April 2, 2014
Assembling a Poem

                 after Joseph Cornell


Begin with this box, common as a star chart,

and blow into it till something shows up:

maybe the dim clarinets of Standard Oil with their flaming bells,

or the rows of white storage tanks like hatboxes for giants,

each with a curling staircase dangling from one side like a ribbon.


Build boxcars and tiny houses, your grandmother

hovering in a doorway like a witch,

your elfin grandfather painting wooden ducks

on stakes to poke into a lawn.


Add your mother in a red headband, who just lost a baby,

and your father drinking a shot and a beer, probably bored,

though you wouldn’t have guessed it then—

all the elements you thought were frozen forever like the plot of a fairy tale,

with death a gory ornament, maybe a frame,

instead of the unhappy end.


Time lurched slow like the freight trains behind the house,

marked by whipped cream birthday cakes and tabletop Christmas trees.

In the Chevy’s backseat you’d shut your eyes over the humming bridges of East Chicago

and open them only at the Sinclair dinosaur guarding the oilfield.

You wanted to run up a staircase like Cinderella

and spin like a weathervane over that concrete forest.


Now poetry arranges the black car, white tanks,

paper stars on a circle of blue

and you in a skirt like a cocktail umbrella on the windy top.


Poetry restores the mother and father

and old folks whose story you couldn’t understand.

Poetry brings back even seven-year-old you,

now your grandma’s age and waving from a different door

as the cars and bikes and children of the world stream past.


-Karen Kovacik (Marion County)



Karen Kovacik teaches at IUPUI in Indianapolis. She’s the author of Metropolis Burning and Beyond the Velvet Curtain, and her translation of Agnieszka Kuciak’s Distant Lands: An Anthology of Poets Who Don’t Exist appeared from White Pine last year.

Indiana Humanities is celebrating National Poetry Month by sharing a poem from an Indiana poet every day in April (hand-selected by Indiana Poet Laureate George Kalamaras). Check in daily to see who is featured next!

Posted In: Poetry

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