The fountain of Kerry Shawn Keys’ poetry is in the Appalachian Mountains, urban America, India, Brazil and Lithuania, but the roots go worldwide. From 1998 to 2000, he taught translation theory and creative composition as a Fulbright Associate Professor at Vilnius University. He has dozens of books to his credit.
His work ranges from under-mountain vagrant-pastoral and urban-salvage to theatre-dance pieces to flamenco to children’s books to meditations on the Tao Te Ching to a polyphonic epic poem, composed from his South India journals. He has performed and recorded with the free jazz percussionist and sound-constellation artist, Vladimir Tarasov (CD-Prior Records), and quarterbacked the jazz Nada Quartet.
CC BY-NC-ND 3.0, Ivan Ilic, Brouillards, prelude by Claude Debussy, Musopen.
Recent books are Black Ice, May 2020, Black Spruce Press; Fetišas (The Fetish), poems, translated into Lithuanian by Dominykas Norkūnas, Asociacija Slinktys, series Bazilisko ambasada, 2020; Night Flight, poems, 2012; Pienas, prose tales and plays, 2013; Sich einen Fluss verschaffen, bilingual English/German poems, tr. by Ron Winkler, Hochroth Verlag, 2017; New Poetry from China, 1917-2017, co-transl. with Ming Di, 2018; Shoelaces for Chagall, bilingual English/German selection of love poems, Bübül Verlag, 2021.
Keys received the Robert H. Winner Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America in 1992, and in 2005 a National Endowment For The Arts Literature Fellowship. He was a Senior Fulbright Research grantee for African-Brazilian studies, and is a member of the Lithuanian Writers Union and PEN. He received a Translation Laureate Award from the Lithuanian Writers Union in 2003.
He authored a bi-monthly column, Letter From Vilnius: Eastern/Central Europe and Excursions Elsewhere for Poetry International, San Diego State University. He also translates from Portuguese. He is the Republic of Užupis’ World Poetry Ambassador, and Chevalier of the Order of the Silver Garlic Bullet of the Republic of Užupis.
His papers are kept at Dickinson College, Archive and Special Collections, here. Contact: email@example.com
β. The Prop
γ. How It Goes
δ. My Daughter
ε. The Soldiers
θ. It's Snowing
κ. Black Ice
ο. Ant Hills
φ. Quiet Night
α’. Black Fire
γ’. Honduran Hiatus
θ’. Someone Like You
ι’. Star Fall
μ’. Drunken Poets
Tonight it seems there are angels
swimming in the sparkling lake, not fish.
It’s hard to tell from so far away.
But those are wings for sure, fanning
tears of water inland, all over creation.
There’s a woman standing on the shore,
wondering should she join them, drown.
A cunning grass snake slithers in the reeds,
a broken off wing rippling in an eddy
has grabbed its ever-curious attention.
The waters of the Earth are dark indigo
at times, and at times skyblue and gray.
Are these angels fallen angels playing
with her sorrow and her joy, or are they
just visiting her, standing there alone.
She hears them and imagines they are sirens,
and foretastes the choral call to join in.
Moonlight dyes her face white as rice paper.
The candle she is carrying flickers yellow over
the lilies of her dress. No one knows the rest.
Not half-gone enough yet
to ponder too deeply
if those around me
are already dead or unhatched,
or if they are my memory of them
or they circle among the living.
Even if I reached out to touch
a mist of breath or flesh,
what satisfaction would it give
if all of the above questions
I could ask of myself.
Meanwhile, my disaffected son,
best man in waiting,
plays with the curtains in the room,
the light and the dark,
drawing them open, drawing them shut,
For the time being,
he remains the mainstay
of my life in this poem, my prop.
© The Nada Quartet 2012, live concert, Piano LT Concert Hall, Vilnius
As my daughter plays the pianoforte, upright on the stool,
I sit on the staircase and listen, glancing momentarily
at a raven outside the window perched on a smoking chimney cap.
Nocturnes, the brilliance of a suite by Bach, Handel, Chopin,
with concentrated verve, sometimes approaching klezmer-appassionato,
her willowy, slender fingers rapt over the keys and pouncing,
her catlike gaze captured by the crinkled sheet music before her
or her third eye shifting at ease within the composition’s aura,
her reflection gleams like a ghost in the maple-wood of the Riga panel,
while her ear must be amazed by the notes her hands know by heart.
Still, I wonder if her fledgling heartbeat is really in it and I wonder
why I disquietly wonder as I wander back in time to the out of tune
piano exiled and dimly lit in my childhood’s dining room, where
my untaught father on rare occasion, maybe twice a year,
would timidly peck out a simple melody by ear and then turn
to me in my awestruck adoration, and, smiling, say “that’s how it goes
I think”, and now I know that’s how life goes on from suckling joy
to fretful discipline and then perhaps one sudden day to joy again.
She curtsies and waltzes with the sandman,
as moonlight sails through the curtains
streaming down on blue coverlet and pillow.
She stretches her willowy arms in the morning
and her fingers caress and set fire to the sun
before she rides the rail down to the kitchen.
Soon, when she hums to school up the hill,
the leaves of the linden will whistle at her
as they flutter in the harsh wind and remember
that before there was Autumn there was Summer,
and before Summer, Spring, and birds busy feeding
in their branches, bringing insects to their nestlings.
and we will lie down
in the long grass
and the sun will burst
from its dark nest
they’ll come then
to march over us
in the long grass
baptizing their sex on us
as if within the upraised legs
of invisible insects
in the dewy mist…
yes this is our blessing
and their bliss they say
as they pass us on leave
going home far away
Yes, these soldiers, terrorists, mercenaries
or whatever else the clock loves to call them,
stand on a sandy-looking road where the air dusts
the matte gloss finish that speckles and glistens
the surface of the crinkled photograph.
One of their captives is kneeling, perhaps praying,
a black cloth pulled down over his head.
Soon, he will be beheaded, a sacred sword of sorts
slicing his top off lickety-split as a green coconut,
sand sipping his juices through a thousand pores.
Soon, they likewise will die camouflaged deaths
unrecognized, lionized, or vitriolized like all of us,
for you can see even at a glance that they’re already
incarnating to be paper ghosts of their former selves.
Here, dozens of dimensions away, tiny specks of sunlight
and time’s residue infiltrate the mind’s eye and the room’s.
Now, neither surfeit nor lack of sympathy – too many tears
shed, then years, in bed, in love, at desktop, and before TVs
steeling yourself against the spilled salt of such cruelty.
Whether in the mist of this idyllic forest or the charnel
hourglass of the desert, all is and was and as it shall be.
It’s a beautiful day.
The road toward twilight is leafless,
the sky also, and silence.
All the trees are green,
shilly-shally still, then swaying.
They both row
back and forth
into the same bottomless mirror
of cool blue water,
sharing arm and oar.
