2 Poems by Karen Steiger


Thirty-five years ago today,
government agents appeared
in the town of Daffodil Hill
with their white hazmat suits
and their clicking, beeping instruments,
and they declared the town and its environs
to be “toxic to humans and animals,”
thanks to the local pesticide manufacturing company
located at the edge of town.
Cockroaches and centipedes having the last laugh
as the governor ordered a mandatory evacuation.
Angry letters
Screaming voices echoing in a municipal building
Lost jobs
Crashing property values
Sunk cost
Empty bleachers in the high school gym
No more Daffodil Hill Hornbills in black and gold.
A circle of juniors singing the fight song,
long-haired girls sobbing.
Like, who cares that much about their high school?
But maybe you would,
if it were forced to be closed,
all your friends and teachers scattered across the state,
your dad with a new job,
in a new town,
and the kids there make fun of you for being
from the toxic waste dump,
and you’re one of the lucky ones.
The state bought people’s homes
at rock-bottom prices.
Nature reclaimed the strip mall on Park Street.
Only one man refused to leave
and lives there still,
68-year-old Jerry McCarthy,
angry, drunken, cussing.
He pulled a shotgun on the trooper who knocked on his door
with the evacuation notice.
The whole ghost town is his domain now,
king of empty houses and stores.
He collects bits of debris from Daffodil Hill
and arranges it on his front lawn.
It all looks as trashy as he is,
but it doesn’t matter.
He says he’s going to run a museum one day,
a museum of Daffodil Hill,
and he’ll tell his visitors what happened here,
how there was a town here,
not a great town,
but a nice one,
and all that’s been erased now,
as though anyone would want to visit such a monument,
risking birth defects and certain rare cancers,
while walking on the poisoned ground.

My Ongoing Dispute with My Long-Term Disability Insurance Carrier

I imagine a man in his mid-thirties,
recently married, just bought a house,
his wife just found out they were pregnant,
working at his cubicle despite the virus,
beige carpet, beige walls, beige ceiling,
phones ringing, fingers clacking on keyboards.
He’s in Tampa, and there’s a palm tree just outside
the nearest window,
and it’s hot in his cubicle when the sun shines in,
like a greenhouse.
And he’s wearing a polo shirt and khakis,
freshly washed, unwrinkled,
and he used to have abs,
when he played beach volleyball a lot,
but now he’s softened,
a pale belly to match his wife’s,
and his hairline might be starting to recede,
but his wife told him not to worry about it,
he looks fine.
And he just ate the lunch he brought from home,
but he’s still hungry,
and it’s only 1:30.
And everyone’s supposed to be wearing a facemask
in the common areas of the office,
and some people wear double-masks even in their cubicles,
and some don’t wear any at all,
just daring you to say something about it.
And he checks his email and checks the news
and checks his fantasy football team,
and another half an hour crawls by,
and finally he gets around to reading my letter,
finding words like “bad faith” and “retaliation” and “civil action,”
and just for a brief moment,
as he rejects my most recent claim,
he wishes I’d drop dead.

Karen Steiger is a poet, fiction writer, and breast cancer survivor living in Schaumburg, Illinois, with her beloved husband, Matt, and two retired racing greyhounds, Giza and Horus. She is the founder of her poetry blog, The Midlife Crisis Poet (www.themidlifecrisispoet.com), and her work has been published in The Wells Street Journal, Arsenika, Black Bough Poetry, Ang(st), Perhappened, Kaleidotrope, Mineral Lit Mag, Rejection Letters, Versification, Sledgehammer Lit, and others.