Yeti Poem

by Stefan Karlsson

I. The Shiver

Waiting inside the principal’s office, he tried to find

the right face––smug Dillinger mug, calm Capone aplomb?

Outside, his mom bargained for the soul of her lawless son

again. Then the word “expulsion” broke into the room,

clobbered his ears, and left him there encased in fear

like Han Solo carbon-frozen. But he wasn’t alone:

on the wall hung a wood engraving of a glum nun

drooping with Jesus: Angela of Foligno. She too

awaited judgment. Perhaps she didn’t deface pews

or set Barbie dolls ablaze with aerosol cans, but she too

shivered in God’s perfect shadow, she too polished

sorrows like secret fangs in her cell, so he fancied her

his wild patron: he was a monster trapped in an ice slab

of trouble and Angela, his guardian gargoyle, mushed a sled

of St. Bernards come to rescue him! As the doorknob

clicked his childhood shut, he settled on a martyred look.

II. Icing on the Cake

On his tenth birthday he unwrapped the Kobe Bryant

action figure he’d begged for. As he ripped the box open

his dad whipped into a fit: No no no, you’ve killed

its value! It’s supposed to stay in the packaging. So he played

with his worthless gift guiltily while his dad barked

how the birthday was ruined. He saw his mom put on

her death mask of wax, nodding, perfectly disguised

as a person alive and listening. He didn’t yet think

of Saint Angela’s corpse, her incorrupt body on display

like a pharaoh’s slave, mummified, perfectly preserved

in its museum case. Older now, he sees his mother’s face

looking at him as if through the frozen surface

of a lake. Was it I who led you to the hole, to this

hopeless split in the ice? Her stare as stiff as a net’s bottom-

 

less swish…Kobe’s flicked wrist fixed eternally midair.

III. Ice Breakout

Grandma lay feeble and furry, her toothless mouth

cavernous. His parents had dragged him on this last

family cave visit to say goodbye to the dying beast.

“If you don’t pet your grandmother,” dad threatened,

“no video games and no ice cream after dinner

forever.” So he petted away, scowling, his own hair spilling

through the holes in his jeans. Each aunt, uncle, and cousin

lined up to pat her belly and coo into her ear

who should receive her prized ice crystal jewelry.

His Gameboy shielded him as the adults, drinking

and chomping ice cubes, bickered over Grandma’s estate.

That night he snuck to the kitchen for more ice cream

but found Grandma. “How long has the freezer

been open?” his teeth chattered. “We’re bustin’ out

of this joint,” she gummed. “We’ll ride the ice blocks

down the mountain to Old Jim’s ranch, steal a couple horses,

and hightail it to the city.” Her eyes flared for some

cryptid sibling long buried in the family crypt. “Brother?”

she said. “Yes, Grandma?” “What big teeth you have…”

IV. The Incorruptible

Who is watching him as he sits stoned

still on the couch, TV gangster legends engraving

his dreams with their crimes?

Thinking his mind is cut

to the likes of Legs Diamond, he feels eyes,

their eyes, like ice picks trying to spike his skull,

the way Everest climbers feel the yeti’s ruby-eyed gaze

as they fall. He had so much potential,

they all said. But they couldn’t see

his was the potential energy

of a guillotine’s high-hanging blade. He almost smiles

as he recalls raining terror on his friends––

            Ah, the great snowball battle of ‘98.

He remembers nailing––was it Jack?

Was the name Jack Ruby? It’s slushy in his head,

as if carved into a melting glacier. This stuff

makes his memory as tangled as yeti fur,

makes him feel as if the fuzz

is always closing in, makes him believe

the impossible: I’m as innocent

as a saint! But even saints

must be corruptible––how else to measure

our fall? No, he didn’t cast the first snowball

at all. It’s getting clearer now, how the others turned

on him, blasted him square in the eye, how the snow

fell from his face, stone-

cold as the saintly sneer of Robespierre

when his head dropped into the bucket.

V. His Ice Age

One night his dad decided he was too old

to be tucked in so under the bed he crawled

into the cave-dark to wonder at his dad’s old

shaved yeti centerfolds, but as he hunted deeper

into crumpled report card tundra, past his so-called

snow globe collection (abandoned: whole worlds

toppled and cracked open like tossed skulls

in caved-in catacombs), he heard the call––

or rather the weak coo of his own voice

coming from a man who lay stiff, soul case

grown to full yetihood, with monstrous eyes

(red like his own) whose secrets wouldn’t let

them shut. Not even a whisper of this, they said.

And in that look he understood and found solace

that the yeti remained at large before the world

froze over because it hid from itself; and he saw

that its footprints in the snow led to a home

with a mom and dad fighting the cold

that grew between them, that the evidence

for people’s natural goodness was so loose

it could avalanche at any moment, that even

a whisper could without warning dislodge

frostbitten loved ones from the cabin

heart, plunge them into some icy abyss;

and he saw why fools once called the peaceful

yeti a beast, savage and soulless,

because the mere existence of a spirit so fiercely

unsolvable is a source of terror to cities so smallsouled

they fit snug in a snow globe

stuffed under a boy’s bed. The man closes

his eyes as sleep approaches fur-soled, its

claws like stolen rubies clacking dimly

on cold tile––as mom’s heels once did

in the hallway. He has not quite crossed

the crevasse––or has he?––into dream

when a boy who shares his face lies face-up

beside him like a fossil in a solid block of ice.

Artist Statement:

“Yeti Poem” is a multimedia project about youth and identity, guilt and freedom. Like a bildungsroman in verse, the piece traces the development of a young person in search of meaning and belonging in a nightmarish, increasingly cold and inhospitable landscape. While the poem is set in familiar scenes of adolescent rebellion, family gatherings, and domestic conflict; it adopts a surrealist logic, embracing wild juxtapositions to render the difficult experience of piecing together one’s sense of self in opposition to arbitrary authority (whether parental, scholastic, societal, etc.). The voice of the poem finds solace and security in stories, drawing from tales of folkloric monsters and fairy tale tricksters, legends of Catholic hagiography, accounts of revolutionary and criminal figures, and the endless stream of pop culture’s heroes and villains. Out of such eclectic references, the project embraces the anarchic and creates an alternative world imagined with compassion for those deemed outsiders.

 

The digital visuals, pieced together using Google’s DeepDream vision program and Google SketchUp’s vast library of 3D models, extend the poem’s world-building, while the soundtrack, remixed from ice levels of classic video games, immerses the viewer in the open-world expansiveness of a dream. Here, the virtual dreamscape evokes a child’s sandbox: an open, if lonely, space to test the boundaries of what is (and what is not) allowed. As a writer and maker, I’m drawn to surrealist techniques and fantastical imagery for their imagination-expanding potential: powerful tools for building an inclusive world. While this piece reveals its cold truths gradually, I hope viewers will feel energized and empowered by its yeti’s-eye view into reality.

Stefan Karlsson received his MFA in Poetry from the University of California—Irvine. His work has appeared in Forklift Ohio, Tar River Poetry, and Spillway.

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