A bluegill darts there,
to and fro, where to where,
in the polished blue eye
of the mirror of blue water.
A breeze trills
in the throat
of a blue bird
in the mist
above the water.
A fairy’s just stolen a Damson plum
from a plum tree in the garden.
Forgive her, it’s delicious.
Soon the burnished bush
of the sun
will shimmer asleep
in the flushed sunset
over the blue flesh
of cool blue water.
Father carries me piggy-back
up the stairs to who knows where,
but Heaven’s not up there.
It’s on his shoulders, here.
Through the window’s panorama,
beyond the verandah of grass and water
on the other side
of the bluest of summers,
Night’s languidly reeling in
the golden catch
of a beautiful day.
Tonight it’s snowing.
It’s snowing in neighboring Minsk
and Boston, and on the Pentagon.
Someone is warming themselves by a stove.
Another has burnt her thumb.
Reindeer are battering horns in the Far North.
It’s snowing in Bethlehem, the Kremlin,
in New Bloomfield, in Odessa, in Blaine,
on Sahara’s sandy dunes.
Over spas, over boiling springs, über alles.
Beards are dripping snow, hair and scarves.
A virus is falling in tandem in the City of Angels,
in Berlin and Stockholm, in Kaunas.
No one spots it though. It zooms too fast.
Children are out sledding, hanging on to bumpers,
shoveling snow, making a living.
Li Bo just pelted Du Fu with a snowball.
Coffins are wrapped under the Christmas Tree.
Surprise! Surprise! Open them up, open them up.
Christ is pinned to another tree. He looks like a butterfly
draped on the hillside over there, Zhuang-Tzu on one side,
Psyche on the other. All three are nearer
to their Maker, the snow-Maker than to thee.
Tonight it’s snowing new, soft, fallen masks of snow.
Grim Plague is out frolicking with his snowblower in the snow.
He’s taking a Selfie video – it’ll go viral.
You look around You.
We are the same.
Your friend on the diving board
at the motel pool.
Your wife submerged in chlorine
in the pool.
Kids playing possum
trying to fool.
The dead are the same.
Look around you.
Your friend on the gangplank
above the pool.
Your wife’s hair floating
like seaweed in the pool.
Kids playing dead
trying to fool.
The dead are the same.
Different details come to light.
You gaze, then mirror your gaze
in the mirror.
Turn off the lights, all of them,
until it’s pitch dark as a marble tomb,
and then open the gate toward the mirror.
You know how to get there,
as if drawn by the lodestone
of the North Star’s pearly ring.
Fingers’ intuition will lead you on,
following table-top to bureau
past blind faith, and fate,
and then to another gate
until you reach out at the end
and touch the cool surface of the face,
the black ice you are certain must be there.
Timeless, cosmetic, perfection’s façade.
Then say the required mantra:
Sir, give me a face like yours,
pure darkness, to carry back into the light,
a dimensionless, sinless birthmark, birthright.
Impossible in words
to tell what it’s like.
One phoneme would be better.
One flea bursting with blood.
Red wine keeps the heart in tune.
The moon seems to be a gigantic spore,
contagious, poised to strike outside the window.
I am shooting a game of pool against myself.
I don’t know who I am rooting for.
Framed, shifty table. Smoky haze.
Rules amazingly simple. I look
into my eyes and watch
the cue ball spin
and careen over the green felt of the world.
For K. P.
I listen to the birds fly by of course.
I’m indifferent to the ways of women and men.
I tell them of course what there isn’t to know,
and my blood freezes over from drinking
the slow water of their dreams.
She was taking a sponge-bath in her father’s brain.
If you were to live like me, the sun would drop runic arrows
in your throat. You’d sprout plumes and zippers.
I gave her a blue ribbon for her squirming epiphanies.
What do you know of pleasure or pain.
We are eating an apple in a stable at the racetrack
but your hands and head will be severed.
Your mouth is painted with Elmer’s Glue.
A cow migrates from the Indus to Europe.
You will piss from a hole decorated with black flags.
Your tongue is a dead snake in unsloughed pantaloons.
I eat the birds flying over the classifications and the buzzings,
the trains and the hyperventilating volcanoes.
They give me money for my services.
Is the sky blue. I will take this pumice and crush it
with my teeth into little people. Watch.
Cicero is a raindrop. Babel a papermill.
I am a pebble in a fountain on a mountain. Children love
rhythm and rhyme, come to me in and out of time.
The body when it separates from the soul perishes
in a Heaven of sheep.
The soul stays behind, chirping, chirping, chirping,
like a bird at a street-crossing for the blind.
Geometry is easier to master, plain or solid,
than this outline of ligaments and bones,
this lush landfill of flesh and blood, sex and death.
Still, nothing dies in realms we can’t imagine.
Last evening, I cooked potatoes and kale
and a fish fresh from the creek.
All quickly went to mush in my stomach.
Did they find another life there, a congenial rebirth,
or were they merely eaten away
by the acids of nothingness into a nauseous mortality.
Is the potato soul, the kale soul, the fish soul
out in the garden or in the creek, or pleading
in the kitchen or in the outhouse in a reek of compost.
Or do souls exist individually everywhere at once
exempt from pain and every nuance of change.
Part of my supper by now has become part of my flesh,
and should a soul be inseparable from its tenure,
do all these souls share my sense of oblivion,
of our time asleep being our only redemption.
Sometimes, overcome by drink, I blurt out my longing
to touch this quirky quiddity that can’t be touched—
the ultimate taboo, an infinite tautology, or I conjure
the soul as round and blue, and something to dissolve in
as if into a deep pool of moonlight. And then
posthaste I see the awful fantasy, the romantic escapism
of an imagination and life wedded to the routine
of reverie and the incestuous nest of the self.
Better to fixate on the absurdity of it all and redress the issue.
Really, Pythagoras was right—the soul does have a mundane
affinity with beans, but I suspect it rejoices in them
as a mechanism for escaping us, though we might wish
to the contrary, imagining ourselves the dream of a butterfly
hovering within our every inspiration.
Tonight, after a meal of beans fresh from the garden,
I can smell my soul’s gone AWOL for the while,
and I don’t mind at all—it’s over there struggling
in the bamboo, ah there it is in the butterfly weed,
and now it’s flying around the redbud and the rose of Sharon,
oh here it is coughing blood in my hands like an unhealthy
prodigal son maybe wanting to return. My womb’s
not so generous, and my hands are too busy on their own track
trying to separate themselves from accident and corruption,
and my mind’s enjoying the visuals of the game.
Really, who needs the elusiveness of a soul when Death gives us
the only definition we need within the outline of our body
chalked in advance on the asphalt of our daily commute.
The soul after all is a lazy vagrant at heart, and will, unmindful,
find its way back into the soup kitchen of our brainpan,
and again feast on the empty rice bowl of its ruminations.
in reference to the “Second Space”
How vast this universe, this earth.
