Poetry from Karol Nielsen

Wild Child

I was six months old when my father was sent to Vietnam. We left Oklahoma, where my father had been stationed in the army, and moved back to Nebraska, where my parents had grown up. My aunt stayed with us while my uncle was serving in the National Guard. My brother found his photo, crumpled it up, and threw it in the garbage can. “This is my daddy’s house,” he said. “This is not your house, Aunt Judy.” I used to wake up early and screech from my crib. My mother kept sleeping while my aunt got up and comforted me. Soon I was pulling myself up over the wall of my crib, dropping to the floor, and crawling around the house. I was my mother’s wild child.

Father, Stranger

I learned how to whistle, then talk, while my father was in Vietnam—wading through rice paddies and trekking through jungle, carrying a heavy pack and cooking his C rations with rice and bullion, surviving after his chopper crashed in a hot zone and losing his best friend in an early morning ambush. I didn’t recognize him when he came home. My brother sat in the front seat of the car chatting away. I sat in the backseat silent. Eventually I crawled over the backrest and sat between my brother and father. I kept my head down the whole time.

Digging to China

When my father left the army, we moved to Nebraska where he earned his Master of Business Administration. My brother and I dug a hole in the backyard. I said I was digging to China, inspired by my grandfather who flew cargo over the Himalayas—the hump—from India to China during World War II. My mother snapped a photo of us with mud all over—from face to toe—and my father kept it on his desk when he became a businessman.

You Don’t Own the Street

We played baseball on a dead end street across from our house and we used a rock in Mr. Dellapoli’s yard as first base. Once, he came out and yelled at us. I was a little kid but I wasn’t afraid. I put my hands on my hips and shot back, “M. Dellapoli, you don’t own the street!”

Karol Nielsen is the author of the memoirs Walking A&P and Black Elephants and three poetry chapbooks. Her first memoir was shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing. Her full-length poetry collection was a finalist for the Colorado Prize for Poetry. Her poem “This New Manhattan” was a finalist for the Ruth Stone Poetry Prize.