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Karen Holmberg


Listen to Karen Holmberg read "Exchange of Azalea and Quail":

Exchange of Azalea and Quail

                          Something special you’re wanting?

             I’d a vision of a white azalea,
a crown to hover
             like a spreading oak’s above the mound
I’d made, around which curved
             a bark path’s rustic valley.

                                       Aye, true dwarf,
though that don’t keep
             the bobwhite quail setting
her clutch beneath it.

             Size and heat
of shooter marbles left in the sun. 

             Don’t never see the mother go,
but she’s always off the nest
             when he comes down the row.

Now, yesterday he felt nothing
             but a bit of shell. So he stepped
full weight on the shovel, leaned back
             to rock the root ball free, when up
boiled the shrub like a pan of milk, the chicks
             a clump he could’ve picked up
all at once.

                          Ball of cockleburs
they was.

             Minute he got a finger on
they burst apart, tunneled
             like voles in the tall grass,

said the nurseryman, the boyish shock
             of tawny-silver bangs falling
across one candid eye as he set
             my azalea in the trunk.



Listen to Karen Holmberg read "The Model Plane":

The Model Plane

on the walk to Hammarby—Linnaeus’s estate—Uppland, Sweden

I climb past farms, once inns named
   Distress andSuffering. Then,
      at the turn, there’s Joy, where two girls
         tuck ducklings like buttercups
beneath their chins. Pillar clouds glide,
   their dense gray pediments 
      borne on some transparent palm
         of pressure. The sky’s a deep                                                

delphinium blue. The wheat’s pelt
   goes sleek and pale, is carded
      darkly back in buffets
         of wind. And I see
what I’ve been hearing
   downhill, round-the-bend. 
      A brassy buzz unmuzzled, out
         of clouds. A toy plane spirals
toward the field, tethered on a hair-
   of-glass radio wave. A foot above,
      the nimble pull out, skim-and-roll: 
         leisurely blink of red, then white,
then red. The nose rises, drills straight up
   (the motor’s thinning
      whine a gallant
         little sound) then, shoulder over, plunge. 

Over and over for the boy in a red shirt.



Listen to Karen Holmberg read "To the Ox Netsuke in the Flea Market":

To the Ox Netsuke in the Flea Market

You captured light, keeping some,
letting some go, alive as cartilage. 
The hand the idea of you amused

fused porcine to bovine, ovine
to piscine, capping the gadfly-
maddened tossing head

with a snout’s wooden spool,
planting a horn meek
as a sheep’s teat inside each ear’s

ragged cabbage leaf, dangling
a dewlap of earlobe dough
off a neck slick as a fingerling trout.

If I had held you shell-like to my ear
I might have caught
your maker’s rumination:

commiseration whispering with delight. 
Instead, I fell for you,
one of the many pettiness detectors

that booby-trap our world.
For the cloven toes on your left hind hoof
had fractured off, and the face

those absent noses left
was coarse as emery. That’s all it took
to make me put you down, to

disenamor me.
To keep me from being
the better person who took you home.



Karen Holmberg’s first book, The Perseids, won the Vassar Miller Prize and was published by the University of North Texas Press; her second book, Axis Mundi, won the John Ciardi Prize and will be published by BkMk Press in 2012. A Discovery/The Nation Award winner, her poems and nonfiction have appeared widely in such magazines as The Paris Review, Quarterly West, Slate, The Nation, West Branch, Cimarron Review, Southern Poetry Review, Cave Wall, Nimrod, Subtropics, and Black Warrior Review.  She teaches in the MFA program at Oregon State University.
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