Karl Kirchwey

California King, Head of the Meadow and A Miracle of Saint Anthony
December 19, 2022 Kirchwey Karl

California King


The little bright red car
was stopped at a traffic light
with a giant mattress tied to the roof
and slopping down over the doors.


A young white woman was driving,
a young Black man in the passenger seat.


At the beginning of Mozart’s opera,
Figaro is measuring for their marriage bed
and calls out the numbers to Susanna
with such an unselfconscious joy.


Then the light changed, and the car
pulled away under its sagging load.




Head of the Meadow


I would have said the mood was defiant tribalism,
with just a faint whiff of the aggrieved
lacing the salt air like beach-wrack
after six months of lockdown,
as if challenging anyone to call it out;
but something vulnerable about this too,
about all these families under the August sun.


The young women with hardly anything on waded out
to rendezvous with slick-headed seals
cruising shark-haunted beyond the
breakers, each with the dark eyes
of a legendary twelve-string guitar picker,
while men trundled the jut of their beer bellies
with a nonchalant expertise between shivering


pavilions, boom boxes, cooler chests, chairs with cup holders
and a portable shrine to Stella
Maris, Our Lady Star of the
Sea, and the brave hearts lost off
that coast: all resentfully hedged on a narrow
margin to protect the nests of the piping
plover that is pale as a beach flea, pale as dry sand.


And I would have said nothing could sortie these from their pods,
but I would have been wrong, for as I
lay dozing and parching, I heard
a single “O” of surprise
from many voices, and felt the thudding of feet
following the wandering tridentine prints
of the yellow-eyed gull just to the edge of the sea


where, about a quarter mile offshore, a humpback whale breached
not once but twice, as if in the sheer
luxuriance of that summer
day, and though no god could be
homelier than this pitted and tubercled thing
streaming crystal like a knotted totem, yet
it was sufficient to extract that cry from the ones


who had been so isolated by fears, but were called by—
or perhaps instead were reminded
of— something they had known and had
almost forgotten, a plain
readiness for awe, a human capacity.
I would have said the water healed more quickly
than whatever it was felt by those who gathered there.



A Miracle of Saint Anthony
(fresco by Gerolamo del Santo, Padua, 1511)


What happened was,
a Protestant soldier blew his top.
There’s only so long you can listen
to someone else being praised,
so he said —If I throw this glass


as hard as I can and it doesn’t shatter,
then I will convert.
There it stands on the checkerboard floor
of red Verona marble and Istrian stone,
a plain six-sided tumbler


minding its own business
in the dead silence of aftermath,
as the cut voided velvets and puffed sleeves
of the bystanders rearrange themselves slightly
to accommodate this new reality,


and a lovely girl at the back
veils half her face as an experiment
to make herself look more intriguing,
since for a moment anything seems possible.
How easily passion is defied!


This is what amazes her.
She wants to be like that glass,
cool before his heretic rage,
with just the slightest wobble
from its origins in sand and lead.

Karl Kirchwey is the author of seven books of poems. His eighth, Good Apothecary, is forthcoming from Northwestern University Press in 2025. Sections of his ongoing long poem Mutabor have appeared in journals since 2011. He teaches in the MFA programs in Creative Writing and in Literary Translation at Boston University.