Revelations in the Key of K

By Mary Karr b. 1955 Mary Karr
I came awake in kindergarten,   
under the letter K chalked neat   
on a field-green placard leaned   

on the blackboard's top edge. They'd caged   me   
in a metal desk—the dull word writ   
to show K's sound. But K meant kick and kill

when a boy I'd kissed drew me   
as a whiskered troll in art. On my sheet,   
the puffy clouds I made to keep rain in   

let torrents dagger loose. "Screw those   
who color in the lines," my mom had preached,   
words I shared that landed me on a short chair   

facing the corner's empty, sheetrock page. Craning up,   
I found my K high above.   
You'll have to grow to here, its silence said.   

And in the surrounding alphabet, my whole life hid—  
names of my beloveds, sacred vows I'd break.   
With my pencil stub applied to wall,   

I moved around the loops and vectors,   
Z to A, learning how to mean, how   
in the mean world to be.   

But while I worked the room around me   
began to smudge—like a charcoal sketch my mom   
was rubbing with her thumb. Then   

the instant went, the month, and every season   
smeared, till with a wrenching arm tug   
I was here, grown, but still bent   

to set down words before the black eraser   
swipes our moment into cloud, dispersing all   
to zip. And when I blunder in the valley   

of the shadow of blank about to break   
in half, my being leans against my spinal K,   
which props me up, broomstick straight,   

a strong bone in the crypt of meat I am.

Source: Poetry (June 2005).


This poem originally appeared in the June 2005 issue of Poetry magazine

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June 2005
 Mary  Karr


Poet and memoirist Mary Karr was born in 1955 and raised in Texas. The author of several critically acclaimed books of poetry, including Abacus (1987; reprinted 2007), The Devil’s Tour (1993), Viper Rum (2001), and Sinners Welcome (2006) she is also the author of a trilogy of memoirs: The Liar’s Club (1995), Cherry (2001), and Lit (2009). Karr’s poetry and prose frequently include autobiographical elements, including her . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Reading & Books, Arts & Sciences, Faith & Doubt, Activities, Youth, School & Learning, Living, Religion

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Poetic Terms Allusion, Elegy

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