Two Poems By Sean Karns

Tina Modotti “Hands Resting on Tools”  from the Getty’s Open Content Program.

Two Poems

By Sean Karns


The Man of Dirt Toils in the Laughter of His Wayward World

A long way off, the Man of Dirt heard something.
He has been diluted by his design for years.

He took a moment to understand the commotion.
It has been a while. Once upon a time,

It is said, he walked away. Everything I have designed
Has been a disappointment, he contemplated.   

On all fours he placed his ear to his dirt.
Buried under his dirt, laughter.

Not that pat-your-back kind of laughter,
But the kind of laughter when all that is left

Is the sunken world. Work to be done.
A lot of dirt to dig through to bring light

To those laughs, he thought. He gazed at his dirty,
Chapped hands—brittle and old like a kid’s

Digging stick. He massaged his hands and remembered
When he was young and ambitious.

I had my whole world ahead of me, he somberly
Declared to no one particular.   

This is the last time, the last time, he bemoaned.
Those words, like words in an echo-chamber,

Caused laughter; so loud the laughter, the dirt
Murmured. He stumbled and cracked a rib

On an elbow protruded through dirt.
Ah, I get it. A little elbow ribbing, he snickered.

He began, again, as always, the digging.
He tunneled toward the laughter.

So sinister, so alive the dark laughter.
Blinded by the dark, he toiled in the laughter


The Son Witnesses

The son asks his father how the world works. The father looks at the car grease under his nails and cleans them with his front teeth. He pulls the globe out of the closet and selects a serrated knife, then sits. His knife feels familiar in his hand as he shows his son how to cut the globe. The son watches over his father’s shoulder, wanting to know. The father hands the knife to his fellow worker. But the son is nervous, like the first time he walked around his neighborhood block alone. The son cuts the globe; it feels like cutting into a tree branch. The plastic shards fall. The father stands; his hand is on his son’s back as pieces of the ocean and countries, unknown to both, fall.


“The Man of Dirt Toils in the Laughter of his Wayward World” originally appeared in the Birmingham Poetry Review.

“The Son Witnesses” originally appeared in Cold Mountain Review and is published in Jar of Pennies.


About the Author: 

Sean Karns has an MFA in creative writing from the University of Illinois and a BA from The Ohio State University. He is the author of a collection of poetry, Jar of Pennies, and his poetry has appeared in the Birmingham Poetry Review, Hobart, Rattle, Pleiades, Los Angeles Review, Cold Mountain Review, Folio, and elsewhere; and his poetry has been anthologized in New Poetry from the Midwest. He is currently the poetry editor at Mayday Magazine and teaches at Wittenberg University.

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