Karen Craigo

The Poet Winnows and Sorts

When I have been too long away, I begin
not with words, but a series of loops
on the page, a little line of hashmarks,
a scribble. I don’t believe the poems
leave us—they’re always at hand,
though sometimes they struggle to ease
through. Imagine you have a purse,
more like a pouch, really, a bit of hide
drawn with a cord, and say it’s full of millet,
amaranth, some other ancient grain,
but also a single gem, of no great worth,
amber or nephrite, unexpected there
among the kernels, nothing you’d welcome
in your pottage, but lovely to find
in the pouring, something special to turn
in your palm, see how it catches the light.




Every year about this time
I thumb through a Rolodex
of names—my names, all
the possible ones, everything
I’ve heard whispered or shouted
my way, in love or in panic,
in anger. There are nicknames,
like the one a kid gave me
in sixth grade: Birdlegs,
and really, even today I’m shaped
like a ball of cookie dough
balanced on a pair of sticks.
It fits and always has, like so
few names do. I’m not sure
about Karen—I don’t think
I’ve ever asked to speak
to a manager, one hand
glued to a hip, severe
hair cut frosted in stripes.
I’m gentler than that—
I forgive and make do.
I was Poopsy as a child,
but only to my mom,
and I liked it, still do, still
would come if you called it.

I have christened myself
with secret names, ones
that match my spirit
or my hopes for it,
and sometimes I’ve asked
to be called them—
Plenty or Harmony or Bliss.
What I’d like is a name
from creation, an outdoor thing,
but not pretentious—a thing
I’ve seen in my walks, here.
I swear I’ve spotted
a mountain lion, even
if no one believes it—Puma,
Panther, Painter, they’re all
so unlikely, and my name
shouldn’t make you skeptical
at the outset, nor should it be
ridiculous, like a big man
you might call “Tiny,”
for laughs. But I’ve been
a lot of places, and what
I’ve seen has made a mark.
By rights I can be Geyser
or Glacier or Corpse Flower,
if being a witness grants
me a claim. But I’m looking
closer to home, with its
Honeysuckle, Wild Strawberry,
its Porchlight Moths and Feral
Cats. And I’m starting to settle
on Dandelion. Hear me out.
My son, now a teen,
will still pick them for me
if he sees one larger
than the others, like
a saucer in a toy tea set,
and come to think of it,
I remember Poopsy’s mom,
how delighted she was
to be presented with fistfuls
that she’d put in a glass
in the kitchen. Some things
you should know about
the dandelion: It is sustenance
for bees, and for my father,
who grew up on its greens,
always edible but best,
he said, in the spring.
It is old medicine, good
for the liver, antioxidant,
anti-inflammatory, good
for cholesterol, blood sugar—
but that’s not the stuff
of poetry. Its beauty is—
how one spring day it just
materializes, with sisters,
like how the sun sees itself
in a pond, dappled. Look,
I’m not everyone’s thing,
like the dandelion, but I
believe in what’s bright
and pretty and good,
and so that’s the name
I choose: Dandelion.



Karen Craigo is the author of two full-length collections from Sundress Publications (Passing Through Humansville, 2018, and No More Milk, 2016), and she is the current Poet Laureate of the State of Missouri. She lives in Springfield, Missouri, where she is a freelance writer and editor.