoe
before I can jump to a clear patch
of cement.
A lot of snow has already melted;
perhaps all the water
has left these snowbanks
pure structures of cold:
bins, perhaps, or deserted combs,
dirt brimming their lips,
as thin and as easy to break
as the sky.



There's an iron grill in the street
just in front of the driveway.
The spaces between the bars
have always seemed utterly black,
as though the slots fell away
into infinity.
Today, shoveling the driveway,
I see snow through the grate
just a few inches under the bars.
I have come to realize
that my life is finite.



These onions and potatoes
were left in this drawer
last summer
when we came back from vacation.
When I come in from shoveling snow,
I open the drawer
and look at the jungle they've made.
My mother left this chest of drawers
in the hall a year or so ago --
I don't know what she thought we'd do with it --
we forget things in it.
The white runners of the potatoes
have made a sort of a nest in the drawer
and grow around the onion shoots.
A stalking lynx
drops its hind paws
so perfectly into the prints
made by its forepaws
it never cracks a twig or rustles grass
with its hind feet.
I cut snow in blocks with the shovel
and throw each block
on top of the banks of snow.
Deep in the maze
where I can't see them,
some of each potato remains,
the skin wrinkled, contracted, dirt covered;
the golden skins of the onions
are still round and full
though the inner layers
have shrunk inside them.
In the last Mayan city
not yet rediscovered in the jungle,
vines and creepers
are carving glyphs in the walls;
the figures in the glyphs
are eating the vines and creepers.
I go back out
and cut more drawers in the snow.
They set out a bowl of corn flour
on the night when the gods return;
a priest checked the bowl every few minutes
until a footprint appeared in the flour.
Then they knew the first god had arrived
and the rest would follow.
As I reshuffle the drawers of snow
the fingers of the snow are designing
the plants and animals and buildings
of an endless world.








ISBN 0-87924-057-1

Copyright © 1987 by Karl Young

Printed on 100% recycled paper.
And presumably reprinted here with 100% recycled electrons.

Membrane Press
Milwaukee, Wisconsin


     a speck

1. There's a small leaf
     A huge chunk of ice
     blown rain, filtered by screens
     Waking from a nap to answer the phone
     I saw a man with his back toward me
     Waves rush and their crests
     Anna Young
2. On this melon
     I haven't been in this alley for years
     A boy has a dummy
     Her head turned slowly
     In the window of the fish store
     you've passed your anger
     the rim
3. with the trees bare
     I knew you'd still be here this fall
     About four square feet
     The man at the counter looked familiar
     The squid's beak
     Several girls huddle between the garages
     A red seed lay in her hair
4. Ten inches of snow
     Behind the rounded section of concrete curb
     Light snow covers the runway
     Looking at books in the library
     The sky is as dirty
     There's an iron grill in the street
     These onions and potatos


Go to Karl Young Home Page

Go to Light and Dust Anthology of Poetry