Karla Sutton


Karla Sutton

High dive. Bent figure standing over the water.
Slight motion. Don’t look down at the water.

Concrete seeped in laughter and chlorine,
Mold, and old sunscreen left by the water.

Where do sharks hide? Like cops under cover?
Under their folklore? Down deep, under the water?

I’ve dreamed of falling, but never of flying.
Would you catch me, regardless? Would you be the water?

Time beats.
It’s waiting, the cold embrace of the water.

We played mermaids at sea in the backyard that summer.
And after, eyes burning, I shivered Iooking back at the water.

Buenos Aires

Karla Sutton

(A found poem from selected poems of Pablo Neruda)

Sabor Fantasma

Sabor fantasma
De lejanía
Siempre llena de
La luz de junio
Reposo de huesos
Mi alma
Aquí vivo
Con cosas rotas
Ojos dilatados y fijos
Muros de noche
No hay olvido
Vivía con árboles violetas

Ghost flavor

Ghost flavor
From far away
Always filled with
The light of June
Repose of bones
My soul
I live here
With broken things
Eyes, fixed and dilated
Walls of night
There’s no forgetting
It happened
I lived amid violet trees

Para Vos

Karla Sutton

A letter, una carta
In stilted Spanish, no–
I had to ask you the word for longing.
I’m losing it, you’d say.
Te vas a perder todo.
And it’s cold there now.
It’s August.
The sun is down at 4:30.
But, in the mornings,
You watch it rise on the river,
El rio de la plata.

You said because of the river
The cold gets inside your bones.
“Adentro” means more than inside.
But, what exactly?

The ivy on the church
On Ricardo Gutierrez y Salta
(La esquina, I’d say
De Guti-err-ez y Salta
to cab drivers, taxistas.)
It’s grey vines on a brick wall now.
It won’t peek green till October.

I missed my old October then–
The jazz of crisp air,
Leaves, warm color falling.
I cried for it even,
Watching the church turn bud green
From the dining room table.
The jacarandas on the plaza;
There were parakeets
Escaped from somewhere,
You said, gone wild.

But, it’s still winter there.
Making cold the days as they pass.
You’ll ride your bike down by the river
Wearing the wool scarf I gave you
And your bright yellow jacket.
You’ll drink chocolate candy bars
Melting in frothed milk,
And rub your hands together–

At a Friend’s House for Dinner

Karla Sutton

The back of your neck in a photograph
Dusk, starched collar, party clothes
A bit of white t-shirt peaking
Skin dark like it was summer
That piece of your hair
A bit too long, curling the way it does
Head stooped to hear someone beside you
Your elbow pulled back
I could slip my arm through its crook
Stand just behind you
My hand there on that space
Between the curl and the collar
I could re-live your texture