Walk around, soar into the sun,
crumple a beer can on the moon.
Trees, flowers, bees, birds, Homo Sapiens
and other weeds, some of these are left.
The soul blossoms in a heartbeat,
and then disappears in a stroke.
Up is a skyscraper scratching the Great Bear.
Down, death bubbling and turning sour
like yeast in a root cellar.
Have we really lost faith in the world.
O’ yes, it vanished millenniums ago
into a preference for Heaven and Hell.
How to find salvation in Guantanamo Bay or a living cell.
And the damned, don’t they live like most, parasites
in one another’s assholes in the waterclosets of Black Sites.
Why should we weep. Nothing’s been lost.
Why rejoice. Nothing’s been found.
Look around you. Love your dog more than yourself.
When flesh sinks into compost, what’s left but nothing else.
© Kerry Shawn Keys recites Fire.
Ant hills at the pits of Ponar.
And here on Lowland Street
an ant departs from under
the floorboards, its sticky feet
heading towards the forest.
Antennae know the way by heart
on the darkest of nights from the garret.
I sleepwalk after them by flashlight.
Other nights, moonlight and the satellite
in my tablet are enough equipment
to feed the morbid zakhor of our detachment.
they measure time in their way
they measure blood
they measure death
inside a stork’s wings
inside the heartbeat of flies
they measure ozone over Russia
the monarchs on their way to Mexico
the mutilation in the black sites
the cubic feet of Guantánamo Bay
the Cossacks and Tartars in the Crimea
they measure death
they measure how many meters to the end of the world
they measure how slippery it is there
and how far one can drop on a cloudy day
they measure the body heat of the tortured
the blood pressure of placenta and rats and children
how long it takes to confess innocence
how long it takes to be innocent
how long it takes to confess guilt
how long it takes to squeal
how long it takes to kill
how long it takes to be an angel or a pig
they measure death
bleeding to death
falling to death
suffocating to death
being pummeled to death
pleading for death
and then they decide
and then they decide to measure the measure
and so they set out for the Dogon
but a drone gets there before them
the dogs are all dead
the villagers are all dead
the villages are nowhere to be seen
the stars have been herded into a pen and burned.
from an uncertain, classified manual
Organisms Are Divided Into:
1 belonging to the General
3 between airplanes and the ocean
6 what from very close cannot be seen
9 red wharf-rats with fleas
10 not included in future classifications
12 one-winged birds tangled in webs
14 painted with a very sharp knife
15 et alibi
16 having just broken its bones
17 what from very far away looks like a mutilated egg.
Death should be intimate.
It should be something like this—
sitting in a rocking chair,
mistaking the wings of an angel
for the swish of the rocker.
It should be sitting down for dinner,
the white napkins, the soup of bread and garlic,
a soup spoon approaching the mouth,
and then suddenly falling forward,
the wine glass spilling on your lap
at the moment of death, and the glass
breaking on the floor the moment after.
It should be in bed, again the color white,
this time the white sheets and the pillow case,
dawn bringing its alba song of love through the window,
with the sun barely visible behind pink clouds,
and then you see your body beneath,
curled up in sleep like a fetus on the bed,
and you are floating above, slowly, slowly
in the thermal, in shafts of sunlight.
And finally, after dying so many times,
death might be a knife, hidden, intangible
in such a shaft of sunlight, silver, invisible,
a secret knife, not yours, not the kitchen’s,
not the beloved’s, but belonging to someone like Abraham,
a servant of a god, a myth, or belonging to no one,
self-contained in its intimacy, eternal, waiting for nothing,
and, yes, your soul, which is all that is left of you,
will pass through it on its way.
now to hear “the breath of the night wind…”
– Matthew Arnold
for Johannes Bobrowski
Cataracts of clouds like snow.
Night dilates, shimmers on the wall of trees
through the crystal breath of the moon.
Sand and sea shift into one.
A fish leaves its imprint in a pebble. A bird
swims through its grey shadow in the spruce.
Something moves and dives
into its own movement.
The sun is a tiny gleam
hidden in a dark ring on the other side
of the world.
The dead drift in low across wracked grass,
part mist, part dew.
It’s cold, so cold, that we
rig together the bones
from the graveyard of dunes.
We will build a fire to lure their ghosts
There are birds everywhere, feasting on my days,
on every windy sill and angle, solid as steel
in their still geometry, or unreal as gossamer
and Spanish moss when they flit lazily about the trees,
twig to twig, in a watery haze of sun and leaves.
Nothing’s more certain than they’ve come back
for me, the dim din and dazzle of their wings
reflecting from the starry apron of heaven
into our identical, elliptical, tidal migration.
Flow. Flow on, the body invents a temporary home
until flowing, flowing on, it succumbs, leaves
the center of the frame like a leaf or these birds falling
branch to branch, plumes of snow, lizards of rain.
The spirit may be holy but it’s weak. Pretty boy,
pretty boy, it releases its claws from wooden spindle
and flies distilled and antiseptic toward the interminable.
Far away in time I see Lazarus ascending from the grime
of earth into the fire-baked clay of man again.
He’s climbing, rung by rung, listless, braindead, wingless,
not wanting to come back into flesh as he must
in order to touch for us the Pentecostal gaze of heaven.
Inversed, these birds descend, cloud by cloud, from azure
of sky into the webby green panoply of earth’s eye.
And I’m standing by, grounded but wired like a puppet
in between their disparate, contiguous realities,
drawn and quartered between Heaven and Hell
more a neutered angel or wood-carved speechless Pinocchio
in some Brancusi’s or Pygmalion’s birdcage of a studio
than fiery Prometheus delivered over to vultures
on a mountainside or a Sisyphus struggling up a hill.
It’s a quiet night.
A quiet night
to sit and listen
to the pain of the world.
makes so much noise.
I am tired of trying
and close my eyes
to the pain of the world,
to the pain of the world.
It’s a quiet night
to sit and hear
my heart beating
But I am tired of trying,
Let the quiet night listen.
Moon Moon he cries
excited as his father always
to see the priceless pearl
burgeoning with evening in the sky,
though what in truth enchants him
is the breast of circular light
emanating chaste and orbicular
from the encrusted window
in the staircase across the night.
Moon Moon again he cries
excited as his father always
to reproduce that drone of sound
the golden roundness of which
blind Borges envied the English.
And though my son eclipses his days
interned like a tidy mussel
raised in a cumulous of bone
to keep him innocently well-tuned,
I pray one day he will,
like Venus, burst open his shell
to catapult that implanted pearl
and disassemble the fortressed world
of the artificial from the real.
Moon Moon, consumed beyond longing,
still he will cry, and, so beseeched, she will come
like a glorious fruit to hang nearby
just out of reach, and reeling as I
do now, he will kneel before her majesty.
