Karen Sagstetter


We could unroll the tent
We could spread out sleeping bags,
hang  little lamps in there
I could wade into the cold river and splash my face
I could rinse your shirt and dry it on the rocks
We could  find willow branches and build a loud fire
We could rattle pots and spoons, simmer some beans,

stir up a cobbler, boil coffee

We could roast birds
and save the feathers for tomorrow
We could point to Orion, to Cassiopeia
We could hold together in a drizzle all night     

If the twigs are wet, if our shoes get soaked
if there are wasps
if there are nettles, if foxes raid the cooler
if a band of naked men in bad boots
seizes our map
if rain turns to sleet, if the stars go home
will you still love me, will you let me stay?



Next Door, after the Snowstorm

From our high window, I see her digging
at drifts. I hear
the tsk tsk of her shovel.
She lifts load after load,
heaves piles of snow across the yard,
paces out a clearing.
I hear the thud of her boots
tamping a floor in the afternoon.
She packs snow into small boxes, molding bricks.
I listen to her gloves patting and shaping
the blocks as she slides them out, silent and thick.
She's raising a wall one brick at a time
and I'm carried along
in a vision of polar ecstasy.
The mound grows. She fashions the arch
of the ceiling and carves a doorway for her boy,
patches cracks with more snow.

Now the sun is sinking,  the roof is collapsing.
Her boy is crying, tired of igloo vicissitudes.
This good mother repairs the breach,
smooths open the entrance for him, hums.
It's very dark, winter dark,
but the sky crackles with stars.
Her husband calls her to supper, yodeling just a little.
A comet flashes through the firmament.
All over the city,  we hear her singing,
a clear bright soprano.

My Birthday

Always there were gifts—a robe, cute shoes,
a luscious cake stowed in the oven

to surprise me. Sparklers, ice cream,

fond singing in the family key.

Now my mother doesn't know
a Tuesday from a Friday, can't recall

my address or my husband.
But I'm sure she remembers

the morning I was born
for at that hour

I was heaven, all she wanted,
and she was my earth.

Tapping on her door, I'm all mixed up
like a skiff in a windy channel.

But when I tiptoe into the upholstered room
kept up by others

her arms spring open,
her whole face shines like daybreak,

she still says
I'm so glad it's you.

Karen Sagstetter has published poetry and fiction in forty literary journals, including Poet Lore, Shenandoah, and BorderSenses. She has won first prizes in literary contests sponsored by Glimmer Train Press and Antietam Review as well as Maryland individual artist's grants in poetry and fiction.  In addition, she has published two chapbooks of poetry and two nonfiction books. She studied in Japan as a Fulbright journalist and has worked in museum publishing in recent years.



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