Karla Sutton

“I walked into the house,” my father says to me on the phone, “and everything was gone, and I mean everything. There were only picture hooks and dust bunnies. At first, I just thought… maybe she was having the house painted, and that’s why all the furniture was gone. But the kitchen table? And the waterbed? I mean it’s NOT easy to move a waterbed. The only thing she didn’t take was my busted up RCA television. It was sitting there in the corner of the living room.”
I can picture that old box of a TV, its bug-like antennae and pudgy glass screen, left in the corner like a lonely totem. Worse maybe than if she’d taken everything. Completely empty, you might forget where things had been, you might be able to defamiliarize yourself from what had been so familiar, from what had been home. But no, she had left the TV there to taunt him.
Now he’s in therapy and quoting Deepak Chopra. As much as I hate the thought of going out there, I’m afraid if I don’t he’ll do one of those e-reading stress tests at the mall and before I know it, he’ll be prosthelytizing the good news of Scientology. Or worse, he’ll end up on my doorstep.
So, I decide to go out there, to Columbus, Ohio, to help my dad pick up the pieces of the life that my stepmom has left him. I can hear my mom’s voice already. There’s no need to call her. “What goes around comes around. But it’s too bad,” she’ll add. “I really liked that one.”
I walk through the jetway and he’s there by the window, looking undone, more lost than usual. His hair is longer. And greyer. There’s a piece of his shirt that’s not all the way tucked in. He’s wearing white socks with loafers. Airports have a way of un-doing people though. His face spreads into a smile when he sees me. I stand on my tip-toes to hug him; his beard bristles my temple, and I can smell the froth of the beers he’s had while waiting to see me.
“Hi pumpkin. It’s so good to see you!”
“Hi Dad. How are you?”
“I’m hangin’ in there. Here, let me carry your bag.” Something my last five boyfriends would not have thought to do.
We head side-by-side through the terminal. And somehow it still feels like when I was five and I have to take three steps to keep up with each one of my father’s. So, I tell him I have to use the restroom so that I can take a deep breath and a look in the mirror. I smooth down some stray blonde strands and suck in my stomach, butterflies and all. Look straight into my own eyes to remind myself that I’m grown now. And he seems to need me.
It’s December and snow has managed to drift its way into the multi-level lot. I run my hand along the railing and ball some snow up in my palm. My fingers get numb from the cold. I breathe out a puff of warm vapor and smile. That trick never gets boring. But now, I live in Florida where the air’s thick and swampy. Where I can stay warm on my own.
Inside my dad’s American-made SUV, I reach across to the driver’s side to unlock his door through a scent-cloud of stale cigarettes and Old Spice after-shave; pungent but familiar. There are ashes and crumpled scratch-off lottery tickets on the floor of the passenger side and a plastic bottle of Mountain Dew in the sticky cup holder between the seats. We’re mostly quiet at first, aside from small talk of cousins and weather, a ritual that allows me to relax a bit, to settle into place. But, people always talk more freely in cars, or maybe it’s just my father.
“Do you mind if I smoke?” he asks.
“Uh, no go ahead,” I’m surprised I still can’t refuse him.
He turns on the stereo as he takes his first drag. His car is so old that it still plays cassettes. It’s “Ophelia” by the Band, and I wonder if it’s from the mixed tape I made him, one of many sent over the years. And if so, was it left in the car, or did my step-mom return them?
“I got the divorce papers last week. And we put the house on the market. It’s all happening pretty quickly. I’ve been sleeping on a futon in the living room. Ordered it on the computer. Still blows my mind I can do that. A couple of clicks, and they deliver it to your door. I finally got rid of that damn television set too. Bought a new one at the Wal-Mart. One a those flatscreens. Man, she knows how to make an exit. Just imagine walking through your front door, and the whole place is empty. Not just people empty– Empty, echoing-the-walls, EMPTY. I almost called the goddammed police. But what thief is gonna take the time to empty a waterbed? I wandered around for a good 20 minutes, then I saw that TV, and I got this feeling in the pit of my stomach– I knew. Oh man, I knew…” he stops at a stoplight, hits his fist on the steering wheel. “Oh, pumpkin! It’s so good to see you!”
And I feel a little bit guilty because my stepmom has called me; her side of the story seems to seep into all of my father’s long pauses.
She’d called a few days after I first heard from him.“What happened?” I asked.
“Look, I just want you to know that I love you and I always want to stay a part of your life.”
“Thanks, I love you too.”
“So, what has your dad told you?”
“He’s a mess. He said you took everything. What happened? What did he do?” I ask, although I know how it goes.
I’d met this stepmother at a park for a picnic lunch. I had just turned eleven. She handed me a plush teddy bear with a green ribbon, and hugged me close like she knew me even though we’d never met before. I can still smell her perfume. We ate Kentucky Fried chicken. My dad looked at her with dream-goggle eyes. Later, when I was pushing my brother on the swings, I could see that he was holding her hand. He walked her to her car after buckling my brother and I into his. I remember my dad’s grey-blue eyes in the rearview mirror on the way home from that picnic. He told us it was best not to mention our picnic when we got home to where our current step-mother was waiting. My brother, age 7, turned to our dad in the front seat,“Why?”
“It will just be our little secret.”
At that moment, I’d had this feeling, this tight knot in my stomach. I asked my dad to pull over. “I don’t feel so good.” It might have been the warm coleslaw. He should have pulled over. Instead, I threw-up all over the middle-console.
The woman from that picnic, my step-mother of the last twelve years had left my dad their empty house, and the RCA TV while he was in Detroit for three days on a business trip.
“I was just sick of it,” was all she said and then silence.
“He said you took everything in the house,” my voice so much meeker than I intended.
