Kris Bigalk has recently published poetry in The Iron Horse Literary Review, The Minnetonka Review, and Pank; poems are forthcoming in The New York Quarterly.  Bigalk serves as Director of Creative Writing at Normandale Community College and Writer in Residence at Banfill-Locke Center for the Arts, and is also serves as the President of the Two-Year College Caucus of AWP.


Dear Student,

I didn't read your paper –
not all of it.
The first two sentences
(well, run-ons, not sentences)
sat like obese bouncers on barstools,
slouching next to a metal door
half off its hinges; by the time
I pushed past them,
squinting into the smoky dark,
I realized that any respectable thesis
worth his salt would not be hanging
around this dive-bar of an essay.
Hell, I couldn't even find a cocktail waitress.

I skimmed over the crowd of paragraphs, looking
for the possible well-dressed, out-of-place phrase,
but only surly, bearded sentences, too drunk
to stand on their own, stared back.

So yes, I left.
I didn't stay long enough
to get into a fight with that gang
of pronouns missing their antecedents,
to watch the misplaced modifiers groan
against each other, singing
80's metal hair band ballads,
embarrassing themselves.
It's enough, I think, that I had the courage
to walk into an essay like this,
and to have survived unscathed,
backing my way out into
the bright parking lot of my office,
feeling lucky, but still smelling
like stale beer and cigarettes.

The Alternate

When I was thirteen, I rode the bus home from school, the bumps jostling my shoulders,
worrying the day's conversations through my head. I had pimples, my dishwater blonde hair was stringy, I didn't own a pair of Calvin Klein jeans like Brooke Shields, and besides, a thick pair of cotton underwear came between me and my Levi's every day. My older sister, smooth-skinned, raven-haired, sat in the back of the bus, let a boy rest his hand on her knee, rolled her eyes if she caught me looking, the boy snickering until my cheeks stained.

When we got home, my sister took the telephone and went to her room, locking the door. I took down the 22 rifle and loaded it with shells, walked out the back door, flicked off the safety, and sighted on the blackbird that perched on the tip-tops of the spruce trees behind our house, the trees that towered between me and the rolling cornfields, the trees that sheltered us from the road, from the round headlights of passing cars, from the wind that blew hard against their branches, turning into whispers.

I set the rifle to my shoulder, fit it into that tender slot between socket and collarbone, squinted my left eye, lined up the ball between the forked sight, then focused
everything on that stupid blackbird's head, and squeezed, slight, slight, until the tension blew back, the hammer threw, and the blackbird dropped through evergreen branches like a stone.