Archive for the Karla Huston Category

Four Poems by Karla Huston

Posted in Karla Huston with tags on June 9, 2022 by Scot

Where I lived

The first thing you’ll notice
is the cathedral of trees,
how branches reach, fold
and hold up the light.
You might expect to see
a bride and groom pass under.
But not in this town.
The only thing brilliant
is a rattler swaying down Main
on a day so hot tomatoes wilt.
Around the corner—
the livestock auction hall—
cows wearing yellow earrings,
peer and swish up a ramp
where they’re assessed
by farmers with straw teeth.
There are as many churches
as bars, a pool hall called “The Hole”
where boys come out smoking,
wearing girls with pointy bras.
That doorway is where a boy once
died for love, stabbing his heart
black with a sharpened pool stick.
His girl talked with a stick
in her mouth, its red end bobbing
and she told the boy
she did not want her fire lit
by him or God or the damned
snake crawling up her skirt.


Dear Author: How to Sign Your Book

Start with my name, floating
over your name like the evening
star, like a lone cloud
in a clear sky. Dear—
me. It’s one way to start.
Why not? Use a fountain
pen with good ink, violet
maybe. Remember
I’m your biggest fan, the one
who loved you
before you were you. Don’t
forget to call me darling.



Sportsman’s Bar

There’s one in nearly every small town
or along some two-lane
with owners named Smitty, Ole
or Hank. The bars have the same motif:
lighted beer signs in the windows—
they’re always open—
a few pickups in the parking lot
if you could call it a lot. And around back,
a dumpster, pallets and empties—
cases and boxes, spent barrels.

Inside, a jukebox, scruffy pool table,
maybe a few dusty mounts on the walls,
a Jackalope, a sorry-looking walleye.
There’ll be racks of chips, Slim Jims
and lottery tickets along the back bar,
which is the best thing in the place,
majestic, polished with years of smoke
and solace, oaken with a mirror
so you can watch yourself tip a Pabst
or slug a shot of brandy. This bar is no

bistro or diner. If you want something
more than pickled pigs’ feet or those
boiled eggs floating like eyeballs in brine,
you’ll want to move along to the place
at the other end of town, the joint
where no one knows your name.


When Tennis Balls Were White

Back when tennis balls were white,
my father swatted lobs with my uncle.
I remember watching their long arms
reaching for the shot, the way their knees
bent and flexed into long volleys.
My father’s legs burned, then tanned
in those days, his breath exploding
in his chest. That’s what likely killed
him, years of smoke, and the solvent
he used to restore the old car, the Briscoe.
Back when tennis balls were white,
he took everything inside
where it stewed in the muck his lungs
would become, his heart missing
those tender parts, finally filled
with a fluid he could never quite expel—
like a faulty spit valve
on the sousaphone he played
when tennis balls began to yellow.

Early Mammoths of Los Angeles

Before stars were stars, before
they shined over the Hollywood sign
in Griffith Park, the biggest debut
were Pleistocene mammoths
who stepped into the wide lake
of asphalt at the center of the city
before it became a city, the shore
a sticky, black chaos covered in dust
and leaves. Maybe mother mammoth
went looking for her calf who was stuck.
Then she became part of the mire.
Then saber tooth tigers took
advantage of their good fortune,
so many meals too easy to resist.
Dire wolves showed up to snack
on the tigers, and so the story goes,
the birth of a food chain, perhaps,
mammoth and tiger and wolf
howling misery into the dark night.
Today you can see them in their mucky glory,
smell their petrified breath—hear
the tangle of traffic near La Brea
and Wilshire in this the city of angels
and devils, the tar pits still a-bubble
waiting, like old stars, to be noticed again.


Wisconsin Poet Laureate 2017-2018

Three poems by Karla Huston

Posted in Karla Huston with tags on December 25, 2016 by Scot


A passel of them, standing around
or operating heavy equipment,
hard-hatted and thick-booted,
while the machinery grinds
and growls, then backs up: beep
beepbeepbeep, circles and moves
forward. A wizard on a dozer picks up
buckets full of gravel or pushes
and moves, the excavator digs
or deposits debris, as delicate
as a woman setting plates and flatware
on white linen. Other men stop
to watch, hands in pockets, knees
locked or heels rocking, all of them
staring at the organized commotion.
The watchers, some of them with chairs
or walkers, memories of childhood
dirt piles, sand and yellow cast iron
caterpillars moving slowly
through their dreams, the dust clouds
and sifts. Everyone is touched by it.



Not exactly a patchwork, not
exactly a paisley print.
Small pieces of earth, woods,
river connected with stone
fences and puffs of green,
flags of wheat, spikes of corn,
those of flowering tiny rooftops.
I imagine a land of mischief
and banshees, and love poems.
Dark rooms of monks scribbling
their poor verses in the margins
of fields. Somewhere below
a man drinks his sorrows,
a woman worries hers, children
shriek and splash, the gods of long ago
swirl through their dreams.
We are traveling too fast. I can’t
hear the green stones calling,
only crying babies, a shift
of sky as we move through it,
the sizzle and whine in my ears:
you’re almost there.
You’re almost there.



And I don’t mean the car, but an excavator,
the kind that can flatten a house
in three swipes, then spin on its track
and pluck cut limbs and lay them
gently in a truck bed. This one’s a noisy
thug while the engine warms in front
of my house, roadwork the order of the day.
The operator is wearing Day-Glo
yellow, a shirt with cut out sleeves. He’s gentle
bellied and bearded, jeans slung low,
his hair wispy as wheat in a breeze.
But behind the levers of this machine,
he is genius, a conductor of an orchestra
of concrete and wet clay. Deep below
the street, the bucket digs
and with a flick of a steel wrist,
picks a load, positions its burden of muck
and tips it gently into a waiting receptacle.
How delicate this dance, such power
and precision, I can’t help but admire him
and marvel at his training,
his instincts and sense of balance.
My house shudders at the thought,
then settles for more.