Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Hello and Welcome!

If you're one of the five people I imagine will visit this site at least once, I'm glad you're here!  A couple of notes:

  • Please bear with me re: any formatting issues.  It's been at least four years since I've messed around with Blogger.  I imagine that my theme and fonts will be less lame in the future.  I just want to get things up and running asap or this will be one of those passing fancies I'm too busy for mid-February.  If you see any obvious problems, let me know!
  • I imagine that I will update at least once a week, probably more to start.
  • Most of these poems were written during weekly meetings of the Schaumburg Poetry Group (hi, guys!) in response to prompts, so much of the content is purely fictional and not about YOU or HIM, per se.
  • I don't care about meter and have never cared about it, even when it was my business as an English major to care about it.
  • I have been writing creatively for about as long as I can write, yet SOMEHOW continue to languish in complete obscurity.  I am proud to say that my work has been rejected by many of the best publications in America, and I look forward to collecting new rejections from poetry magazines and websites in the future. 
  • If you would like me to link to your creative endeavor, leave me a comment!
  • Questions?  Concerns?  I can do almost nothing about the current American political situation.  I will delete spam comments with joyful abandon.  I will obsessively check for comments.  I am already filled with self-doubt.

First, Some Good News!

Hi everyone,

I just thought I'd take a moment to toot my own horn, as it were.

My poem "Home" was selected to be read at the Jersey City Writers' "Genre Night," on April 21, 2018, which kicked off the Jersey City Art Council's Poetry Festival Week. It will also soon be published on the Jersey City Writers' website.

Next, I just found out that my poem "What Gets Left Behind" will appear in a future issue of Kaleidotrope.

My poem "The Last Girl" has been published in Issue 4 of Arsenika.

You can now read my poem "Lethargy" on The Pangolin Review.

Also, my poem "Maida Vale" has been accepted by The Wells Street Journal for their April 2019 issue.

One verse of a haiku series, "The T-12 Chronicles" will be published in Issue 74 of Leading Edge Magazine as an "Honorable Mention" in their "Sci-Faiku" (sci-fi haiku) contest.

My micropoems "Tethered" and "Horsehead Nebula" have been published in Issue 2 of Black Bough Poetry. (page 37!)

I'll be sure to post links to my work as they get published!

Also, if you'd like to follow me on Twitter, here I am.  I am not, in real life, a dog.  I should probably have some kind of professional author Twitter profile, but that's more work than I want to put into that site right now.

--Karen

Buy me a Ko-Fi?

Hi everyone,

I drink a LOT of tea at the Corner Bakery every week to produce these poems that you (hopefully) enjoy!  If you are interested in sponsoring my tea-drinking/poetry production, please visit my Ko-Fi site at https://ko-fi.com/karensteiger.  Please don't feel obligated to do so, even if you know me in real life.  :)

Karen

The Olympian Flu

Pan was the cause
of the divine pandemic.
Zeus, that creepy old rapist,
finally fell dead off his Olympian throne,
and all the virgins of Greece cheered.
Hera caught the bug from Zeus
and passed it on to Aphrodite.
Aphrodite gave it to her son, Eros,
and he caused an outbreak
with his infected arrows.
Athena took to her bed
and napped for a thousand years.
Dionysius merely complained of a light cough
and drank wine sweetened with honey.
Meanwhile on Earth,
wars raged without divine protection,
the future could not be foretold,
and a young man,
who had been in love with a magical silver faun,
wandered lonely through the woods,
wondering where she had gone.

Monitor

The interview went well,
I thought.
Then you pause for a moment,
your eyes skimming my resume,
and you ask,
why I left my former position?

Well, if you want me to be honest,
it was one of those things
where I resigned
and they didn’t fire me.
It seemed like the wisest choice
because otherwise
they might have pressed charges.

It was a normal Tuesday afternoon,
sunshine and blue sky 
filling the floor-to-ceiling windows.
We all had a deadline the next day,
so instead of chatting in the kitchenette,
we were furiously typing,
and the printer was spitting out
warm copies of our progress all day,
and we had had a meeting
that I thought had gone on a bit too long,
and I was feeling the pressure especially
because what my manager didn’t know
was that I hadn’t even started the project yet.

