He walked until dawn the night before
south along the ocean edge, the moonless shore
moving away from the center of his life
his children sleeping in a house he had already
begun to erase from the field of memory—
and you, his childhood shadow, boy with deep
light in his eyes he led into manhood
what will you carry into this world that he
let go, just as he let go of all you thought he was:
a man who danced on city streets, bought
homeless women roses instead of bread, knowing
that was the part unnourished, what will you
carry from this man whose love for life shone
in each act, who, knowing his mother would find
him thought to cover his face before he threw
himself over the banister at the end of his own
rope—what will you carry for a man like that?

Let's assume he knew what he was doing when
he placed the pillowcase over his head and knotted
the rope around his neck, let's assume he'd carried
the knowledge of that noose inside for a long, long time
let's assume that solitary image drove the spontaneous
acts of generosity, the insistent displays of love, let's
assume his death is not a dropped stitch, but an integral
part of the pattern and that he knew this and knew
that only in death would the tapestry be complete

Let's assume what he did, he did for love

Let's assume that you know what to do with that horror
the unfathomable unknowing, the cutting edge of
why? Let's assume the door he closed opened another
much larger, for his children, left you the gift of your own
life, broadened, let's assume such a perfect light could only
burn so long, let's assume we have to trust
a man like that

Karen Holden © Published in ONTHEBUS, 2005


I stuck my face into a flower it was
wet like your eyes and as golden and I
moved my face over the

cool surface as if it was
you I was caressing as if it
was you
growing here wild
among these stones.

Karen Holden © BOOK OF CHANGES, 1998

I lived many summers in rural Wisconsin, where bats haunted the house and I was one of
the few residents willing to remove them from the rafters, lintels and cubbyholes
and return them to places not populated by squealing girls and boys with tennis rackets. What
can I say about them? They are surprisingly soft and lighter than one would expect given
their fierce little faces and wide wing span—they are lovely in their torpor.

It is interesting to learn that they feed at streetlights, that moths avoid being eaten by
growing "bat frequency" ears, and how echolocation works, but I never imagine bats
flying or eating, as I am too intimately and sweetly familiar with the tight fist of their

When I moved to the Northern California woods to begin the long work of restoring a
house, I peeked into a twisted cardboard box leaning against a tree and immediately
recognized the surprising mink colored huddle in the bottom: bats! I pulled on my gloves
and knew I was home.


Bats in a Box

Strange and beautiful, the bats
cling to the corrugated corner, dead to day

This tiny tribe of sleepers and I, somnambulist,
travel from house to woods in quiet camaraderie

I carry them the way I would anything precious
hands held out in astonishment and cupped as if

cradling water or the world, as if this moment
is the gift I was waiting for all along.

Karen Holden © Published in CONFLUENCE: The Journal of Graduate Liberal Studies, 2010


The moon follows me home,
drifts above my right shoulder
his eye steady on me,
thick-lipped, inscrutable;
there is wood smoke in the air,
the last lavender light before me,
three deer stand still in the cornfield—
a rare Wisconsin night.

And I am alone on this gravel path,
alone with the liquid moon,
the smell of new mown hay, of clover,
walking a path I've walked four times today
watching colors brighten then bleach,
Bill's zinnia bed, the cleome and cosmos,
silhouette of twilight pine
buildings hugging the brow of a hill.

I can never walk enough this road that cuts
the greenest hills I've ever seen,
chides me to remember each stone
is more than I thought possible, each leaf,
more than I believe, that I should never fully
know this place that will remain
like the dusk-whitened impatiens,
glowing star floating on a darkened ground.

And just above my shoulder, the lifting moon.

Karen Holden © Published in ORION, 2000


I've carried your touch like a flower
man with the smile of lighting, man
with the newly greening heart
carried your scent all day like a locket
a pocketknife, rabbit foot, a penny found
your bitter meadow smell, tobacco and mint
and the sweet balsam of your hair, long
like a woman's, hair to be lost in against
your simple masculine chest

The first leaves of butternut have begun
to turn, early autumn and I too will turn
intersect the southern skimming geese
heading for home, but part of me remains
here, one small slice, just enough to fill
your hands, just enough to hold until we
return to a place where neither of us carries
where each of us is held

Karen Holden © Published in IN THE GROVE, 1999


a stain on silence         
Samuel Beckett

a bell ringing
to no response, no
call to faith or arms
no child to grow

these simple chimes
a riff on solitude
which scrapes the meat
of grief away from bone

then bares her teeth
in laughter
before gobbling the
time she stole

Karen Holden © Published in BLACK CLOCK, 2006


We reach deep into the humus
beneath crumbling layers of leaves
unearth the pale fleshy fungi, as an
anthropologist might unearth bones:
slowly and with infinite care.
We lift only the fruiting body, cap still
closed and veiled like the fist of the brain,
gilled like ancient fishes, delicate
as leaf vein, rich with life.

