Five poems by Karen Little

The morning after

I explain everything while you’re sleeping;
how I got lost by the river, how the banks were
slippery as eels, how time slipped away, yet
got caught in the weeds at the same time. How
the hooting of owls hypnotized me. How the boat
called me on board; the turbulent water, the throb
of the engine lulled me to sleep.

I was alone, no one touched me, I wasn’t afraid.

When you wake, before I say anything, you assure me
you’d like to tear the lies right out of my throat.  I’m
delicately removing splinters, the needle still hot
from the flame. I feel like the rabbit’s foot dangling
from your key chain, the one you shake in my face. Not
lucky; more like severed, more, loss mixed with shame.



On the first day she learned not to wear underwear
or tight jeans: they mark the flesh and waste time.

She learned you can get very high in half an hour
waiting for flesh marks to fade, and during that time

a professional could assume the right to behave
unprofessionally towards a seventeen year old. She

learned three new descriptive phrases: beaver, split
beaver,  split wet beaver. She learned to pinch her

nipples erect when the heat of the lamps relaxed them.
She learned she could earn more money in a day than

many people earn in a week. When the photos were
published the caption disclosed the shame of seeing

her suitcase split open at the airport, and her multitude
of sex toys spill into the lap of a security officer.


On my Mind

There is a way of getting answers without
being sure of the question. A prayer, a poem,
a painting. Find the sharpest tool to gouge your way
in. Or the gentlest; oil on water. I harbour the intention
of deceiving you; struggle with twin desires of polishing
your ego or shattering you. You are a shrill kettle demanding
to be noticed. An energetic complaint. In the vivarium of desire,
the tomb of the bewildered, I’m in a suffering kind of place,
the web of the bewildered, the last sizzle of wax
hitting the bottom of the wine bottle. I notice the way
the slatted blind traps light and throws it with mathematical
precision, or intimate groping, against the wall of my trailer.
My mystical timepiece, restrained flamboyance,
a contradiction of light and shadow.



This road has seen and heard it all before; the walking
wounded never commit suicide on a whim. I pull her
out of the water. Stones soften in the rain’s silent jostle.

A hover of pigeons, scattered by an old face and the stride
of a young male, are captured waist-high, threaded to suffering.
I begin with a revelation of breath, balanced on legs of air.

Mountains deny artificial explosives can be put to good use;
we explode naturally at times—all that fat. Ash and steam
create the loudest sound ever heard, while history doffs its hat.

We surmise that if we bubble and expand long enough,
someone out there will hear the report.


The Baths

She cut off her hair. It wasn’t where her strength lay;
now no one would hold her by it, swing her by it. Plus,

it was better for swimming. On the bus she split
and wove together her ticket, split and wove together

her ticket, and thought about choosing ice gems
from the machine. She didn’t think about the guy

waiting in the deep end, under the diving board. She
was the best swimmer in class, could save herself

by turning pyjama pants into a float. Afterwards she
walked along the jetty to dry her hair, took the bus home.

Shudder on the Stairs by Karen Little

Broad backed, seal-like on the rock of stubborn acceptance
she feels flop-heavy, all fierceness gone. Dipping into morning’s
amber road, the journey absorbs her pain, smoothes the grumbling
edges. I try to read the whole of her: the shudder on the stairs,
her crumpled skirt dangerously torn. The road has seen and heard
it all before. The walking wounded don’t commit suicide on a whim.
My mind is a playground with a germ of an idea, a gem sparkling
within the umbra:
Mountains deny artificial explosives can be put
to good use. We explode naturally at times—all that fat

Ash and steam create the loudest sound ever heard,
while history doffs its hat. We surmise that if we bubble
and expand enough, someone will hear the report.

Fast Flight by Karen Little

Jets are ready to take off for war; banners advertise the beauty
of cruel weapons. Sticky-pawed children queue to stroke
red-tipped wings, imagine parachute silks floating through
clouds escalating beyond the hangars. Fathers, who won’t watch
them grow, climb into polished seats, their specialist camouflage,
invisible in dark paintings, quivering under the thrust of propellers.

The sky dribbles vibrant colour, drifts through the scenery. Destination
isn’t important when fighting is; challenging the insupportable
outweighs the risk.  For gamblers, risk is everything and nothing
at the same time; they can’t imagine not making their mark, won’t be
remembered with the wispy beards and skinny shins of old men.
The end is a plume of dust rising from the tombs of the bewildered.

Wild Disregard by Karen Little

Clouds lower and prove the curve of sky circling
in broad strokes. Sea should soothe, it’s inevitable
power override the black dog pounding towards me.
Head-blows won’t cause permanent damage, though
double-vision is inconvenient. I watch sprite shadows
scampering along sea walls, see him hook
twin trout who wriggle on the end of taut lines, reeling
them in, hugging their slippery bodies with four arms.
I no longer lust for him, not even as an idea. My addiction
to unreality, found at the bottom of wine bottles, gives
extra layers of skin even as he flays them; we’re angry
as gulls squabbling over sea-food half-baked in sun.

Shaping Dreams by Karen Little

At the tidal point where ripples run like dominoes
from sea left to sea right, memory offers up decades
of misunderstandings, trying to make things right,
managing to never be right. Reality pounds in my ears
leaving no room for imagination, the crest before anything happens
the only time our power seems matched. There’s no turning back,
no gentle retreat to look forward to, just being plucked like a bruised whelk
from its shell. I learn my lesson over and over again, but every wave
is a little different, shifting grains into distinct patterns, hitting new rhythms,
shuffling another set of broken dreams to fold in on themselves.

The Corner of My Eye by Karen Little

Tearing along the beach, pebble-heart scattering
sinewy seaweed, my small muscle begs to rest after
years of allowing foam to gather around buoys
undulating like chalk monsters dipping
in and out of oceans.  My honesty doesn’t allow
what’s hidden to stay hidden, the breeze is Coor’s,
empty seashells crackling under my feet, asking
if I’m victim or executioner, waves telling me all I need
to know, though to translate them would be a travesty.


Karen Little’s first novella, ‘Filled with Ghosts’ was published in December 2015, and shortlisted for a Saboteur Award in 2016. Set in 90’s Southern Spain it was described as ‘Visceral, surreal, and utterly compelling. This is a writer who finds a strange beauty in the darkest of places.’  The second book in the trilogy, ‘Ghost Train Leaving’ was published in July 2017.