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Poem by Karen Skolfield


The Year After, It Was Boomerangs

The rage that year was balls of twine, balls rolled into bigger balls until it became a
regional attraction and there were signs on the highway. Soda-can tabs circled our necks
on lavalieres of twine. We became adept at square knots and half-hitches, mountaineer’s
coil and oysterman’s stopper knot, we invented knots that could not be untied, knots that
stopped time. Around town we sauntered with our balls of twine. Depending on where
you kept it, it looked like a giant tumor on the hip or another head. Dwayne drew big
black eyes on his and he’d turn to it and ask for advice all the time, and the twine ball
would answer in this high-pitched voice, Dwayne’s mouth twitching with the effort. We
thought this was a riot and we begged him for more. Later in the summer Dwayne’s
twine ball became mean and said things we’d never heard before and hadn’t imagined
and we’d wonder why we put up with it. Did we have so little else in the world? I don’t
need to tell you this was Delaware, but I’ll go to my grave with the name of the town.


Photography © TJ Edson
Photography © TJ Edson


Karen Skolfield’s book Frost in the Low Areas won the 2014 PEN New England Award in poetry and the First Book Award from Zone 3 Press. She received the 2015 Robert H. Winner Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America and the 2015 Arts & Humanities Award from New England Public Radio, and has received additional fellowships and awards in 2014/2015 from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, Ucross Foundation, Split This Rock, Hedgebrook, Vermont Studio Center, and the Sustainable Arts Foundation. Skolfield is an Army veteran and teaches writing to engineers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she earned her Master of Fine Arts.

TJ Edson is the Art Director of Oddball Magazine and a volunteer at the Out of The Blue Art Gallery. He has also had work appear recently in Boston Compass.


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Stone Soup Servings Presents: Karen Skolfield


Stone Soup Servings is a regular series for Oddball Magazine that features upcoming performers at Stone Soup Poetry, the long-running spoken word venue in the Boston area that has partnered with Oddball Magazine. Stone Soup Poetry now meets from 8-10 p.m. every Monday at the Out of The Blue Art Gallery’s new location at 541 Massachusetts Avenue in Central Square Cambridge, Massachusetts. The open mike sign-up at 7:30 p.m.

On Monday March 3, we put the blizzard days of January and February behind us (hopefully) and welcome Karen Skolfield to our venue. The poem below is a sample from her new book, Frost in the Low Areas winner the 2014 PEN New England Award in poetry and the First Book Award from Zone 3 Press.


Ode to the Fan

The only thing smuggled from my parents’ house.
Square, heavy, a motor my age, 19, my dad
telling me I was no longer welcome there,
how he hated my life, maybe because
I’d never slept with him. But this
is about the fan, the green fan
that I hid under blankets in the back
of my lover’s gigantic truck, in the time before
SUV’s when trucks were functional and ugly.
And the hidden fan, my unhappy cat
that had also been kicked out.
That night I slept on the floor of a stranger,
Jen and I on piles of blankets.
It was July and we turned on the fan
and slept in its hum. I think I slept deeply –
why wouldn’t I, with life clearing
like the view from mountains? Like wind
I’d created myself? Later I painted
the fan raspberry, a ridiculous color,
and when I plugged it in my new lover
or old lover or whatever would joke
“Where’d you get that fan?”
because they all knew the fan’s story,
the famous Skolfield fan, the way my father
held onto old things like hand tools
he didn’t have the strength to use
and rotted chair webbing and sawdust,
because maybe there would be an oil spill,
a whole tank of oil, and sawdust’s just the thing.
I didn’t speak to my family for a long time,
until the cancer thing, and then every time
I saw my father or got him on the phone
he’d say “Have you seen the fan?
The big green fan?” he’d ask as soon
as he heard my voice, as if he’d forgotten
he’d asked before, and this went on
for 15 years, and I’d patiently answer
“No, Dad, I know the fan you’re talking about,
I don’t have it.” Because although he
was patient, I’d learned from him,
I would outlast him, I didn’t mind the questions,
sometimes I’d be the one to bring it up:
“Dad, don’t you have a fan for this room?
I remember a fan here, green – did it stop working?”
And he’d say “I thought you had it.”
And I’d say “Oh, I wish, what a fan. A fan
to end all fans. You should write a poem about it.”
Because he used to write, in college,
and told me he’d stopped to have a family.
We would start every visit lying to each other.
I like to think it pains him, the idea
of his fan with me, how I might neglect it,
the gathering rust, the mice delighting in the cord.
Or worse: that I threw it away.
Or even worse: How it brings me pleasure,
the metal blades stronger than today’s plastic,
the solid whir of it, sleep-inducing vibrato.
I like to think I’m contributing to his nightmares:
I cherish the fan. It still works. It’s that good.