Karol Nielsen

Poetry Is Dead

Poetry is like my orchid.
Dead, near dead
from neglect
and hopelessness,
and in that barren soil,
buds come,
small bursts of color,
then full, fat blooms.


I thought of his toenails,
metallic blue, and his sandals,
like a hippie, Birkenstock style,
and his jeans and military jacket,
olive with medals on the chest,
a decorated general,
a beard, a slim slight frame,
fierce, like a warlord,
outside the smoke shop
on the staid Upper East Side.
The new treat me with disdain,
like I did the stuffy neighbors,
who live here, too.


There's no time.
A boy's been stabbed,
a high school boy,
in a fight.

I enter the red brick
hospital and search.
Who do I ask?
What do I do?

I ask the nurse,
What about the Lopez boy?
He's in critical, she says.
Only family can see him.

The waiting room, near empty,
except for nurses.
White robed, open,
flapping like wings.

I call the family.
The mother arrives
in white, all white,
gowned, like a bride.

A Santera,
an African priestess,
a shaman, a healer,
coming to cure her son.

Red and white beads
around her neck.
Chango, the god of fire.
A warrior.

I see Rafael, a reporter
from the other paper.
"You're here for the boy?" he says.
"Yes, I called the family," I say.

The mother returns.
"No es me hijo!" she says,
and sweeps away. A storm cloud.
It wasn't her son.

The newspaper of record
gave me the number,
I think, then tell Rafael.
"They don't know the barrio," he says.

"They won't run it if he lives."
A tear wells, a reporter in tears,
like a soldier, weeping in battle.
It's okay with Rafael, a sensitive reporter.

"It was a gang fight," he says.
New York's becoming Chicago and L.A.-
Latin Kings, Crips and Bloods.
I'd done a story on an initiation:

A boy smashed in the head by a brick
in pretty Pelham Parkway
where people ride horses
under the shade of maple trees.

A nurse comes to us.
"The boy is better," she says.
"We think he'll be okay."
She smiles at us.

As if to say she knows
we are scavengers, intruders,
but she is trained in kindness,
turns her cheek for us.

I check with the hospital, the police.
"It was a miracle," the kind
nurse says. "All that blood,
coming out of his side."

In the morning,
I leaf through pages
big as an armchair seat.
My story isn't there.

I buy the other paper,
see Rafael's report:
A teenager stabbed, a gang fight,
police said, and he lived.

About the Author

Karol Nielsen worked as a journalist for 15 years before becoming an author, editor, and writing instructor. She has more than 10 years of teaching experience, as an adjunct lecturer at NYU-SCPS and an instructor for the Gotham Writers' Workshop. She has taught memoir and nonfiction writing workshops, live and online, and she has critiqued and edited manuscripts that have been published as books, stories, and essays. Some have won honors. A recent client with a new memoir was a featured reader at Inquiring Minds (Saugerties). She has served as senior editor, nonfiction editor, and contributing editor (current role) at Epiphany, an award-winning literary magazine.

Her memoir, Black Elephants (Bison Books, 2011), was selected as a New and Noteworthy Book by Poets & Writers in 2011 and shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing by the Stanford University Libraries in 2012. Excerpts from her memoir were honored as Notable Essays in The Best American Essays (Houghton Mifflin) in 2010 and 2005. Her poetry collection, This Woman I Thought I'd Be (Finishing Line Press, 2012), includes poems from her full collection, selected as a finalist for the Colorado Prize for Poetry in 2007. Her nonfiction and poetry have appeared in The Moment (Harper Perennial, 2012), an anthology edited by Smith Magazine, and many publications. She is writing a novel with poems. You can find her at @karol_nielsen and elsewhere

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