Charles Atkinson was a runner up in 2003 Marlboro Review's Prize in Poetry for his Poem " What We Mean When We Say Karma" selected by Michael Ryan

What We Mean When We Say Karma

Soup will spill
in the hands of a child–
on the carpet, his shirt,
his pants and socks.

A mistake to fool
when you carry it. He knew–
or learned: a scald
recalls its source.

So who is yelling at
this child? Not a father
or a father's father
though the tone is familiar.

This is the shimmer of
anger itself,
that glossy oil
that swirls on water.

Spilled there once
in someone's pain–
someone bent double,
fatigue, bad health,

a dream congealed
splashed on the surface
of a child's clear spring,
it spread in patterns

iridescent from above–
a rainbow of colors,
sudden whorls
serpentine in the light.

From vessel to vessel
it was poured, and always
found the surface,
fouled the rim.

Wait! Stop!
you might say. Too late.
He won't lift his eyes
from the bowl; he won't cry

It will sink to the depths
for a time – for years
if the waters cool.
The child's face has

smoothed in deliberate
calm. Look at him
by candlelight: he's good.
So was his father.

Charles Atkinson currently teaches writing of various sorts at UC Santa Cruz. His first collection, The Only Cure I Know (San Diego Poets Press) received the American Book Series award for poetry in 1991; a chapbook, The Best of Us On Fire, won the Wayland Press competition for 1992. He has been awarded other prizes such as the Stanford Prize, the Comstock Review Prize, The Paumanok Award (SUNY Farmingdale) and, most recently, the Emily Dickinson Prize. His work appears in many literary journals, including Poetry, The Southern Review Virginia Quarterly Review and The Amicus Journal.

Copyright © Charles Atkinson

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