© Mykolas Kuan Keys (clarinet) and Evelina Kuprytė (piano) 2020, Clarinet Quintet in A major K. 581, larghetto, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (rec. Sonata Paliulytė, poet and actress)
from Tao te ching meditations, Bones & Buzzards
To mend the world, a needle
and knife were made
from the same material. One,
to cut out good and evil,
the other to make the headdress
for the battle and funeral.
They are siblings. Where
there is weeping, where there are weapons,
there you will find them in stitches.
Some stand or dance in the phalange
of bone, others in line with metal,
but the more stylish kind
conduct themselves in plastic.
Where there is love
they are the addicts
pushing for possession and blood.
They only squabble when discussing
what carcass merits
the most beautiful address –
really, they are the sharpest of lookouts,
the quickest at government and dialectics.
To the right, to the left,
the knife and the needle
delight when the altercation
becomes the occasion
for an alteration or a fight.
At any rate, in spite of themselves, things
sometimes turn dead center in the quiet.
Then the chisel proudly gnaws the headstone,
crickets are no longer just background sound,
the shovel rhythmically breaks the ancestral ground.
Needle and knife get to relax, sit around a bit,
a little shut-eye, less shiftiness of the wits.
They tell each other tales about other tools,
about themselves, about how decadent
things get when the killing’s gone.
Then, poor fools, they have to work the banquets
or sew buttons in the new boutiques downtown.
from Tao te ching meditations, Bones & Buzzards
The bones of a good man
are milk-white and tied
to the earth like posts
in the rain. The soul
may be any color, but
it’s best when it’s blue,
religious, and well-grounded.
The bones of a good man
should be such that when
a master craftsman works them
they turn easily into an urn
that is smooth, light, and empty.
The soul of a good man
should be such that when
a master craftsman takes it
and turns it around
he finds no beginning or end
other than his own dyed hands.
The next step is to fit
the bones into the soul.
This is difficult. It’s like
filling the ocean with a cup
full of nothing. There are no shortcuts.
This good man may never make it
unless by a fortuitous mistake
we find the pretext for a loophole or a leak.
Clawing behind the blood in the day’s light
in the darkness, an abyss
that moves imperceptibly down.
A black fire under cover of light, a black fire
around the sun, translucent in the night
where blackness swallows the soul, digests
the Autumn air and is blacker
than the first ice-light in Winter.
Blacker than the slow hairline
suture in the brain – a black rainbow
hissing down the spine. Black snake
fermenting deep in the vine, in the mind on fire,
and deeper where the blood goes deeper.
This blackness invades the soul, possesses,
licks the white fire in the genitals,
hones the hard male, sharpens
the red fissure of the female, powders them to charcoal,
refines them together, wraps their atoms
like wet leather, tighter.
It goes deeper still, burning in the blue grass,
deeper into the earth, deeper than matter,
opening the stars, turning the ashes
still deeper in the earth, and under,
a black fire burning through black November,
through Winter, burning Spring blacker,
drier than Summer weather, and deeper,
under the wine-dark soul into the gizzard
of the vulture hanging over the white spider
stitching the suture, crossing under and deeper,
a black blade slipping beneath the light,
whiter than the white light, a black fire
picking the heartfruit, crawling over the heartbeat
like a black fly, a black snake flying deep into
the black soul, a cruel container of fire,
licking the genitals, the ovaries’ red liquor,
the sperm-flower, turning it to wire,
but deeper, the earth is the bride, uncut
she cries for more, a thirsty root he
stiffens like an anther, his bones become fire.
And this blackness is blacker. And
the suture a darker rainbow, darker and brighter.
And deeper, under all of this, deeper than the soul,
deep-down in the house of fire, under
the ground’s deepest furrow, under seven-times Styx,
drowning like water everywhere, everywhere and out of nowhere
sticking its tongue into the burnt air,
the black voice of fire.
In the alley of my sorrow
stands a temple white as snow
– Peretz Miransky
Here high above Lowland Street
in my occupied roost of a flat, dybbukim
in grisly esprit de corps are rampant.
Often, I have to fight them off
blandishing orisha amulets and pen.
Other times, they sneak in
as homesick secondary smoke
attacking me surreptitiously, poaching
around my fontanel or Achilles heel
with miniscule IV needles or breathtaking osmosis.
These are the ghoulish fossils of Strashun Street’s
heydays of morbid, penitentiary activity,
of the pits of Hell, of forests of the Inferno,
of a Purim puppet theatre of death-throes.
They want me to take them in, swallow their medicine.
But I have nothing to atone for not being one of them
born into an advocacy of guilt and messianic redemption.
Nor do I wish to atone for them, or the condition
that brought them to this pass, this karmic perdition.
We are alien and foreigners to the ash of the bone.
No, I own no psalm or kaddish to mourn or moan.
I tell them to go fuck off and leave me alone.
It’s then I imagine they turn to suffer my children
under their irresistible and horrible dominion.
Yet nothing I say or swear to them makes them
pay heed to relieve themselves and me
of their continual mockery of our condition
here in this raven-dark ghetto of a rookery
where they once frolicked, drank black and herbal tea,
ate kasha, chocolate, played lethally at hide-and-seek and tag,
partied, prayed, and artlessly sinned like my own fledglings.
I wonder what necessity or daemon in retribution
for their scandalous felicity and ingrown capability
cut them down – their own jealous God or the Germans
and their henchmen, Lilith or some private tribal guardian.
Do ghosts and men choose their lives, their deaths, this wandering,
or is all of this inscribed in them as if on tablets from Heaven.
And inscribed for my kind and me as an unwitting
but knowledgeable accomplice, an Aaron and victim.
Does their God envy them for choosing him
before he chose them to hang the door on their freedom,
or to open and close it on mine, an unbeliever standing
in line for some miraculous exorcism from the human condition.
© BuTe 2021, Pavane pour une infante défunte, electronic concrete and ambient
unused tropes…tamales, tapas, Yuscaran, dead of night outside the barroom,
banana peels, whores in the brothels across the river in the Heavenly City.
Mariachis and Elvis on the jukebox. Not one good woman or one good line
to bring up the dawn. What town? underfoot. Not one…to bed down with, no
see never nancite in the guaro, the small, round yellow fruit soaking the spirits
under the silk cotton trees. Clay rooster on the deck back at the Hotel Iberia.
