Two Poems|Karol Nielsen

New Yorker


I remember the Peruvian band in the subway station when I first moved to New York. I stopped and

listened and it was magical. I was so green then that a man on the subway platform said, You’re not

from New York. I wondered how you acquired New York cool. I watched the city for clues. I saw a

man with a rainbow Mohawk in the East Village, a man in a miniskirt wearing lipstick near New York

University, and shirtless muscled men in the West Village. The city is more muted now, but it still

offers clues. I was struck by the tall man with a mane of copper hair in Midtown, the tall woman with

pink and purple curly hair by Union Square, the petite young man with braided gray extensions on the

subway, the young blonde topless woman in Central Park, and the handsome young men in

underwear as part of the No Pants Subway Ride downtown. I have lived most of my adult life in the

city, but my new colleague recently said, You’re not from New York. I keep looking for clues.



Judy’s Advice


Judy told me a story about a writer


who drew a picture of her ideal man. She and her mother went looking for him. They found him in a

bar. He was illiterate but he looked like her drawing. So she married him. Judy always says I could

meet someone anywhere—the pharmacy, the grocery store, anywhere. I told her I went to a bar and

had a Chardonnay. The man next to me wanted to buy me a drink. I said thank you but no.

He persisted but my answer still was no. He was a gray haired senior with a round belly and missing

teeth who settled for a handshake. We didn’t get married.


Photo by Manuel Lardizabal on Unsplash



Karol Nielsen is the author of the memoirs Black Elephants (Bison Books, 2011) and Walking A&P (Mascot Books, 2018)

and the chapbooks This Woman I Thought I’d Be (Finishing Line Press, 2012) and Vietnam Made Me Who I Am (Finishing Line Press, 2020).

Her first memoir was shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing in nonfiction in 2012.

Her full poetry collection was a finalist for the Colorado Prize for Poetry in 2007.

Her work has appeared in Epiphany, Guernica, Lumina, North Dakota Quarterly, Permafrost, RiverSedge, and elsewhere.

She has taught writing at New York University and New York Writers Workshop. 

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