And not to sound egotistical,
but my part was crucial.
My part is always crucial,
even if someone else winds up
taking the credit
and getting the commission.
And I didn’t mean to procrastinate.
I don’t think of myself as a procrastinator,
but I just had a hard time getting this thing started,
and I was preoccupied with other things.
My mother being sick,
my dog with her diarrhea,
my husband being moody
and staring at his cell phone all night.

Not that that really is an excuse
for leaving things to the last minute,
but I just want to explain my state of mind,
having so much to do
in so little time
and the meeting going too long
and Monica kept sending those emails
“just checking in,”
and Lori and Sarah
sending all those inside joke emails,
hitting “reply all”
like anyone else cared,
and some construction project
going on outside
with a loud
BANG
BANG
BANG.
Then my screen—my monitor—
went really dim,
for no reason at all,
and I could barely see anything,
and yes,
I tried turning it on and off again,
first the monitor,
then the whole computer,
then I tried adjusting the settings
with squinted eyes,
and I started to get a headache,
so I called Rick in IT,
but he wasn’t picking up his phone,
and I put in an urgent service ticket,
and no one was responding,
and I could feel my heart pounding faster,
and I felt a little dizzy
and realized that I hadn’t eaten anything all day.
I unplugged my monitor
and stared at the back of it
in a daze.

Monica decided at that moment
to “pop by” my office
to “see how I was doing with that report.”
So without thinking,
I hurled that monitor
in her direction,
and it loudly crashed onto the floor
near her feet.
Someone jokingly cried,
“Opa!”
But there was no laughter,
only a cold silence.
They later told me
that I had screamed then too,
a terrible sound,
but I don’t remember it at all.

Monica pursed her lips,
turned around and walked away.
I was summoned to Tom’s office
and was told I’d be escorted out.
I only had time to grab my purse
and my potted cactus.
I was told that everything else
would be boxed up
and shipped to my house.
Suspiciously, a full package
of Milano cookies
in the second left-hand drawer of my desk
was missing, never to be seen again.

The owner of the company
had always liked me
so that was how I got that whole
“resigned, not fired” deal,
and they agreed not to harm
my future job prospects,
but that’s why I didn’t use them
as any of my references.

You are quiet for a moment,
then look down and shuffle some papers.
You thank me for my time
and say you'll get back to me soon.

Craving

It was four in the morning,
and we were out of cookies,
and the stores were all closed,
of course,
and even if they had been open,
I had already taken off
my pants and my bra,
so I laid on my back
and tried not to think of them:
chocolate chip,
snickerdoodles,
peanut butter,
oatmeal raisin,
double chocolate chip,
white chocolate cranberry,
shortbread,
toffee chip,
sandwich cookies,
Girl Scout cookies,
Italian wedding cookies,
and so on.
Wide awake still
and now ravenous,
I raided my pantry
for possible ingredients.
I found
flour,
sugar,
baking soda,
almond extract,
and an old box of raisins.
In the fridge
I had butter
and three eggs.
Not even working from a recipe,
in my madness,
I mixed all of these things
in a bowl,
til I thought it looked dough-like
and dropped spoonfuls onto
my one baking sheet.
I baked them at 325 degrees
for eight minutes
and then another five
and barely let them cool
before I scarfed them down.
They wound up being more bread
than cookie,
but they were warm and sweet,
and I felt almost sick
when I thought about how many
and how quickly I had eaten.
I made some coffee
and watched the sun rise.
A few cars were on the street already,
and I wondered,
where could they possibly be going?

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Number Fifteen

I needed some clones.
Who doesn’t?
A clone for working,
a clone for shopping,
a clone to get my oil changed,
a clone for cooking,
a clone for cleaning,
a clone for dog walking in the rain,
a clone for shoveling snow,
a clone for laundry—
make that three clones for laundry—
a clone for personal correspondence,
a clone to assist my elderly mother,
a clone to manage the finances and file the taxes,
a clone chauffer,
and maybe just a spare for emergencies.
This may sound like a lot,
but it’s important not to overload any one clone.
They didn’t require much in the way of maintenance
and were easily stored overnight in a garden shed.

