Wednesday 24 February 2021

Five Prose Poems by Karol Nielsen


After college, I worked as a writer for an English language newspaper in Buenos Aires. The dirty war had ended but the country was on the verge of a coup with hyperinflation, labour strikes, power cuts. My salary was worthless and I quit to travel. I saw penguins, glaciers, icebergs, snowy Andes, gauchos on horseback.


My brother and I travelled to the Iguazu Falls and then we moved on to the beach in Rio de Janeiro. I went back alone to Bahia—where women wore long, layered white lace dresses, headdresses, and beads in Salvador, a seaside city full of pastel townhouses.


I saw women with bowler hats and baby doll skirts climbing steep streets in La Paz. Then I travelled to Lake Titicaca and took a boat to a tiny island—where islanders threw rocks at mainland boats because they wanted to ferry tourists in their own boats.


I fell in love with an Israeli soldier on the way to Machu Picchu. We kissed in a church and explored Inca ruins in lime green foothills and evergreen Andes—where llamas roamed and men played reed flutes.


I travelled through Israel with my Israeli boyfriend and we saw the Wailing Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Al Akasa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock, Masada, the Dead Sea, the Red Sea, the Sea of Galilee. We got engaged and I moved to Israel. Soon the Gulf War broke out. We ran to the sealed room and put on gas masks when the air raid siren wailed during Scud missile attacks. We married in New York, still traumatized by the war.

Karol Nielsen is the author of the memoirs Black Elephants (Bison Books, 2011) and Walking A&P (Mascot Books, 2018) and the chapbooks This Woman I Thought I’d Be (Finishing Line Press, 2012) and Vietnam Made Me Who I Am (Finishing Line Press, 2020). Her first memoir was shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing in nonfiction in 2012. Excerpts were honoured as notable essays in The Best American Essays in 2010 and 2005. Her full poetry collection was a finalist for the Colorado Prize for Poetry in 2007. Her work has appeared in Epiphany, Guernica, Lumina, North Dakota Quarterly, Permafrost, River Sedge, and elsewhere. She has taught writing at New York University and New York Writers Workshop.

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