Tonight we’re hearing Mary Karr at the New Yorker Festival, so I wanted to post one of her poems from Sinners Welcome. I bought the book at the Glen this summer and read this one in the airport in Dallas, while I was thinking about writing and mourning leaving Santa Fe, and it shattered me so thoroughly that I had to shut the book.
Revelations in the Key of K
By Mary Karr
I came awake in kindergarten,
under the letter K chalked neat
on a field-green placard leaned
on the blackboard’s top edge. They’d caged me
in a metal desk—the dull word writ
to show K’s sound. But K meant kick and kill
when a boy I’d kissed drew me
as a whiskered troll in art. On my sheet,
the puffy clouds I made to keep rain in
let torrents dagger loose. “Screw those
who color in the lines,” my mom had preached,
words I shared that landed me on a short chair
facing the corner’s empty, sheetrock page. Craning up,
I found my K high above.
You’ll have to grow to here, its silence said.
And in the surrounding alphabet, my whole life hid—
names of my beloveds, sacred vows I’d break.
With my pencil stub applied to wall,
I moved around the loops and vectors,
Z to A, learning how to mean, how
in the mean world to be.
But while I worked the room around me
began to smudge—like a charcoal sketch my mom
was rubbing with her thumb. Then
the instant went, the month, and every season
smeared, till with a wrenching arm tug
I was here, grown, but still bent
to set down words before the black eraser
swipes our moment into cloud, dispersing all
to zip. And when I blunder in the valley
of the shadow of blank about to break
in half, my being leans against my spinal K,
which props me up, broomstick straight,
a strong bone in the crypt of meat I am.