I was then free to relax,
socialize,
peruse a museum exhibit,
read,
write,
try that new restaurant,
nap,
see movies,
and live the orderly, productive life I always dreamed of.

For the most part,
it worked out really well.
Clones are becoming more and more popular
and more and more indispensible.
You’ve got the housework clones
and the road construction clones
and the childcare clones
and the retail clones…
I could go on.
I enjoyed all of my clones,
treated them fairly,
used positive reinforcement,
and tried to motivate them,
give them a sense of real purpose.
It’s not just about scrubbing a toilet, Number Five,
it’s a small but crucial piece of a bigger picture,
it’s about doing one’s part,
belonging,
taking pride in a job well done.

That last clone, though,
the spare—Number Fifteen—
she was a problem.
Not always having a job to do,
not always knowing her role to play,
she didn’t always want to take on the tasks I assigned.
“Isn’t that better suited to Number Four?” she’d ask.
Or “Isn’t Number Nine unassigned as well?”
She also had very unclonelike impulses
to do all sorts of things in her spare time,
things that I would never choose to do myself,
and who ever heard of a clone
with outside interests or hobbies?

One day, Number Fifteen asked if I would permit her
to spend the evening at the movie theater.
A clone at the movies!
“By yourself?” I asked.
“That’s absurd!”
Only companion clones go the movies
with their Sources.
I didn’t even know if it would be allowed.
“Not by myself,” she replied quietly.
Friends, my clone—
my spare clone—
wanted to go on a date!
A date with another clone!

It was completely unheard of
and probably illegal,
so of course I forbid it.
I had to then assign her more chores,
like washing the baseboards,
even if it annoyed my Cleaning Clone.
Her attitude became sullen,
and her work was frankly poor.
I explained to her
that I try to be kind and fair and understanding.
Of course she wouldn’t always enjoy all her tasks.
She exists because I didn’t want to do these things myself.
But I couldn’t have her upsetting her sisters,
and if she couldn’t adapt,
I’d have to send her to the Local Office,
where she would be repurposed,
sent wherever she was required,
to perform whatever task was necessary,
separated from all her sisters
and all she had ever known.

She appeared to agree,
but that thankless clone ran away one night,
aided by Number Eight and Number Ten,
a betrayal I never would have foreseen.
It was a real nightmare
and embarrassing, to say the least,
to call the police and report a missing clone,
to inform the Local Office of the incident,
to have Number Eight and Number Ten repurposed
and to explain why I needed three more clones.

Night Owl

Nocturnal,
wide awake at three a.m.,
my neighborhood is still.
Even the teenager across the street,
broken curfew,
is home now.
I watched him park his car,
headlights off,
and sneak into his house
through the side door.
A few minutes later,
his bedroom upstairs was briefly illuminated
and then darkened for good.
A fat raccoon,
clutching some piece of garbage in its mouth,
lucky treasure hunter,
darts across the road.
Mars is bright tonight,
ruling first one piece of the sky
and then moving to another.
I turn again to the television,
looking for company,
but finding only infomercials
promising eternal youth and smoother skin,
questionable careers in real estate,
dire warnings of identity fraud and credit card debt,
and I think I kind of want that air fryer.
I mute the TV,
but let the images flicker
against my eyelids.
I feel a deep ache in my bones
that no pill can ease,
and my mind refuses to slow,
to-do lists and what if’s
spiraling out of control.
Outside
a cricket rants ceaselessly,
but I don’t hear a reply.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Stream of Confidence

I tried to thundersing once,
when I was a child,
but I was mocked
by a picklelicking cacklebird,
and the sound wiggleknocked
through my head,
my pounding heart
nothing but a ragetoy,
wish-wash thunk
wish-wash thunk.
So you must forgive me
for my shyshut eyes,
and my triptrap words.
I’ve never really felt
kickpunky like the other girls.
I can’t whirlsplatter my way
into someone else’s glorydream.
You just have to accept
my self-light.
You either get it, or you don’t.

