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"the truth about karen" by Kenneth Carroll

the truth about karen

(1972)


in our kitchen,

women are whispering

i am not supposed to hear

it is about karen, "women thangs"


karen had almost died

almost bled to death

a coat hanger’s jagged tip

near her bare feet

across the courtyard the

temprees sang, "explain it to her mama"


karen at 16 could not explain any of it

the 32 yr old deacon

the unholy consummation

but he had told karen

what the law wouldn’t allow

old wives’ tales would

dangerous as old husband’s desires


karen stood alone

in the bathroom, in the world

quietly groping, metal inside her

hoping to avoid the wrath of rumors

like John in a desert of despair

praying for miracles & water?


he had promised this would work

but where was the water to

signal an end, to keep karen from

turning to/into her mother

whose heart she was sure to

break with this unspeakable truth

in the courtyard the "whatnauts" sang,

"i'll erase away your pain"


i was not supposed to hear

the water never came, the ambulance did

what she could not tell her mother,

soon everyone would know

the women talked of pints lost

scandals, babies, the man

& his wife, of circles, viciously

accurate & unending


the kitchen whispers, ignorant

of the school‑boy crush I wore

for karen, the pubescent flame she ignited

the fragility of a 12-year-old, who believed

in the gospel of every R&B ballad

what I was not supposed to hear,

the truth about karen, stole the

innocence from both our souls


summer of ’72, slow jams filled the courtyard

lovers held each other, slow dragged along a razor's edge

as if the truth about karen was not known

i avoided her eyes, marveled at her bulging form

wondered how she could smile,

cursed the whispered voices,

the truth, & love.


Kenneth Carroll 5/13/2022 Kenneth Carroll is a native Washingtonian. His poetry, plays, and prose have been published in numerous journals and anthologies, including 2020: The Year That Changed America (edited by Kevin Powell), Where We Stand: Poems of Black Resilience (Edited by Melanie Henderson, Enzo Silon Surin, and Truth Thomas), Fledgling Rag, Issue 21, Full Moon on K Street, Black Literature Forum and Indiana Review. Carroll's poetry appears in academic journals published by Penguin and McGraw Hill and he has two Pushcart nominations to his credit. He is the "2021 Blood Orange Review Short Fiction Winner," and the father of three beautiful children.




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