Sep 5, 2014

Friday Poetry

To the Girl in the Culvert 
I see your jacket first, an Adidas warm-up, pink.
Face-up, hair streaming in moving
water like streamers on handlebars, you look
dead. I don’t have to touch you to know that.
I don’t touch your puffed face. I’ve seen
enough Forensic Files and CSI not to tamper
with evidence. And I am afraid your skin
will peel under my fingers like the rotting
peach I stole from a farmer’s field
in ninth grade—still sweet but disturbing.

Twenty-two days of rain, and the culvert holds
water as if it’s selfish, afraid it won’t get more.
Or are you blocking the flow, floating on your
back like that? I’ll say dead man’s float because
that’s what you’re doing, limp and in love
with lack of gravity. The sky starts raining,
pocking your cheek skin, then trickling smooth.
I touch my face and pick at scabs. We have plenty
of time until the rain stops to talk about how we ended

up here, your swollen fingers swimming like happy fish.

by Julie King 


I first read this poem in a writing workshop, a POD assignment to review and provide feedback; part of the MFA Creative Writing program I attended in 2005 and 2006 at Queens University in Charlotte, North Carolina.  

I remember then, the same reaction I have now, the poet's ability to bring beauty, attention and consideration to such a horrific scene.  I've always been interested in CSI and cold cases, etc. and this poem treats the subject with delicate care.  I reached out to Julie King before I went to Panama and asked if I could post, she said "Yes". 

What draws me to this poem and to many of Julie's poetry, you know quickly what the poem is about, there is no dancing around the title or subject. And yet with the practical knowledge of subject or topic, the poet takes you to places or descriptions that are unique to how she sees the world.  We get invited to meet people or go places or consider descriptions that detail a perspective of the world that is real yet sometimes surreal, sometimes fanciful.  Many times Julie writes with in your face honesty, many times raw, emotional. What Julie's poetry does best, she makes all subjects possible. 

In this poem the reader is invited by the title to a place, the culvert, and certainly you have an idea that there is a girl present.  Why, how come, for how long, - Julie provides many of those details.  We've all seen streamers on handlebars, with this poem we now see them completely different, softening the blunt force of the death, adding light to darkness.  

We all know a rotting peach, or being selfish, what we don't know is how much is plenty of time or the feel of swollen fingers swimming like happy fish.  The visual of limp and in love with the lack of gravity, again an invitation to see this horrific scene through a soft lens and for who ? 

Do CSI investigators develop relationships with the dead, with the victims? 

What I like most about this poem, the girl is recognized, while the scene and the crime - as the writer says, there is plenty of time to talk about how we ended up here. 

The poem ends with an invitation, indeed there is plenty of time, there are seasons; there is a journey, the magnitude of the girl in the culvert one day spilling into an ocean of possibilities.  

Thanks Julie for letting me include your poem in the Friday poetry posts. 


I've never shared with many my initial struggle and fear when I enrolled in the MFA program at Queens. During the first semester residency, I realized that many of my classmates in the program were tried and true English teacher's who had been studying and teaching poetry for years. They were not only poets in their hearts, they were also academic in their knowledge and experience with the mystery and beauty of what we know as poems and poetry.  

I felt out of place, I remember sharing this with with Dr. Polito, my writing group advisor for the first term, and he asked me point blank,   

"Why are you here"?  

"I want to be a better writer, I want to learn about the craft, the editing and review process, I want to be a better reader of accomplished poets and learn from them".  

I will never forget what Dr. Polito shared.

  "Don't be concerned about the other students, your concern needs to be with the blank page, with your approach, with your relationship to the craft and what you came here to learn".  

He reassured me I was in the right place and I would benefit greatly from the Queens program.  And indeed I did.  So many wonderful things happened.  I did learn a great deal, the program has wonderful professors and poets. The setting in Charlotte is wonderful. I met people who love to write and love to read poetry and love to consider and discuss poetry

I was fortunate to have POD assignments with wonderful writers, all poets: Julie, Carol, Mike, Roberta, Melanie, Thom, Willie, Louise, Missy, Charles. I wish I could remember everyone's name. 

I wrote my MFA Thesis and was the first Queens MFA student to translate thesis into a second language, in my case, Spanish,  The House of Saturdays or La Casa de los Sabados.  A hard bound copy kept at the Queens Library in  Charlotte for years to come.