Three Poems by Karen Rile

Karen Rile

Karen Rile

Karen Rile is the author of Winter Music, a novel set in Philadelphia, and numerous works of fiction and creative nonfiction. Her writing has appeared in literary magazines such as The Southern Review, American Writing, Creative Nonfiction, The Land Grant College Review, Other Voices, and Apiary, and has been listed among The Best American Short Stories. She is also the founding editor of Cleaver Magazine, an online quarterly featuring poetry, literary fiction and nonfiction, dramatic writing, and art. Karen lives in Philadelphia and teaches fiction and creative nonfiction at the University of Pennsylvania.


That flinch hovering by the yew--
what's in his beak, a dot or a dash?
A black dog, or a dot, is sleeping on the glass.

The first robbers of spring: they're
flatter, more bloodthirsty than last year.
All over the wet lawn, pulling up apostrophes.

The little dot, pixel, prances in circles, parking.

After one long night's rain I spy a word,
flat as my shoestring, tasty as licorice,
desiccating on the flagstone.

My side of the glass is the clean side.
The outside's streaked with feather dust, pollen,
dog snot running down the surface like tear tracks.

Someone saw squirrel tracks on the lawn,
feather and yolk, and shell shards. The thieves!
Somebody wrote this with their finger on the glass.
But it wasn't me. My side of the grass is green.

The Cartoon Cat Speaks

This time, you be the fish. Me, I got this classic
zig-zag stripe and a wirebrush tail, and, man,
do my ink eyes focus on you. My head tilts
and three sharp whiskers prick the water, change angle,
and you shrink predictably to the rainbow gravel. Smile:
we can't see from here, but there's a joke
at the bottom of the page. Meanwhile, the cartoonist's cat
sniffs her kibble and flounces out of the kitchen. Kiddo,
I'm all over you, in a manner of speaking, my body
curved round the geometry of your bowl. Oh, to exist
in three dimensions, like the cartoonist's cat,
to own a twisting tale, a spine, and teeth. To land
on four paws, supple and unobserved, and defect
to that other room, the still-unimagined room,
on a bright square of carpet, in the sun.


Naked in an unfamiliar room,
fingering the umbilibus of an old flesh-tone phone,
sunlight pouring through parted curtains,
not my curtains, a breeze pricks my scalp.
The voice says, "...sorry to inform you
that your husband of seventeen years...", and
sleep washes over me, oh the busyness of it all.
I don't even ask how it happened, or whether he suffered in the end.

Then memory reels me in:
Something about the beach: sandbuckets, starfish, yes, and
something else. What became of that child, our little girl?
The voice on the other side is silent. Again,
it washes over me. As I rise to the surface, my daughter,
she recedes. I cannot imagine her name.