Timber

You flee your life one evening
walking down a moonlit forest trail.
Fat Douglas firs,
ancient Egyptian pyramids of the forest
with silver-green needles
scraping the sky,
line the path.
They rub shoulders with
slender, ragged western hemlocks
and bigleaf maples,
their gold-dipped autumn leaves
black now in the night.
And you stop, close your eyes,
and breathe them all in,
and they breathe in you.

The forest welcomes you
but makes no accommodation.
Hardened roots stick out of the ground,
and you trip repeatedly
on this welcome mat.

There are no electric lights,
no human noises,
but the woods are speaking
with snapping branches,
sudden starts and stops
of an invisible creature on the forest floor,
and owl screeches overhead.
The wind gently urges you forward.

At the end of the trail,
where you plan to leap into the unknown,
you find you aren’t alone.
A bearded, red plaid-clad hipster,
gray beanie atop his head,
long brown hair tied in a bun,
looks right through you
as he opens another IPA.

Growth

My dog, Horus,
smiling, sweet, simple,
the face of love,
with ENORMOUS brown eyes
meeting mine,
arresting my attention.
He steps closer to me,
presses his wet black nose against me,
shoves his tiger-striped head
under my hand,
and I obey his silent command,
scratching his velvet ears,
rubbing my fingers
across his crown,
and he has a wart there now,
right in the middle of his forehead.
I don’t know if it bothers him at all,
but it drives me nuts.
This little white bump,
a tiny boulder in the smooth field of soft fur.
I can’t tell you when it first popped up,
but it’s gotten a little bigger
in the past couple of weeks.
We could have it removed,
but it’s purely a cosmetic concern.
So he’s growing a horn,
my rare, mystical unicorn hound.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

And Now We Bow Our Heads in Prayer

Dear Lord,
it’s me, Barbara Czernicki.
But of course, You knew that.
Unlike some people here,
You hear from me pretty often.
I bet when Norma Pfeiffer deigns
to show up for Mass,
You say, “Norma who?”
Or those O’Briens.
They always seem to have
five children between the ages
of four and twelve,
no matter how much time passes,
all those children in their soccer uniforms,
if they bother to show up at all,
because little Maddison or Addison
or Aiden or Braden or Jaden
has some kind of soccer tournament
500 miles away,
and back in my day,
none of that nonsense was scheduled
on a Sunday,
but parents these days can’t say no
to anyone, let alone some fanatic coach,
but when they’re here,
I’m sure everyone in a three-pew radius
is just praying for a stiff drink,
all that fidgeting and whining and sighing
and chattering and punching
when their parents aren’t looking,
and their parents are never looking.
You’d think the older ones
would be altar boys or girls by now,
but no, we can’t miss any soccer practice,
and Father Zerbinsky wouldn’t even be able
to give them the smacks on the head
they all so richly deserve.
Of course, Lord,
You see Ben and Diana Tannenbaum sitting there,
right in front of me,
trying so desperately to hold it all together,
and Ben tries to sneak looking at his cell phone
during Mass because he has no respect for You—
is it work he’s obsessed with
or a certain female coworker?
The one he calls his “work wife”
while Diana rolls her eyes—
I can’t tell because Diana nudges his side,
hard, with her elbow,
and he quietly sighs and puts the phone away.
Like a teenager, I swear to You, Lord!
And Lord, I really have to have a talk
with Your servant, Father Zerbinsky.
He’s been having us sing
all the verses of the hymns lately
and has been choosing
the extra-long Eucharistic prayers,
and his sermons have been rambling and—
I’m sorry to say it—
almost political lately,
and that’s not what this parish is all about.
We are devout to You, Lord,
but also efficient,
which is what I imagine pleases You most
with all the long-winded services
You must attend every week,
like the ones with those miserable Slovaks and Greeks.
Father Zerbinsky needs to understand
that just because his predecessor has retired
doesn’t mean Father gets to change everything
and start encouraging teenagers to lead
the Responsorial Psalm with their horrible guitars
and forcing us all to hold hands
during The Lord’s Prayer,
Your prayer,
when I’m sure You’d rather these people keep
their grubby little hands to themselves
for once.
Dear Lord,
as this moment of silent prayer,
which has gone on far too long already,
comes to an end,
I just want to thank You
for the gift of patience
You have given me
so that I can suffer my fellow believers.
Amen.

