Five Poems by Karol Nielsen

Dream

I rarely remember my dreams. I have worried that it is a blow to my creativity but it is what it is. Even when I wake up in the middle of the night during a dream I forget it by morning. But I remembered one dream. I dreamed that I couldn’t remember the name of Ken’s girlfriend. I scanned my memory and Betty popped up. But in my dream I remembered that Betty Rubble was a character in the Flintstones. Not right. So I dreamed that I googled Ken’s girlfriend. Then I woke up and instantly it came up me. Her name was Barbie.  

Topless

I was walking in Central Park on a hot summer day when I looked ahead for the vendor who sells me iced tea. I spotted a young woman and thought, Whoa, her shirt is so sheer! She was walking with an older man who could have been her father. As she got closer, I realized she was topless. I emailed my parents about the sighting and my mother posted the story on Facebook. My sister chimed in that it’s legal so women can breast feed in public. I had seen topless women on foreign beaches but never in the city. Suddenly I felt provincial for finding it such a funny surprise. 

Fur Coat

When I got off the train, I spotted a man in a rabbit fur coat on the subway platform. He was tall and the coat stretched down to his ankles. I thought of my grandfather who used to hunt. I went out with him once when I was little and he shot cottontails in the snow. When I grew up, I never wore fur. Once, when I worked on Park Avenue, my boss asked to borrow my wool coat. She had to take the subway and she worried protesters would spray paint her fur coat. I felt like a servant helping an upper class lady. She never asked again. 

Do You Have the Time?

He asked me for the time so I pulled out my cellphone which doubles as a watch and told him the time. He was an older man who seemed a little slow. Then he asked me where I was going. I said I was going to work. It was just across the street. He asked if he could walk with me. I said I was in a hurry. “But you’re walking so slowly,” he said. It’s true that I was moving slowly. I had strained my back while sitting in a big chair telling my manager that a colleague sent harassing messages to me. She accused me of taking the man’s point of view in relationships because I said I split the bills. I was the only one in the office who tolerated her and now that was over. Of course I didn’t go into the complicated backstory with the man. I just told him I’d hurt my back. “Well, this is my office,” I said. He grabbed my arm and kissed my shoulder and I went on my way.

Dog walker 

I saw a white poodle with bright pink fur on top of her head and around her ankles. She looked like a princess, a show dog, as a man held her on a leash by Central Park. It reminded me that I almost became a dog walker. After I interviewed, I went on a trial run with the owner, but the dog barked and growled and wouldn’t come out of the cage. I didn’t hear anything for months. Then the owner’s wife offered me an early morning shift. I’d broken my arm in a car accident and told her what happened. She said let’s wait until your arm heals. I found work as a writer instead but I still think about that job when I see dog walkers with packs of dogs, out there, rain, snow, or shine.

Karol Nielsen is the author of the memoirs Black Elephants (Bison Books, 2011) and Walking A&P (Mascot Books, 2018) and the chapbooks This Woman I Thought I’d Be (Finishing Line Press, 2012) and Vietnam Made Me Who I Am (Finishing Line Press, 2020). Her first memoir was shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing in nonfiction in 2012. Her full poetry collection was a finalist for the Colorado Prize for Poetry in 2007. Her work has appeared in Epiphany, Guernica, Lumina, North Dakota Quarterly, Permafrost, RiverSedge, and elsewhere. She has taught writing at New York University and New York Writers Workshop. 

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