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Letter to Nathan from a Dream Mall


Dear Nathan,


Today I dreamed us into a new mall — platonic

ideal of treated glass and the fountains all smell


like showers post swim meet, pennies

at the bottom dark as the blot on a heart.


No Fry’s, but Best Buy; no Sbarro, but a Steak

Escape. My subconscious, after all, will only


make good on so many inbound requests.


It’s a place of empathy, empty. Absent girl teens

whose angry bones blade up through their fluid


jersey knits, no boys and their lacerations

at the metal lip of the dumpster. Only Lola,


forlorn matron, skims the unpeopled piazza,

LeSportsac hobo bloomed black with Bic


leakage. The sky through the skylight infinity

blue, the atrium prim with echo and reflected red


glare from the ghosts of light-up sneakers. I am

broke and haven’t a bad thought to my being.


Funny how we side-eye false positives,

throw ourselves into belief in their counterpart.


I am vowing to trust my gut, ecosystem to millions

set up in the primal cathedral of viscera, roiling


eyeless in that acid heat. We’re all waiting

for a vibrant, unassailable sign.


We’re in this together, timid dance of what to do

next. I don’t know, but so don’t the gut bugs


and they’re not raising a ruckus. Placid,

the rubber touch of the Congo Philodendron,


throat-caught rattle of descending metal

security gates: couldn’t stop a riot if they tried.

Kate Garklavs

levelheaded: Letter to Nathan from a Dream Mall


Here’s a poem that strikes us most positively as contemporary and modern. It’s a fresh take on visiting a dream mall, one that reminds you of your childhood, the inescapable shallowness of the environment you reluctantly hung out in, loved to hate, enjoyed anyhow.


It’s a letter to Nathan, and Nathan may stand for whoever you’d write a reminiscent poem to. Let’s start by pointing out the content that’s most simply communicated, so we can then examine the surrounding pyrotechnics. “I am vowing to trust my gut […] / We’re in this together”–is the emotional core of this poem; it is a cheerful, hopeful poem, one that quite like its speaker “ha[s]n’t a bad thought to [its] being.”


The juxtaposition of the shallow and the profound is what makes the poem modern, interesting, and attractive. We’re around Best Buy and Steak Escape, but Kate Garklavs’ speaker muses of a “primal cathedral of viscera” and feels inspired. There is, as strange as it seems, some similarity between a cathedral and a mall, their being a setting of a repetitive gathering. But of course they’re the opposite of each other, one spiritual, the other materialistic. Spiritual light is perhaps as farther as you can get from an artificially lit mall. Yet both, in this poem, contain a sense of hope and plenty of heart.


This poem is sneakily evocative. Enough to say “post swim meet” for us to both learn something about the speaker’s childhood, and sense the smell of the mall’s fountain. The lines “Absent girl teens / whose angry bones blade up through their fluid / jersey knits, no boys and their lacerations / at the metal lip of the dumpster” set up a tone with which one may remember one’s teenage years. The images are detailed and visual, but no less do they stand for an era, an age for both a person and a culture. “[W]e side-eye false positives” perhaps describes a cautious look at a passing mall-goer, the fear of knowing them, and the relief, or disappointment, in the aftermath of misidentification.


Then there’s the fact that it’s a dream mall, and the speaker’s “subconscious” is examined here openly. We encounter “ghosts of light-up sneakers” and some sinking pennies “dark as the blot on a heart.” If you wish (pun intended), there’s a dark side to the poem, or at least a hallucinatory aspect. The sounds echo all through: “bloomed black with Bic,” “reflected red glare,” “throat-caught rattle.” Our eyes and ears are constantly stimulated.


When describing the skylight the speaker mentions “the atrium prim with echo”–likely a shortened version of “the atrium is prim with echo.” The similar sound of the two words, combined with the missing “is,” makes us focus on the phrase “atrium prim.” And since the heart shows up a few lines earlier, is it completely far-fetched to think that “atrium prim” echoes the primitive atrium? The latter is an early stage in the development of the human heart. Quite like those visits to the mall in your youth. Quite like that clueless hope, be it depressing or uplifting. Garklavs writes of the “platonic ideal” while comically attaching it to a “treated glass” – artificial, trite maybe, but ideal nonetheless–in your memories, your dreams, your Fry’s.



– The Editors