After death, like Houdini,

you disappeared,

leaving the steamer trunk bare.

So many times you’d escaped:

born after the cholera of 1873

in a Polish village named for fire,


eluding famine on the S.S. Breslau,

which delivered you to New York

with pink eye and ten bucks,


surviving even the inferno

of the steel mill,

the shrieks of its sulfurous air.


Now I track you through digital loops

of penmanship,

untangling versions of your name:


misspelled by the purser on the Breslau,

Anglicized by a census taker

who got everything wrong but your address.


How completely you vanished

into influenza,

even your gravestone gone.


I touch this screen as if virtual ink

could bring back your fingerprints,

your heavy, grease-smudged hands.



Photo By: Snapshots of the Past


About Author

Karen Kovacik is the author of several collections of poetry, including Metropolis Burning, Beyond the Velvet Curtain and Nixon and I. Her work as a poet and translator has received numerous honors, including the Charity Randall Citation from the International Poetry Forum, a fellowship in literary translation from the National Endowment for the Arts and a Fulbright Research Grant to Poland for her translations of contemporary Polish poetry. In 2013, her booklength translation of Agnieszka Kuciak’s Distant Lands: An Anthology of Poets Who Don’t Exist appeared from White Pine Press, and in 2014, her anthology of Polish women poets, Calling Out to Yeti, is also forthcoming from White Pine. She served as Indiana’s Poet Laureate from 2012-2014.

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