Somewhere, though, up in the hills, maybe near crazy Juana’s house, there’s
a cock drunk on imported Flor de Caña in the backroom of a poolhall, testing out
a filibuster because he’s not ready for the block, and another poet and another
flamenco guitarist shooting turtle eggs across green felt while firecrackers of
pigeons shingle suddenly into dark-blue patterns across the cobbled sky matching
the balls going down smooth, dark rails into burning, endlessly devout pockets…
somewhere up in the hills there’s a radiant rooster perched on a mile-high
eucalyptus tree relishing the starlight and listening to the mangoes falling on
the tin roofs far away in Managua, and keeping an eye on the giant, leather
frogs, the bronze, dismembered horse, the star-broken starfruit, the guitar hanging
in the window next to the gun leaning on the sill at the DNI hangout called
the Picnic…and that rooster is also drunk on caña, and there’s Paco and O’Henry
and another poet shooting turtle eggs, etc., he seems to be me breaking open
Prajnaparamita’s fingers laced in a secret trance
Torn petals of red carnations in the ashtray of the convertible
after the prom
The way a Rasta cap sits on top of a Portuguese fisherman’s hat
in the mouth of a creature with webbed paws
Look at the bamboo in the corner reaching out to Narcissus
and concealing two moles, and look at the splinter
of bamboo in the wedding cake
And that skulture that was bought in an S&M shop in Boston
where the dominatrix had whips for dreadlocks.
A sandalwood Santa Claus candle sans secondary smoke
for the longest night’s journey into Nirvana.
You can see the Susquehanna River running under the stoned arch bridge
and down the salmon-like shoulders of the woman
with the neck of a swan and Modigliani eyes
The pillows are derailed cabooses stuffed by good-fairies with goose
feathers from Moravia
It’s inevitable that the black and white stone from Santa Elena Valley
and the deerbone from the Queen Charlotte Islands
should end up compacted on this page
Put two hourglass figures together and you have the diamond-sutra
of a not-two rhythm incorporating sand and drums
knotted into a timeless logo
Peacocks’ feathers rub the skin of the ceiling and keep watch over
what falls between the cracks on the floor
RadhaKrishna dances on a lotus like a dying dove pierced by an olive branch
It’s all in the way Christ summoned Lazarus out to see the grass
and wildflowers, the gust of stars, how what is ripe
and what is rotten come and go
De profundis, a 12-gauge is humping a machete manufactured in the Amazon
And the question comes to mind, if what is absent is what is present,
and what is present soon evaporates into a zodiac
of images like water thrown on rocks and twigs
in a sweatlodge, are these Gods here in the room
animists or humanists or projections in a moviehouse
What is written here is inaccessible to oral cultures and urine analysis
I know this armchair was not crafted by a man who suffered lower-back pain
and fought Lilliputian battles with carpenter ants
Watch out for blood in the stools and the night sky
The irises are from my AC/DC sister who assists George Soros and reads
Popper, and plans to steal the wings of the Spirit
of St. Louis from the Air & Space Museum and fly
to Ladakh mounted on Garuda with a colleen
from a trailer park in the highlands
Excuse me, just one moment, the blue avatar has to take a leak
in the paint bucket and shave a few molecules
from his next ersatz
The broom in the corner is for the static electricity on the back of a cat
suffering from sensory deprivation
And they sway back and forth, the Chinese love-beads attached
to the light-fixture screwed by the bulb
that brightens the bosom of the flying Indonesian
angel who hovers over the anchorite
Empty-headed, I’m returning from the Land of the Dead
either empty-handed or with a dematerialized apple
Let a thousand flowers bloom before we sign another covenant,
and let’s put in some poppy smoke revisions
Listen to the paddle and rattle of words as Orpheus
crosses the last river lashed with rain
and DNA from other galaxies
Justice is always miscarried, and the Virgin Mary can’t see us anymore
since she plunged through the smog into Heaven
If B=X then SL=TL and Utopia is a trope for transparency
The gourds are decorated with the capillaries of the damned, and Gandhi
is sprinkling seasalt on a roadside kill
on the Discovery Channel
Look at this list – a hand-gripper sleeping in a cigar box, a walker
on all fours, a mountebank’s concoction
for overly prolonged celibacy
in the hand-woven, sex-toy bag next to
the flashlight, an ammunition box of morphine,
a feather growing out of a pair of castanets,
a flying mudra, a telephone with a retractable penis,
and a balloon in the brain embracing the image
of the way the continents shift each time we lick
a spoonful of honey from our nipples
or journey to Delphi in a daydream to steal
votive objects and exhalations to stuff in our arsenal.
It’s all here, I can tell you, as if written in cooking oil on water –
they are going to bomb New York, they are going
to bomb Bombay and the blue jay on the filbert bush,
they are going to bomb the water pipes
and the milk cartons in Moscow and Shanghai,
they are going to bomb my bed, they are going
to bomb the lindens in Lithuania and the bossa nova
in Brazil, they are going to bomb the number 7,
the fragrance of fresh lettuce and the white horse
in the book of Book of Revelations.
It’s no use. Kiss the Kennebec and rise up again in the ocean. Fish
for salvation under the spell of a northeasterly wind.
Clear the flight deck for the white, heavenly cliffs.
© Kerry Shawn Keys recites Downwind.
circa 1996-97, Perry County
I have lain at night with the wild carrots and lettuce
in the garden’s stony field
and witnessed them ambushed by suburban rabbits,
and I have crouched low in the corn
watching deer prance in the spotlights at night
before cowering in the day at the crack of my gun,
and in a forest of ferns I have felt the wildfires of summer
embrace in the softest bed of moss, and later
I would trample this world apart in the dead of winter,
and I have collaborated with filthy archivists of clay and air,
parceling out the heyday of the earth
in the shorthand of the real estate brokers,
and I have urged other collaborators to give up on the sun
and join the pale moths
around the lilac bush in love’s meridian,
and I became through longing one of the kissing bugs
making its nightly rounds
through the muddy houses of the poor dispensing my drug,
and I have stood by while my wife stared out the window’s
mirror where bony branches of birch crossed her cheeks,
their leaves a god’s jaundiced hands applauding in the wind,
and I have passively listened to my cock called a mealy bug
because it got turned on in a shack on a dirt floor
in the hilltops of Rio by a sambista churning the eggnog,
and years later a gypsy watched it detach itself in my dreams
and wander back and forth lost between the tiger lilies
by the roadside and her mulberries and silkworms,
and just like any fine philanderer I have surveyed the escape
hatches of maids and many a dowager’s mansion, vouching
for my experience as a jack-of-all-inexplicable shapes,
and I have risen with the half-moon, split
between the Good Book of two lovers, and hoisting
a wand of sumac, pushed deeper into the thicket,
and I have collaborated with those who know the ropes,
and like a Blackwell hitch held fast when pulled
but otherwise spun loose and easy as a gyroscope,
and I have written a bestiality of dreams
to be read as one reads the veins of leaves
and shoulder blades, or Ovid’s starry beams,
and I have seen Death come to the windowpane
like a hummingbird and suddenly disappear
into the stain of my face as into a mirror of shame,
and while commuting I have been incited into great passion
for luscious models promoting lust in the commercial press,
beating off on the bus in counterpoint as my contribution,
and I have ordained furious hurricanes to fly over
the Panhandle, and winced with pain as the battered petals
showered the rocking boats while I sat ogling in my rocker,
and I’ve enjoyed mixing rhubarb with honey in a stirrup-cup
while mounting a statue of St Agnes until she came to pieces
in an agony of pleasure in a wonderland of broken teacups,
and at the end of one lifetime I took a gig
as a caretaker of the dreams of the dead,
and rooted their graveyards like a psychotic pig,
and later bought a cigar in Bahia for my father
and told him to blow the smoke in the face
of his Uncle Sam, the global funeral director,
and in Winter I’ve dodged death with conifers
by applying a gangrenous waxen image of my face
to my face,
as I trick-or-treated with the living dead
through a hallway of mirrors,
and I have studied the jealous language of totalitarianism
and knitted it on occasion into sorrowful lyrics
commemorating September’s blossoms,
and I have admired striped white snakes in a jungle
