Holly Karapetkova

Four Poems from Words We Might One Day Say

by Holly Karapetkova

First Books II, Summer 2011


If love were a dirty bomb, you could set
it off in Washington and it would spread
into the suburbs unseen, contaminate
the air and water. People would breathe it, feed

on it unknowingly and slowly love
would infiltrate their lungs, make their fingers burn.
In a week, you’d see them start to pair up, leave
the office early for lunch and not return;

even the evangelists are born again—
this time to love—they grab the nearest nun,
and scientists are too involved to look
for cures, not that anyone cares. Attack

on US, the foreign press reports
with real concern, seeing the SUVs
abandoned on the interstates, the airports
unguarded, army generals on their knees.

Don’t they know love is always like that,
tearing you out of the spaces you once thought
meant something, making you forget each
last defense, the guns rusting along the beach.



He stabs his stick into the sky,
spears a small white puff.

The cloud bleeds,
runs down the stick like rain—

look, I got a cloud down—
but it dries in the heat.

So he spears the moon,
look, I got the moon,

holding it in his small fist.
His stick has pierced a hole

all the way through.
Here, he says, I got it for you.

This is before he knows anything
of sonatas or poetry,

of seduction or pain
(it is always a matter of pain

for someone)
before he thinks to ask

whether I want it at all
but I take it

as though it were a game.
It is wet and cold as a dog’s nose;

I have no use for it.
It slips through my fingers

like albumen, spreads
across the grass, an eerie glow,

all that is left of the goddess,
gone after the next hard rain.



Vast landscapes fit neatly on my shelf
and Phoenix is not so far away
from Statesboro, Georgia, where I sit,
the thin paper unfolded on my lap. Even Tokyo
with its colorful kimonos and fat men
wrestling in their underwear is in arm’s
reach on a map with the right scale.

I move across to Cairo while the baby sleeps:
pyramids and bones cocooned in rotting fabric—
sometimes even the fetuses were preserved.
I imagine wearing a blue headscarf in the brown
Sahara, carrying the baby in my arms,
dwarfed in those giant triangular shadows;
or I shift her onto my hip to buy
a live chicken in the marketplace,
pushing my way through crowds of turbaned men.

I know I will never visit Siberia or confront
snow drifts taller than my house,
though I can see the white crystals piling
in its outline on the map and recall the fur hats
they wore in Dr. Zhivago. Novosibirsk is only
a mark on paper I can fold away when I go
to the climate-controlled grocery store
where the people dress like me and the chickens
are plucked clean and wrapped in plastic,
their skin pale pink and bloodless.
They sleep as peacefully in their refrigerated pose
as the outlined continents and oceans.

The stainless silver tables,
cement floor with its hoses and drains.
No one likes a mess.

I say cadaver, I see body,
a tattoo of a foreign word on her left ankle,
six piercings in her ear
(the earrings have been removed).

We cut against the muscles, forcing our way
through the vast forests of bronchioles,
the cave of the heart, stiff and thick as a tire.
Try to sort out the thin tubes
of her ovaries and all her unborn children.

Did she spend her nights alone?
Share an apartment with a man who took
her earlobe and all its metal into his mouth?
With a woman whose tongue covered
the sign on her ankle like a blanket?

I trace its outline into my notes
and look it up later. It’s Chinese.
It means home, the body, a foot in the door,
a fist in the mouth, the long slow sex after lunch.
But she no longer needs the lie:

cadaver, an empty house and all its furnishings
left behind for us to rumble through,
plunging our scalpels deeper
than her lovers ever dared.


Washington Writers’ Publishing House is a regional nonprofit writers’ cooperative publishing poetry and fiction collections in the Washington and Baltimore area since 1975, with over 80 books published to date.

Holly Karapetkova is the author of Words We Might One Day Say (Washington Writers' Publishing House, 2010). She is the author of over twenty books and graphic stories for children and young adults. Karapetkova's poetry, prose, and translations from the Bulgarian have appeared in Mid-American Review, 32 Poems, and Huffington Post. She is an Associate Professor of English at Marymount University and lives in Arlington, VA.