Three poems by Karol Nielsen

Emergency Room Doctor


My college roommate and I were both divorced and single. She liked to go dancing so we could meet men. I was never as enthusiastic or optimistic. We went to a dance club on the Upper East Side and a tall, chiseled man with dreadlocks and deep brown eyes asked me to dance. D. was an emergency room physician who had dropped out of film school. He owned a duplex apartment in Gramercy Park where we ate Chinese take out and watched movies on his enormous TV. I felt like I was in a five star hotel. My friends approved of this beautiful, wealthy, accomplished man but he was a disappointment to me. He called me every other week to make plans and I had no word on Valentine’s Day. I was so agitated I doubled my usual six mile run in Central Park and finished my first unofficial half marathon. I was starving and went to a diner for an early dinner of scrambled eggs, home fries, and toast. Then a dozen red roses arrived and he called to invite me over. Not long after that, my writers group met at a restaurant in his neighborhood and I saw him walking down the street with another woman. I left a message that it wasn’t working out but he kept calling me for years until I moved across town an gave up my landline for good.


Marathon Runner


I ran loops around the Central Park reservoir while training for my first marathon and I kept passing the same man. I stopped for water at mile 16 and he stopped too and got my number. E. was training for a marathon, too. We went to brunch and he told me a long story about emigrating from Uruguay where he was a doctor, failing the medical exam after moving to the United States, working as a physical therapist, flirting with women to lift his depression, and losing his wife after she found lipstick in his collar. I went to his apartment in Queens and he had dozens of marathon race numbers on his bedroom wall. He said he had to be honest: he didn’t know if he could be faithful to me.


Abstract Artist


He used to run up to my car as I was pulling in to the apartment I was renting in an old carriage house in upstate New York. His mother lived in the main house with his brother and his girlfriend. The brothers hung out on the porch smoking pot and drinking beer. He made a t-shirt for me with a print of his abstract art. He had a girlfriend who was a local legislator but he still pursued me. He wore me down and we kissed on his mother’s porch. He had been a soldier stationed in Germany during the Gulf War and he seemed as wounded as if he had served in combat. He showed me photos with his short military haircut but now he wore his hair in a long ponytail like the hippies in Woodstock where I hiked a mountain every day. After we hooked up, he said he was going to break up with his girlfriend but he never did. When I questioned him, he said, “She’s a legislator! You’re just a writer.”


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. Excerpts were honored as notable essays in The Best American Essays in 2010 and 2005. Her full poetry collection was longlisted for the Terry J. Cox Poetry Award in 2021 and was a finalist for the Colorado Prize for Poetry in 2007. One poem was a finalist for the Ruth Stone Poetry Prize in 2021. Her work has appeared in Epiphany, Guernica, Lumina, North Dakota Quarterly, Permafrost, RiverSedge, and elsewhere.

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