of rocks turning into sticks of white lichen,
and understood the chameleon nature of my survival,
and I have jumped like a coward from a snake-louse
in a shower stall
and an hour later stood in skunk cabbage at the foot
of Mount Pisgah
cursing Fate as I auto-flagellated myself
with the branch of a willow,
and angry at the ease with which I at times became a disciple
of the hypothetical dichotomy of the flesh and spirit,
I pressed my head down my ballpoint pen’s cold barrel,
and at moments like that I became a game bird
sighted in the crosshairs at the other end
of the insignificant anguish that I converted into words,
and I have heard politicians say there’s nothing to fear
but fear itself, and have passively felt that nothing
as if I were a quietist priest afloat on the darkest of rivers,
and I have longed with joy that sooner or later
outside the theologies of mankind I might watch the weeds
and weather take over as our handlers,
and I have collaborated with the thoughtless heat
that seeded us
into the Universe, and then counted with the slap
of a flyswatter
the bees and ants that haunted my own lethal abyss,
and I have purchased falling stars and my own posterity
in the stalls of the market, and later sold myself
to a dragonfly with perfect eyes and iridescent rapacity,
and I have swallowed back my tears so I could grow
a lump in my throat, and listened helplessly
as the sandpaper of my voice anxiously groveled its harrow,
and I have serenaded a foolish watersnake
who I sadistically observed
devouring the pickerel on the stringer I had left on the bank
as if they were both chainlinked to the unfathomed,
and I’ve joined hoards of Japanese beetles all day long
making lace out of leaves, riding their glittering wings
like a Samurai in the sun,
and once I went to sleep to find out where fish lurk
under reeds of light under the moon,
and I discovered strands of my DNA wavering in the murk,
and I’ve shared the tubercular lungs of the poor
with my father in the blue asbestos of his cancer,
able to couple everything as if pain were matter
for a metaphor,
and in ironic submission I’ve heard much of the music
of my dear Muse get stocked like brown trout
in other poets’ throaty toilets
and no one willing to drag their tongues
to the cleaners for a physic,
and I’m sorry to say I’ve even cooperated with
my Doppelganger’s Pentecostal
brew of Apollonian wine and Thracian fury,
and felt my blood made over
in its image by maenads and solar fables,
and I have fed olives to the cenotaph
of my childhood Savior
by working the graveyard shift in honor of his mother,
the Fungi Imperfecti who was sepulchered there,
and for the fun of it I have engineered that my rivals roll
in poison and nettles, and called down the hounds of heaven
to fetch their genitals into the jawbones that guard
the house of Hell,
and I have shepherded myself blindly walking the paved
of the mind, trying to find both crocus and chrysanthemum
in the deep
landfilled fractures riddled in that panoply of debris,
and I have outfoxed the Orient’s foxy ladies’ spirits
and skunked the skunky ones of the West, and not
suffered for it, nor have I been forgiven for it,
and I have picked forbidden apples that don’t reproduce
true to their parents, and have made their nature
my cause and destiny, my cider, my prepositional syllabus,
and I have taken medicine for my past sins
and excised the vas deferens of a guilty conscience
for the ones to come that might elude
the precaution of vaccination,
not to sweep it under the rug that I lived
with Ariel a long time
while nightly deflowering the imago of Byron’s sister
and painting the cathouses of the town with Caliban,
and I stoically recognized that the lizard’s red tail
was a CIA-amputated prick of a social worker or dissident
sleepwalking the foothills above Tegucigalpa,
and gazing for days at my future in coffee grounds
while soaking my gonads and liver in goat milk,
I homogenized my perversity with humanistic sounds,
and I confess that whenever divinity booked passage
on my craft in the purity of a single unheard word,
it always went away in the shambles of my language,
and once I hastened the setting sun with an incantation
recited faster than the speed of falling light, and then
with an adulterer’s raindance stalemated the rising sun,
and the best of my friends have laced their brains
with the spirits and escapist visions I poured into them,
and then watched their skin flake away
like leprous cellophane,
and I have gotten tipsy on bushes and snowbanks
of fermenting berries
while on a drinking binge with winter robins, cocking
our heads listening for juicy earthworms in their galleries,
and I have collaborated with the ghoulish, uncanny moon
discreetly hiding in the conifers so coons
could steal up the hillside and plunder the trashcans,
and I have sold out to the petrol industry,
the power-plant merchants,
the makers of acid rain, and, so a traitor to the possibility
of a pristine world, become my own waste product
and its servant,
and I have set my sights on a certain God
to curry his benevolence,
and then jumped on him for the job he does every day
on his Jobs and Jonahs and the animals and trees
of the forest,
and I have succumbed to envy of those
who wear poetry’s laurelled necklace
as if it were a national endowment and not the Muse’s,
or those who have the courted the purses
of many a publisher’s princess,
and I too have dived down into Davy Jones
examining like a surgeon
a different dowry not so far away from the stockbrokers
of the docks
with their gutbuckets full of beaver’s balls
and the bellies of sturgeon,
and in the stillness of annalist as bystander, I have heard
the choral drone
of gypsies incinerating in the holocaust
along with their guitars,
and goosepimples of sadness rose on my skin
to that gramophone,
and I have assisted the sounds that come
from the friction of desire, anthers digging into the air,
claws into bark, and the leaf-scarring lips of women,
and I have hidden with a whippoorwill in a hemlock
mourning the passing of the sun as though it were divine
and not just some brilliant onion discarded
by chance or luck,
and I have lobbied sextons to tell me about the afterworld,
and then rumbled through the fallen tombstones
hoping to spy in the Spring thaw some risen token of gold,
and smoked reefers in bed going off the deep end
into another dimension, riffing away time by turning
the dial to a short-wave station, sobriquet Devotion,
and I have shirked, sprawled, and played cat-and-mouse
with the syllables
of my sonar system, and left the deciphered sounds
to fend for themselves as their echoes
got scrawled into their memorials,
and I have daydreamed on the banks of the Susquehanna
in the infancy of each of my lives that some day
I would join a commune of shining plankton
and return through the mouth of a whale to the source,
and I have housed with the housemice and mighty mites
of literature and lavished them with mushrooms
and almonds by day, and mush and arsenic by night,
and subsequently piggy-backed purple poems
infusing them with the blight of Cupid’s pathogens
triumphantly carrying the arrows of impotency,
and always suspicious of the heraldry of strife,
I’ve sashayed a romantic waltz with Death
as the best way to measure out my life,
and I’ve excused myself from victory or defeat
by pointing out the blooming fence posts in the land
of smoking volcanoes and social realism’s parakeets,
and how many times after an epiphany or resurrection
have I failed to throw my afterbirth
to the possums and the buzzards as fit restitution,
and I’ve held my black bandanna high as heaven
while standing by the hotdog stand
dead center in the Pentagon,
and I have crossed myself tongue to prick, tit to tit,
in the shadows of cathedrals where souls are kept
chained to gold,
their stained-glass hearts quivering in candlelit habits,
and I have allowed Johnny the Conqueror
to convince me that Beauty is Truth
but the Truth is not beautiful without an upholsterer,
and I have come across a brace of grouse
crossing the road, and in the space of a breath
sported their feathers and tasted their flesh,
and I have pursued without end the menace
of cunning fingertips crisscrossing my chest
in a malarial rainforest of orchids and syphilis,
and I have feasted with the eyes of an owl
hidden in hemlock and spruce,
and with buzzards in their greedy circle,
and I have left my heart at home to cruise for the nectar
of whores in the rosewood brothels of Rio
and the moldy mattresses of Calcutta,
and I have stolen the artifacts of lost civilizations,
and handcuffed to my soul the beautiful ideals
I saw mounted and betrayed behind glass in museums,
and I declare perfection to be everywhere,
open or disguised in the joy and despair
of every conjunction of ice
and fire, in the wear and tear of mind and matter,
and I have found the question of collaboration
to be the inalienable answer to all existence,
and wholeheartedly I collaborate with that notion.
