Karen Sagstetter

Poems

The first day of my life


I cried and cried
I'd been thrust into outer space
from a warm red sea
The glare of sunup made me crimp my eyes
Someone gave me a big American breast
and petted my hair
Mercy, whispered my grandmother
Sugar pie honey bunch, sang out my father
Buttercup, grinned my grandfather
My mother kissed me all over
I was admired nonstop, declared beautiful
and brilliant, already on my way to university
I knew right then that mealtimes were going to be great
They told me about beaches and picnics, cars, baseball
They took pictures of my little ears and feet
They predicted the birth of brothers
They begged me to smile but I couldn't manage
It was just a little too much
I didn't have any shoes
I didn't realize it was my birthday
I hadn't yet tasted molten chocolate
I didn't know about longing and gratitude
I couldn't quite hear the rooster
crowing 24 spanking new hours

©2016 Karen Sagstetter

Summer Solstice


Today, an earthquake struck, unheard of in the capital
and no one knew what to do. A sandwich slid off my desk.
Plus, my cousin pitched a brick
through the window at Whole Foods.
It's only 4:37 and there are still
four hours of daytime left, six if you count astrotwilight.
I am not looking forward to going home.
The hallways are always littered with radios
and tiny bottles of shampoo
and now it will be worse. I'll have to pick my way
through a jumble of sandals and old newspapers
just to get inside.

If I had a porch overlooking Chesapeake Bay
I could rock slowly and talk
everything over with my mother.
I could hold her hand if she got tired.
I'd be grateful for the beautiful, extra hours of light.

© 2016 Karen Sagstetter

New Year's Eve in Colorado


Last year I lost my temper at the chickens,
forgot to sweep the porch.
I watched cop shows for ten months,
drove all the way to Philly in second gear.
Instead of chasing foul balls
I just stood there. I should've practiced
my singing, paid off the telescope, sorted batteries.
I am creating a database
to track my mistakes but my husband interrupts

and invites me to climb Pike's Peak.
Those purple mountain majesties
are dazzling white; the sky, vast, pure blue.
If I just crunch one boot,
then the other, through the thick trail
of eternal snow, he promises we'll be lucky
and spot raptors and foxes. On the summit,
we'll enjoy the rumble of cracking ice.
At midnight we'll ignite girandoles
and pinwheels that blaze all the way to Denver.
He reminds me that regret
is not helpful in avalanche country. Next year
I'll weed all the gardens in the neighborhood. Next year,
I'll make it to my brother's bedside in time.

©2016 Karen Sagstetter

Soloist


Let the chords not be
sounded by a piano
with its history of
birthday parties,
barstools, and
crooners.

And not by a pipe organ
in the habit of
announcing matrimony,
or a trio of violins
accustomed to jigs.
It canít be a flute
tuned up for sonatas.
There must be no
whistling whatsoever, and
certainly not a jazz
clarinet.

These are not
instruments for calling out
sorrow. When sorrow takes
you, not even a bugle at taps
is sad enough.

Give me a young bagpiper

poised on the banks of the river, wearing
a dark kilt, taking the measure
of the other shore. Let her blow into
the solemn bag until her breath becomes a surge
of coarse notes, louder, and again louder
and her music shatters the
whir of fishermen casting for bass and 

the splashes of open water swimmers. 

Let her assault the river

and blast the heavens apart, bellowing

for her dead mother 

to come back.

© 2016 Karen Sagstetter


Afternoon at Arlington Cemetery


Our dad, old veteran,
cornball talker,
stops strangers on street corners:
great collie you have there, your kids
sure are high, wide and handsome


People love it, or they twitch, 
and check their watches.


He refuses to fritter money
on funerals, insists on the cheapest urn, so

his fresh ashes are solemnly interred

by a grateful nation (honor guard,

bugles) in a green plastic box.
He would've laughed about that.
He would've liked the sunny columbarium,
the private from Colorado

who in 1945 marched into Buchenwald.

© 2016 Karen Sagstetter

No Crying in Baseball


No crying when I struck out swinging.

No crying when a runt smashed a grand slam

off my pitch. Or when I wrecked my legs

black and blue sliding into third.

No crying when I was picked off

at third for the third time

or when my wondrous fly ball

whacked the rear fence

and bounced back like a prodigal to a centerfield glove.
Not even when my mind wandered to the beach 

and I bobbled the ball and the manager screamed

get out of my life!
Iíll tell you what brought me tears. 

I was in space, orbiting the generous blue earth 

and pressing my face against 

the plain window glass of my ship.

I witnessed ball fields in neighborhoods on every continent,

green diamonds shining through glorious clouds

and dogs the world over

chasing grounders in the afternoons.

© 2016 Karen Sagstetter

Selected Works & Reviews

Fiction
Two families, one African American and one white, are vibrant touchstones for this suite of connected stories that launch from Galveston, Texas, and sweep through a century of hurricanes, economic collapse, war, the compelling influence of Asia, all the way to the Fourth of July millennium celebration on the beach.