Willpower

My parents sent me to Catholic school
so I could “learn discipline.”
What they meant was,
I would learn to be quiet,
behave in church,
do my homework,
not act up,
not talk back.
But what I failed to learn
was a daily discipline.
Instead, I roll over
onto my side and
hit snooze
for the fifth time
because I want to see
how my dream,
rudely interrupted,
plays out.
My resolve crumbles
in front of the candy bar display
at the cash register.
I see the vibrant red lipstick
or the new t-shirt
or the best-selling paperback,
and I figure,
what’s ten, twenty bucks?
I keep buying the reusable cup,
the cloth tote bag,
to save the world!
Then I forget them at home
and return with even more plastic,
and I think with regret
of the choking turtles
and strangled seabirds.
I rue my laziness
and shame my spendthrift ways.
Because although maybe I didn’t
learn discipline at Catholic school,
I sure did master guilt.

Begging Your Pardon

I’m sorry.
I’m sorry I’m a few minutes late.
I’m sorry—I almost forgot this appointment!
I’m sorry, I took a nap and overslept.
I’m sorry, what was that? Could you spell it?
I’m sorry, I didn’t get that message.
I’m sorry, I can’t find that information.
I’m sorry, did you say something?
I’m sorry, ma’am. Ma’am?
I’m sorry, but we close in fifteen minutes.
I’m sorry, is there something else I could get you instead?
I’m sorry, but I don’t agree with that at all.
I’m sorry, but I just have to say something.
I’m sorry, my bad.
I’m sorry, I really shouldn’t have said that.
I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it like that.
I’m sorry, I’m very sorry to hear that.
I’m sorry, I don’t know what to say.
I’m sorry, there was nothing else I could do.
I’m sorry—I kind of zoned out there a minute.
I’m sorry, but I’m not sorry, you know?
I’m sorry.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Shape Shifter


Like a lot of people these days,
I’ve got a superpower,
but I leave the hero-ing
and the villain-ing
to others.
I simply don’t have enough time
with work and the kids
and my yoga classes,
and besides,
my superpower isn’t all that practical.

I can turn into different animals,
which sounds pretty cool,
but unfortunately, I never seem to
transform into the types of animals
that would be helpful
in saving someone from a burning building
or capturing a bank robber
or foiling a plot to end life as we know it.

Lying on the grass
and staring at the clouds above,
I’ve turned into a slick gray earthworm,
barely escaping the beak
of a giant robin
by burrowing into the black earth
until the danger passes,
my aortic arches pounding.
I don’t even know which end
is supposed to be my ass.

While putting laundry in the dryer
in the basement,
chilly on a winter’s day,
I’ll transform into a centipede
and horrify even myself
as I scurry around the basement
on my impossibly tiny legs.
Again, I can’t tell
which end is my ass.
I scream,
inaudible to you,
because it’s just so hard
when you can’t get anything done.

When I’m in the bath,
I can become a small coelacanth
and swim from one end to the tub
to the other.
Then when I hear a shrill “Mom!”
from the other side of the house,
I’m back to my normal self,
with wrinkled fingers
mousy brown hair dripping wet,
ancient fish thoughts
shifting back to my own.

I rise on pink human feet
that now seem foreign to me,
dry myself off with my pink towel,
call out with a ringing voice,
“WHAT?!”
Then a small voice replies,
“Never mind.”
I turn into a fat green kakapo parrot then,
pacing and slipping on the wet tiled floor,
a small flightless bird
with a perpetual dumbfounded expression.