for and after Borges
The stone arch bridge at Rockville, and the distant whistle
of an iron horse rumbling over the masonry over the immense Susquehanna.
Downriver, the three Towers of Jehovah puffing away on infernal cigars.
Yes, if Time could be squeezed into one moment, then all the electric lights,
the doorbells and phones and blinking laptops would hang like Yule decorations
before the Apocalypse.
Over the tree line of the Blue Mountains something cries out
and is answered in the plaint of a whippoorwill
that holds the secret of all of sorrow in a code that only death
will one day translate, and then that haunted singer will die
but not before opening wide its yellow-beaked mouth like Krishna,
semper et ubique, calling me by showing me my calling:
Moon, bread and wine, books unbound and the pages
shuffling like leaves in the wind toward the hill
where a neon cross watches over you like a huge bird,
the pool table of the earth, a 38, a golden saxophone, a Cherokee rose,
a baton suspended
in midair, strip poker and spin the bottle of nubile innocence,
you pick up handfuls of earth and hear “this is my body”
and then I repeat myself, my birth and my death, rolling
my soul in between and over your flesh,
afterlife and after death, riddles that multiply like Apollo and Artemis,
like silvery fish,
a fly whisk and palm nuts, the grigris mapping out your ginga,
Bossa mixing with Bach and Gounod and Tebaldi,
and El Camaron de la Isla with Paco de Nada,
and a shivering bird swaying in a noose,
and Miles’ shades with blue Monk’s fingers
reflected in the lenses,
all of these measures
measuring your time, fluxus after fluxus,
kappa after kappa, raga after raga, Sarasvati, Sofia, and Babalu Aye,
and there on the shelf as if on a ledge in the divinest of comedies,
a bronze statue of X, a knife all blade in hand,
whittling a cross into a crude sword,
and yes, the plane geometry of your misery and joy, the green flash
of the equatorial sunset squeezing itself to death
like a lime over the ocean,
days overwhelmed with gardens of earthly delights, and nights crowded
with Goya’s horror and the fragrance of lilac and woodsmoke,
and the saffron flesh under the saris of Clemente’s watercolors,
Love unbearable except in recollection, and dreams that are treasure islands
cross-boned into your waking hours,
and memory gone the way of wisdom’s forgetfulness, or so they say,
but you do remember the last whistling rattle of your father
who never came to kiss you again, not even in your Lion King dreams,
I closed my eyes in you as yours are closed in mine – adieu, except for
the sound of your words that come to nothing, faithless to farewells,
all this was given to you and you buried these things in your heart, as I buried
death into your life for you not to forego that exquisite pleasure,
pride, transgression, the bitter wages of sin and optimism, and the meltdown
of Arcadia’s roses and sonatas into the feathers of Pluto’s fiery, pet phoenix,
all of this was lavished on you as a test of your endurance and compassion,
Yes, Borges and Alexandria and Andhra, all in vain, all in vain
what once you viewed in wonder as you ran out with the bard’s voice
under the lilting stars,
prince of the apple towns
and the deer under the Pleiades in the sweetfern of evening,
and still, where is my hymn, my lamb, my reason for being what I am?
Oh Lord, was I to serve You, a hired hand for your riches of benevolence and grace,
waste the seasons and the inexhaustible cornucopia of Fortuna until your return.
It seems so, and in gratitude I have written many poems in your honor, all perfectly what they are,
but none so perfect as my sentence in the outer darkness.
Instead of a blanket, the paragraph fits snug over my legs. It’s cold.
The first sentence touches my pelvis, and when the dorm-matron
arrives for inspection, my feet won’t stick out with the tab
of morphine scotch-taped to the ankle.
Everyone is robbed at birth. Paco might say robed in the roles
of choice and chance.
I wanted to attach my first spoken word to the big toe on the left foot,
but tonight the connotations go nowhere and I’m falling asleep.
Which fork shall I follow.
Anyway, an angel substituted her wing for that wish, and the paragraph
is warm enough. It’s cold outside.
Rilke never disclosed if angels have sex---this one sticks her pudendum
next to my participle, and she tells me that one of her favorite mortals
spanks her with his prick. I invent another tense.
It’s her misleading hair in the deep orange light that conjures up the river,
and the hammock by the river, and the moonlight floating in the canal
by the towpath. My father’s brother drowned there.
Do souls really leave the body at times and then lose their way
trying to return. Nameless, the soul is a shadow.
Some friends want to be burnt so their souls will wander the earth forever.
Narcissus drowned. Is reincarnation a form of recycling.
Snow falls all over the sheets. The paragraph is soaked. They stole the roof
for planking for the boat. Lepers and insects are issued special tickets.
Harpies don’t need visas. Bicycles are forbidden. Centaurs
are declared indivisible. All other conjugations are given waivers.
It’s cold. So cold the thunder inside the diamond on top of the mountain
is difficult to see. To carry the lightning with me at all times,
I spent hours memorizing the sutra.
