Two Poems by Karen Paul Holmes


He has no heart now and won’t
for the next hour. It’s in surgeon hands
while the heart-lung machine breathes/beats
for the body cooled to hypothermia.
Doctors graft a vein—like a branch of peace—
from his leg, building new paths:
bypassing the impassable.

How can a good man have a bad heart?
Scalpeled open twice in one life.
This go-round, it’s me in the waiting room,
the loneliest eight hours I’ve ever felt.
Nurses call me Mrs.,
though I’m not, nor could I be Widow.
Just Domestic Partner, Significant Other.
Now Caregiver. Living Will Agent.

My head jerks from my novel whenever
a name is called. I remember to pray
with each Code Blue: All personnel to 3-R!
At 9 pm, a friend brings me golden phở,
we slurp noodles and laugh, drugging my worry.

ICU: The screen’s red and green jags,
like a colored Etch A Sketch, spellbind me,
on guard for the flatline I’ve seen in movies.
I-Vs tick steady, until their warning beeps startle.

Chris wakes up, joyful. Breathing
tube out, he sings a few notes for the nurses.
They move him to a regular room, less vigilant.
I can’t not watch the bellows of his chest.
as he sleeps. Water gurgles, wets the oxygen tube.
For five days, lines and drains come out
until his body works on its own.
He walks the hall, stance almost his ballroom form.

He has come home on a day like this before,
sky a clean slate of blue.
I hover. He showers, turning his stitched chest
away from the water’s hard beat.
He’s singing Pink Floyd’s Learning to Fly.


He Only Liked Onions in Small Amounts

         for Chris, 1956-2017

Just a bit for flavor, he’d say, chopping
the white flesh as if it were precious, mindful
of the balance in stews, tacos or Low Country boils,
proud when I would ooh and aah.

Once he ordered a large Mega-Supreme pizza,
which was really mostly mega-onion.
Later, when we’d pass the place—Big Al’s—
he’d make a face and say let’s get an onion pizza
or I’d say how about some pizza with your onions?

Now I’m eating a Thai salad, picking out too-many
red ones, yet glad for the Chris-memory
flooding my taste buds.
It’s like he’s here as I try to right myself
on this seesaw-for-one, balancing between
the pungent grief of death and the sweetness of us.
The heavy thud. The weightlessness.


Karen Paul Holmes has two poetry books, No Such Thing as Distance (Terrapin) and Untying the Knot (Aldrich). Her poems have appeared on The Writer’s Almanac, The Slowdown, and Verse Daily. Publications include Diode, Plume, and Valparaiso Review. She has twice been a finalist for the Lascaux Review’s Poetry Prize.

7 thoughts on “Two Poems by Karen Paul Holmes

  1. The poems in tandem are so moving. I love how Chris is remembered through his onion preference, so rich. Thank you Karen, for sharing these painful and beautiful elegies.

    1. Maree, it was interesting for me to see the two poem together since they were written more than 2 years apart. Thank you for your lovely comment.

  2. Karen, these poems have gained beauty with time. So happy for them and you that they are now published. Maren

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