Karen Schubert ~ Five Poems

When John is my boyfriend

he says let’s melt crayons into a big rain­bow and we peel them with our rough fin­ger­nails, lay them in a met­al pan, ROYGBIV, turn on the oven. It’s sum­mer, my dad’s at work, mom at school, and we are look­ing for a snack when my broth­er yelps and through the oven win­dow, flames, black smoke feath­er­ing up. John grabs oven mitts and pirate voice, Step aside. I block the door, send my broth­er to Craig’s mom for help but she runs across the back yards, yelling Fire!

In case we have to evac­u­ate, we pile ani­mals by the door: ger­bil, guinea pigs, kit­tens, gup­pies fire­fight­ers boot-slide aside to stomp through the liv­ing room. Our yard is full of neigh­bors and soon my dad in his busi­ness clothes, mom in her white uni­form, land­lord. In the kitchen, all the col­ors mixed and singed in the ruined pan, the scorched air.


My father drives us to the airport

to watch jets take off and land. He dreamed of being a pilot in the Great War, but the Air Force didn’t want any four-eyes. His broth­er, a Flying Tiger, came home and mar­ried a pret­ty girl in L.A.

Once, we flew home July 4th, the pilot tipped the wing to fire­works pop­ping over Niagara Falls.

The school play­ground is open all sum­mer. Our slide is sky high. So are the swings, perched on the edge of a hill. We sail off like Olympic skiers. The boys pump their legs like car­toon char­ac­ters but I just glide. Or run down the mowed grass, arms out, grav­i­ty a slingshot.

In dreams I soar over roads full of cars, over the whole city, farms, bridges, the edge of the world. But when the angry man chas­es me, I almost for­get I can fly.


Waist deep in Buffalo Creek

with Pennee Baker who’s a head taller—lives in the white duplex two down—tapes comics into a red scrap­book with black pages, like Snoopy serene on his dog house roof, thought bub­ble A place for every­thing and every­thing in its place.My vis­it­ing grand­moth­er points her chin at my room. Good advice.

I open my hands to cup the cur­rent. In shal­lows, I heft a flat rock and the mud­dy swirl clears, cray­fish fac­ing me, snap­pers up. I low­er my arm with­out mak­ing a shad­ow, quick-pinch at the start of the cold armor. The claws splay, use­less. I drop them in a buck­et for the back patio tur­tle ring, like a Jell‑O mold with palm trees, feed them my brother’s gup­py food.

I bring fresh creek water often as I can, cross­ing Clinton St. with a Kool Aid pitch­er, but still they die and dis­solve, water gray and thick. Someone tells me lat­er, who knows what’s in that creek.


When Angela’s mother

kills her­self, Mom takes me to the wake in South Buffalo of uppers and low­ers, delis, porch­es, church­es taller than trees, and maybe Angela is sur­prised to see me since we aren’t real­ly friends, but I am so sad for her that her aunt gives me a hug and tells me to call any­time so I call every day, hold my breath and lis­ten for the talk­ing, laugh­ing, music, tele­vi­sion, dish­es, all the sounds in that house. How are you, I ask, until she says, I’m hap­py here. Don’t call anymore.


When we move to French Lea,

third grade is under­way. Mrs. Hoffman bosom-squeezes me like a grand­moth­er. We make rain­forests in shoe boxes—mine has a mon­key vine I snip out of National Geographic.

When my broth­er and I wheeze bron­chi­tis, we miss school, crowd into the low­er bunk, air thick with vapor­iz­er and Mentholatum, Mom read­ing David Copperfield.  

Our stu­dent teacher walks us to the library, shows me the nature books. After recess she reads A Wrinkle in Time. Meg goes alone to Camazotz to res­cue her broth­er, pris­on­er. Her pow­er is love. We are mes­mer­ized  into still­ness. I’ve nev­er known a book like this. I don’t know how she can get away with it.


Karen Schubert is the author of The Compost Reader (Accents Publishing 2020) and five chap­books, includ­ing Dear Youngstown (NightBallet Press) and I Left My Wings on a Chair (Kent State University Press), win­ner of the Wick Poetry Center chap­book prize. Her poet­ry and cre­ative non­fic­tion appear or are forth­com­ing in Read+Write: 30 Days of Poetry;21st Century Plague: Poems and Prose for a Pandemic; Ohio Poetry Association Common Threads; Raw Data: Living In the Fallout from the Coronavirus; and Under the Blossom that Hangs on the Bough, Pollination Poems (Edith Chase Symposium). Her awards include a 2020 Palm Beach Poetry Festival Thomas Lux Scholarship, Wick Poetry Center Chapbook Prize, an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, and res­i­den­cies at the Vermont Studio Center and Headlands Center for the Arts. She is Founding Director of Lit Youngstown.