“I knew about someone at his office, and that was one thing, but the waitress from Red Lobster? That’s the first place he ever took me to dinner. He told me if I didn’t like the way things were that I should leave,” she said. “So I did.”
I couldn’t argue.
Now here I am, three days before Christmas, my dad saying something about keeping a journal, puffing on Marlboro Reds, remembering his regrets. “I know I’ve made lots of mistakes.”
Oh, shit I think. Isn’t this the conversation you have after martinis? We’re not even out of the car yet.
“I know I should have done things differently with your mother.”
Oh, God, please God, make him stop.
“My therapist says that making amends is the first step toward healing.”
This is a man who has scoffed at psychiatry. Apparently, some things change. We pull up to a stoplight, and I look over. He’s looking out into the distance, and I think he might be starting to tear up.
“It’s really good to see you, Dad. How long has it been?”
The light changes, “Uhm, I guess about a year, since Thad’s wedding.”
“So, have you found a new place yet? You said you’ve been looking. That’s always an adventure!”
“I’ve looked at a couple of condos, small ones, and also apartments. I’d like to find something closer to the office. You, know, at least temporarily. Something with a pool, or maybe something near the river. Something with a view. Maybe I could go fishing.”
“I think I need a new hobby. Have you spoken to Di?” He asks it so suddenly even though I knew it was coming. I think about lying, just saying no, but most likely they’ve spoken.
“Uhm, yeah, just briefly. She called a couple of weeks ago. She didn’t say much.”
“I wondered if she’d call you.” We’re about two blocks from the house and, out of nowhere, a white pick-up pulls out from a side street. My dad swerves quickly, just missing the truck, but the road must be icy, because as he breaks, the SUV slides, and he almost loses control. Almost spins into on-coming traffic, but he does what he’s always told me to do when driving on ice. He turns the wheel in the direction it’s already going, and regains traction.
“You okay, pumpkin?”
I’m jostled, but fine. It all happened so quickly. “I’m fine. You?”
“I’m okay.” My dad pulls into a gas station. “I’m just gonna run in for a pack of cigarettes,” he says. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yeah,” I smile.
While I wait for my dad in the car, I notice a Christmas tree lot across the way. I haven’t had a Christmas tree in years, because I live by myself in a small apartment on the beach, and it just doesn’t seem quite justifiable to trim a tree for the seagulls. My dad’s never seen my new place. He loves the beach. He loves raw oysters and beer. Most of my favorite childhood memories are of us at the beach, playing frisbee, building elaborate sand castles, burying each other’s legs in the sand. I remember my dad teaching me how to catch a wave for body surfing. How to look for a wave that’s just the right size, and when to start swimming. And that feeling, when you time it just right, straightening out your body as it rushes you into the shore, like you’re just a part of it for a few seconds. Then you brush up against shells and sand, the wave tossing you out of its grasp like an unwelcomed intruder. But you stand up, exultant, and swim back to try it again.
Looking out the window, I notice it’s started to snow, and then, I notice I’m crying because the gas station attendant has knocked on the window. I wipe my cheeks with my shirtsleeve and roll down the window.
“Hey, miss, you gonna fill-up you’re tank or what? This ain’t a fuckin’ full service station. It’s a do-it-yourself operation and you got people waitin’.”
Now I see that my dad has accidentally pulled up to the gas pump. The attendant, who has long, greasy hair sticking out of a ball cap, and a red nametag that glares “Kenny” pauses for a second noticing my cheeks, tear-stained and puffy. Lucky for me, I have a complexion that hides nothing. “I mean, you know,” he continues, “you really can’t park here. Ah, shit. Are you okay?” He smiles, revealing not one, but three missing teeth. “You want me to clean off the windshield? What happened anyway?” He leans in close. He smells like gasoline and chewing tobacco. “A fight with your boyfriend?”
“Uhm, no,” I stammer, “Uhm…I’ll go ahead fill up the tank.” I reach down for my purse and slowly open the car door.
Kenny starts to wipe the snow and salt off the windshield using one of those rubber squee-gees. “You know,” he yells over, “I hate seein’ people sad durin’ Christmas. I mean I know it’s none of my business or nothin’ but it’s not really worth it. I mean if someone’s treatin’ you bad, you just gotta high-tail it. I mean, pretty thing like you, you deserve better.”
I ignore him. I slide my credit card in and out of rubber slot, positioning it so the black magnetic strip is at the top, facing out, like the picture on the machine indicates. The electronic screen on the pump flashes, commanding me to select a grade and remove the nozzle. It beep-beeps, and I obey, savoring the satisfaction of completing simple directions.
“You know, I ain’t got a girlfriend.”
Oh no, I think. I squeeze hard on the nozzle’s pump trigger.
“I mean it just ain’t right makin’ a girl feel bad near Christmas. Maybe you and I could go out to dinner. You like Mexican?”
I pretend not to hear him. I’ve never been happier to see my father. Kenny looks at my dad, then looks back at me, shakes his head, and mutters, “It just ain’t right.” The pump stops, and he glares at my father. For a minute, I’m worried. I return the nozzle and walk up to my dad.
“I got us some scratch-offs,” he says handing me one.
I give him a big bear hug before walking back to the passenger side. Even though there’s a small line of cars forming behind us, we sit in the car and my dad pulls out some pennies. We rub the mysterious opaque substance off of our “Fat Cat Tripler” cards. Mine’s a dud. My dad’s won another free ticket.
“Hey, dad,” I say, “Do you have a tree yet?”
“No, I keep passing by that lot, thinking I’ll stop in tomorrow.”
“Let’s get one,” I say, with genuine excitement. “A big one.”
And we do. We pick the fattest one on the lot, then go to the Wal-Mart. We buy strings of colored lights, silver and red balls, some eggnog and brandy. It’s not long before we’re singing along to Jimmy Buffett as we trim a tree that fills up the hungry living room. Between the music and the eggnog, it seems like the best idea in the world to run around the tree twirling masking tape behind us to fasten on a stuffed parrot that we’ve decided would make the perfect tree-topper if we could only reach up to the top.


