Bio: Karolina Zapal is an itinerant poet, essayist, translator, and author of two books: Notes for Mid-Birth (Inside the Castle, 2019) and Polalka (Spuyten Duyvil, 2018). As an immigrant and activist writer, she writes frequently about her native Poland, languages, borders, and women’s rights. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from The Rumpus, Painted Bride Quarterly, Inverted Syntax, Tupelo Quarterly, The Seventh Wave, and others. She works at the South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts & Humanities.
The Kids Are Not Alright
Climb the mountainto relieve the valley so her pink shouldersdrop the box. A boyas tall as the buildingweakens from altitude standing on the ground. Instead of clouds, they watchroses that laughhacked up blood. Their tears produce bombs,the apple of my eye. They dream about Steve-Owaving apples and cucumbersaround. They see women’s legsin vases try to smashtheir mothers who tucktheir knees to their books,whose coffees cool. Their video game’s bluelies awake. They createand destroytheir own wombs.
The Kids Are Not Alright
Daddy Don’t Smoke
It took decades forher to separate.Daddy didn’t think it would happenbut the neighbors warned him: keep it upand illness will well up in her like a manreaching for nothingat the high ladder. A thumbnail cut to stripsby smoke. Refer me to a doctor, she said.Refer to me a doctor, Daddy mocked. They exchanged ownership like this, by rearranging words.He shouldn’t have to count on her(on her count): 1 sheep, 2 herd, 3 sawthem in half to get 1.5 if it’s real math or 6 if it’s real life.Child helpings of sheep to put him to sleep. It’s extraordinarily hot in the wick, he says / I’m no stranger to it, she says / You puffy pile of shithave no idea what it’s like to burn, he says / That’s what burns, she says / I want to cascade—likewax, he says / No that’s how I feel: a city or machine when you enter me, she says / How, he says /Like I have cogs, she says / Your mother bought you those clogs you wanted you unappreciative pile,he says / Who calls shoes clogs anymore, Dad, cogs!, she says / What does that have to do with howyou feel, he says / They melt, she says 5 years ago, she Googled:effects of secondhand smoke for a month in the grand scheme of a lifetime 5 years later, she Googles:effects of secondhand smoke for five years(she no longer feels invincible) Erases, types:how to quityour father Meanwhile in the artist’s room, wooden stools munch.Deep-seated bugs are astonished they have to eattheir whole house. The artist’s ass waits to feedon a Slim Jim splinter. Gram and gramps, now in heaven, didn’t teach herFrench. Makeup kills the oxygen on her face.Life’s questions cascade upwards and to the rightif hair dried from below.
Daddy Don't Smoke
My Name Is Birdseed
My name is birdseedfor the finches across Americato fill their beaks and spit outungracefully onto the browning grass.The chipmunks will eat itwhen they come in the afternoon heatlooking for some easy feed,or the squirrels, taking a breakfrom a rustling chasewill pick up my name in their smallish pawsand feel its good weight before they nibble on it seizurely.And if all else fails, the big, lazy doglet out at night to piss,its blonde fur a reflection of the scorching July moon—floor warrior, garbage dump—will pick it out syllable by syllable from the weedsand maybe thank god for one last snack (tasting off)before the language he was born to learnshipwrecks in his sleep.
My love is a mile shorter than yours
My love is a mile shorter than yoursGod, and frankly my relationship to you is like a woman to a fly.You are this gray thing I thought was dead, but you’re not.I try to swat you away, but you come, living or dead, buzzing,biting the places on me most prone to solitude.You are most annoying near bodies of water,which must mean I’m most enlightened there,but if you’re just a fly, where does the light come from?And the Holy Spirit I never metbut was invited to the party anyway. There I ate and drank,talked about where I’m from, which is nowhere really,talked about what I do, which is nothing really—I make the federal minimum, but what is “federal” to you, God?Could my salary be dew biting my feet, a blonde morningor best friends holding guitars like children, learning scalesagainst a lamplit purple wall in a thunderstorm?Eventually, the partygoers learned that what makes them memorableis asking questions that crackle the brain,like, what excites you, what are you working on?I am excited by writing this poem, about the Holy Spirit as a fruit flybecause what is a fruit fly really, and how does it begin?
My first year out of school, anxiety is a streetlamp: is on, is on, is on.I’m highly agitated and over vigilant, like a tongue pressed to a lemon.At urgent care, where I wait for an ultrasound, I sink into BhanuKapil’s strangers. A lack of sleep glues my awareness to the numberone: one wall, one page, one peeling face. A nurse opens the emergencylooking for gloves and sweeps three boxes to the floor. The emergencystarts looking like a purple rubber chicken. To be polite, I ball thegloves on the counter next to the trash, but I am not sure they’re stillsanitary enough for the emergency. I hear a man seize his nurse butdon’t see his seizing. I see stripes like in a zoo and bars like on t-shirts.The ultrasound is inconclusive. The tech is new and cannot saywhether or not I have an appendix. She refers me for a CT. In theparking lot, a woman is chasing a wolfish dog into a busy intersection,screaming at twins on scooters who high-five each other as the animalcontinues to outwit them. The warmth of the car incapacitates myability to help. The radiologist has to leave at 5. “Miss, the radiologisthas to leave at 5!” It is 4:30, and I’m still on the phone with my fatherasking about the risks of radiation. Caffeine makes me go cross-eyed.Soon, I am back in the car crying into the steering wheel’s heavy ovalcaress. A man yells, “I HAVE GOT TO GO” x10 into his phone infront of a fenced-in playground. I presume he’s talking to a woman. Ipresume he’s the radiologist. Every time I read a fortune, a baby cries.Teeth are not wide enough to reflect separate planes of sky.