This is how it is, how we are
in the world, like all things, progeny
of sun and water, decay, the continuous
cycle of birth and death, of carbon, of time,
evolution; essential, fragile and edible
growing from the dark ground of all being,
soil and soul: our hands, those bones,
these mushrooms.

Karen Holden © Commissioned by THE INSTITUTE for HUMAN ORIGINS




                                                                                                            This is my solace—

it is not the body


from which we are released.

It is the soul


which is lifted from us like a burden.

                                                                                                                        Biff Russ




before glass breaks, or then

again, before it

hardens in the making



state akin to longing, clarity

does not solidify to

pain, slow


and dark, her

breath, the notes go straight

to grief, a sorrow barely

tinted with delight, nervous


eyes, a bird

laid still in hand

half moon, the final

fall, before it



a passion

hatched inside the breast, and



new spring blossoms, glazed

with ice, how

slow can slow


go, before it withers?                                                                                                                                                                                                             

how deep can one note                                                                      

drop, before it                                                                                    


Karen Holden © Published in Michigan Quarterly Review, Fall 2010


Curly grained and auburn,
each wedge falls from the maul
a testament to winter
and the endlessness of life.

This is why I love splitting wood;
you can't see the heart of things
until you cut them.

Karen Holden © BOOK OF CHANGES, 1998
Available at www.amazon.com


So Lord, help me face them
without rancor or disappointment
see the pain behind their actions
rather than the malice,
the suffering, rather than the rage

and in myself, as I struggle
with the vise of my own desire
give me strength to quiet my heart,
to quicken my empathy, to act
in gratitude, rather than need

remind me that the peace I find
in the slow track of seasons
or an uncurling fern frond
is married to the despair I feel
in the face of nuclear war,

that each small bird shares atoms
with anthrax, with tetanus, with acid rain,
that each time I close my heart
to another, I add to the darkness;
Help me always follow kindness

Let this be my prayer

Karen Holden © Published in PRAYERS for 1000 YEARS, 1999


Each day it's a new garden.
Marigolds and mint duke it out
for the lion's share of the redwood box
spicy carnations arch and spike
the scallop squash grows mutant,
a dark green zeppelin, ridged and splotched.
Who can say
how the seeds we plant will grow?
Gnarled, gray, stuck
in the ground eye-up the potatoes
become a ferny canopy, shade the peppers
bruise the dill.
No one told me a zucchini bush could take-
over half a garden.
Where there was a path yesterday, today
is a tangle of cantaloupe leaves,
one tiny spaghetti squash dangles in the dark
center of a tomato plant taller than I am
and the morning glories insist on
climbing up the fence
instead of the trellis I labored over,
just as I insist on my own undirected life.
I pinch and tie and train but this garden
has a heart of its own, which it follows despite
my good wishes and knowing hand.
So be it.
If the carrots are smothered by cucumbers
we shall live on less bright roots
take in the darker pith and skin of those
vining survivors and praise these stubborn lives
however they may grow.

Karen Holden © BOOK OF CHANGES, 1998


Wind, like a body, sweeps the valley.
The corn lies, swept back like hair
from the brow of the field—an amazing
sight, this dark green crumpling, this
violence against the tender ears we eat
or long to eat on summer evenings, sweet
and sticky in our teeth. One can see
the single path it cut, as if it was a bullet,
a scythe, a swinging hand, as if it was a body,
falling. I like to think of wind as formless,
but this blast left shape in our field with perfect
cut dimensions, with size and heft. See the way
the stiff corn leaves curl left and right on either
side, see the almost symmetrical outline, like
those drawings policemen make on the sidewalk
in the city where I grew, like the perfect human
shadows the bomb in Hiroshima made, like a
child's hand in plaster, a gift of early summer,
a reckoning in the field.

Karen Holden © Published in POETRY FLASH, 1998