Karla Sutton

One day this line will be
Just the trace of a scar
Or so they tell me
With a smile
And so it is
Like a smile below my navel
Almost concealed
Beneath the sprawl of my pubic hair

It was underneath bright lights
On a cold metal table
That they traced the line with a scalpel
Can you feel this
The anesthesiologist asked
Does this feel cold
No I don’t feel it
I answered
I didn’t feel it
When they cut me
When they dug inside my layers
To find you
I didn’t feel it
When they pulled you out
And I could only move my head
Straining to see
As they carried you
First quiet and then crying
To the corner of the room with the scale
I didn’t feel it
You wriggling
You breathing
I didn’t feel it until later
Until they lifted me off the table
And wheeled me away
To another sterile room
Where I waited for you
Like a delivery
They brought you in

And then you were there
Tow-head on my chest
Your tiny body lying along the brown line that grew darker up my belly as you grew bigger inside it
And it was then that finally
I felt you—warm and alive, plush life against mine, drinking up my heart beneath my breast

I trace this line of mine now, a long seam to remember how they stole you out of me with some line about your head and my hips and the time closing in on us.
“It doesn’t matter,” the world around me consoles the loss of my birthing you.
And yes, it doesn’t matter, because you are here and I am your life now.
And it doesn’t matter because this new world bathed in love and milk and sleep and cries and smiles is all that matters now.
Yet as I trace this line, this closure of my womb, I cannot help but think that it does.

The Last Piece

Karla Sutton

I found another piece today. On the sidewalk.  It’s iridescent, like the inside of a seashell.  Perhaps, the most beautiful piece so far. I stuck it in my pocket but then kept rolling it around between my fingers until I got home where I placed it in the jar with the others. It’s small in comparison, the size of toothpick, a shard, but it’s true. It is the best piece.

Daunting task: to choose form, design, color scheme, to start from the beginning. To fasten them back together.  There are thousands of them, a horde of shapes and hues inside the big, glass jar, reminding me of my brother’s old marble collection.

These are the little pieces of me that I’ve found on sidewalks and rooftops, under pillows, next to piles of books left on the stoops of brownstones, behind the reflections in shop windows and neon signs, in emptied dryers beneath the last warm sock, beside coffee mugs, and between couch cushions.

It was so easy to lose them.

But finding them has taken years.

And piecing them together without imposed direction—it’s enough to make me stare at the looming jar indefinitely, years streaming by in the foreground.

I shake the jar, let the pieces clink against the glass, jangle down into place against one another.  Today is as good a day as any to spread them out on the floor and make myself up from scratch.