Karen Sagstetter

Featured in ArLiJo Issue No. 95

—for my brother

You lost all your jobs
while you lived on that pleasant street,
sturdy with cottonwoods and children.
Morning, noon, afternoon, and night, you unwound on your stoop,
chatting with everybody, quaffing jugs of wine
and jiggers of rye.
Nothing we said made any difference.
You stumbled down the block
once too often and neighbors finally
found you, down for the count.
Now we are here burying you, engulfed
by your drastic life. I hate the whole place—
cornfields, cattle, that horizon.
I hate church spires reaching for infinite sky,
tornadoes. I used to want you back. Now I want away
from your easy laugh, your prairie.
Clearing out your house
is like spitting at a fire. Your animals—tabby cat, snowshoe,
Siamese, calico—leap softly to the porch,
wander like love through the rotten front door,
sniffing for you, whimpering
and lonely.

Copyright © 2016 by Karen Sagstetter.

By the Potomac

Who knows whether worry
or joy stopped the wild river
but all ripples have vanished.
Images of great morning clouds
are etched perfectly
on a flat mirror of water.
No rapids, no drifts.
No eddies. Radiant glass,
utterly still. Except
for the mallard and six ducklings
gliding in formation midstream.
Their tiny wake rolling tenderly to shore.

Copyright © 2016 by Karen Sagstetter.

Morning in Rock Creek Park

I wandered along the creek the morning after
a terrible day
I don't remember breakfast
or much about straying into woods but I know
I slipped on a shiny boulder and my ankles got wet
News of snipers, starlets, bribes
flickered in my mind but I lost track
I saw a stone bridge that seemed rustic
but I couldn’t be sure
Really I was in a plain old stupor

Suddenly, a tall man in pinstripes
and a red cape popped onto the trail
He stepped my way and offered
a bouquet of peach-colored roses
Thank you, I said
Don’t mention it, he replied in a Latin accent

Well, I liked that!
I rolled my face in the delicious flowers
I let my eyes roam around the trees
and guess what! A red panda was clinging
to the branches of an old willow!
I tell you it was not a raccoon,
not a dog, but a red panda
Butterflies, too, flitted through crazy leaves
Gracious, I exclaimed
Also, there were dozens of rabbits
munching clover and carrots and performing
remarkable hops across green meadows
My forest turned out to be dense
with sugar maples and dogwoods
and foxes crouching among rhododendrons
but they were not trying to eat the rabbits
and I was no longer trying to forget anything

Copyright © 2016 by Karen Sagstetter.

About the Author
Karen Sagstetter has published poetry and fiction in numerous literary journals, two chapbooks of poetry, two nonfiction books, and The Thing with Willie, a collection of linked stories. She studied in Japan as a Fulbright journalist and worked as senior editor for many years at the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler Galleries and at the National Gallery of Art.