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
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
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
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, AxisMundi, 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.