The performance should go like this: you awaken and lean over and kiss
my cheeks ever so lightly. Immediately, I imagine you are a deer
and I am lichen and sweetfern. Those on the hillside with standing
room only want to sit secured to my lap with your breath grazing the back
of their necks. Just before the last act if I tell you I love you, don’t shove
my words back into my mouth or fan me with your other wing.
The scene is already starting to resemble a nightmare.
Let’s switch the design:
The sea is here in the room. It grows. Grows larger and spreads itself like a blanket over the snow. The world is tepid. I am starting to eat my own words. The sun
sinks into your pores and then into my eyes. A dragon is dancing a mazurka.
Orpheus gives birth to a flounder. An orphan is peeling a papaya. Peter Pan
arrives and takes my hand. I watch it disappear in the floodlights. The current
is shapeless, iridescent, almost mother-of-pearl, a coracle of silence interwoven
with filaments of rushlight. You open the window. There is no window. We vanish
like snowflakes into the equatorial heat....
A few more months
and I’ll be at the Black Sea with Ovid
drinking Murfatlar wine. The lilacs here
on the path to the road will be blooming then.
At night when it’s so dark
that we can’t even follow our feet, their heavy,
luxurious perfume pulls me straight to the road,
and walking the road one night, that’s when
I first thought of writing a letter to Ovid
to see if he wouldn’t mind a visit
from another poet living in the provinces,
this one not an exile.
Next to the lilac is a thorn bush with red berries,
and next to that the vegetable garden
where the west wind in the Spring
covers the early lettuce and peas with lilac pollen.
The mocking bird, also, takes cover in the tangled
breath of the lilac, and bathes in the pollen. Nests
of mysterious unnamed birds hidden there all Summer
suddenly in the Fall become little Persian clouds of potpourri
mixing Merino wool with blossoms, leaves, and feathers.
Often I take a sprig of the blue and white flowers,
the heart-shaped leaves, and put it in a vase by my bed,
and pretend that you’re here with me. Its fragrance
like your laughter colors the room with birdsong and starlight.
I wish I were leaving a little later for the Black Sea.
I’d take Ovid a bouquet of lilac
and ask him to transform it back into something
human, something beautiful, someone like you.
for Anselm Kiefer
He needs something less
as the darkness
lightens his path.
Less than this light,
more dark than this darkness.
All of space and time
Space in the heart.
Time in the bones.
for death, a tub of water,
a tub of blood,
he followed his veins
as if they were wrapped
around a spool
and some huge fish was pulling.
Today, he feels Lucifer’s wings
falling, lashing the bric-a-brac
of his bones, the emulsion of his heart.
A half-human Lucifer, nothing
evil about him
but that he also dreamt
to escape the omnipotent
power of the known
his birthright and home.
Shawl of spangled night for shroud.
Neither coward nor proud of prowess,
he was the last man and the first
to bivouac alone on earth.
Gone the animals and insects,
trees, fish, cities.
Once he held something in his arms.
A bird perhaps, a lover, alms,
a philosopher’s stone.
His breast opened and shone.
A tulip all flame.
Then the world turned
and it seemed his bones
went twirling like batons
in a weightless vacuum.
His heart a broken drum.
His mouth a gaseous holocaust
of nebulous exhaust.
Seedless light descending helter-skelter,
slow smoke going up
infiltrating the gate to paradise,
purgatorial charcoal grill
with Virgil circling Adam and Eve
like a pair of dice on top
as if thrown there by Dante to stop
Jacob’s treadmill and serve as example
to those who would know
immortality by their own will
or gamble on virtue.
Working by the sweat of one’s
brow never set one free,
nor living, nor ecstasy,
nor thorn, nor crown,
nor Torah, nor Koran.
Now, arms by his side,
breathless, toppled chimney,
horizontal lintel under the gaze
of a thousand dead eyes,
pillowless, shoeless ruin,
blind as the zodiac’s
one-way signs, heaven
and hell out of mind,
camped out in God’s private collection
as a found object, his prize installation.
CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 Peter Bradley Fulgoni, Nuages Gris, by Franz Liszt
after Gabriel Rosenstock’s To My Husband Who Is Labouring…
I just want to say hello, old buddy, camará.
It’s been over twenty years since I last saw you.
Before your eyes chalked over like a snowdrift in death.
The moon we used to howl at howls at us.
What once was a breeze of fragrant nicotina now smells
like rotten fish.
I guess you don’t have a grave, no grass, or even plastic flowers.
If you’re in the earth, maybe the Spring thaw twiddles a knuckle or two.
If you weren’t buried, I bet a raven had a field day
sipping the tarn of your eyes.
Did they rain down knives or acid on you before you croaked?
Did your spurting blood tattoo the cell wall with a dragon or did they paint
in cold blood an I Love Momma as your last wish?
I hear they got a few of your friends after they got you.
I won’t mention their last names in case they resurrect the case.
Some were social workers, others that they call indigenous types.
Their stories have gone up in smoke.
Hey, I saw a graduation picture of Mary in the obit section. God,
she was beautiful, wasn’t she.
It said she was unrecognizable except for that brilliant scar on her shin.
Last week I hear, they took Raoul away, for a long vacation, as they say.
They found him on the border, his head that is. An unidentifiable
prick in his mouth until they DNA’d the mush.
Maybe you’re not dead and you were just abducted and allocated elsewhere.
Where’s elsewhere – in a bag of cement under an iceberg somewhere.
Your children were never found. Rumors are they ground them up,
or their hearts, anyway, for your last supper garnish.
I don’t believe it. I’ve heard similar tall tales about how Jews
just a few decades ago drank baby blood in Eastern Europe.
I wish you could answer me, say something, anything, like maybe “take care.”
Or maybe say we’re watching the same howling moon, don’t worry.
Or maybe something banal, like nothing lasts forever and so take it easy, brother.
Yesterday, I heard your ex, that gorgeous whore, was arrested smoking crack
on the stoop where you used to sit before you vanished.
And someone told me the Peace Prize is going to go to the School
of The Americas. Wow.
That would be something, wouldn’t it. I can hear you laughing
your ass off.
Time to row back across the Styx, you old piker. We’ll go fishing, get lost
way out on a lake somewhere, make plans for the assholes, get totally pissed.
with Paco de Nada
I saw you in Huelva
I saw you in Huelva
I lost my heart that day
I lost my heart that day
The guitar was on fire
Your skirt a flame of flowers
I saw you in Huelva that day
Flowers and blood that day
Aiyiyiyiyi Flowers and Blood that day
Your lips were like roses
Your lips were like roses
The guitar went to the river that day
To the rose of the river that day
Aiyiyiy To the rose of the river that day
You kissed him by the river
You kissed him by the river
O’ death, your lips were knives that day
Knives of joy that day
I’m going home. I’m going home.
He kissed the river that day
The water played the guitar that day
Don’t pass my door, my love, don’t pass my door
My sadness is bigger than the night
Bigger than the night, my love, my anger
My tears a river of iron, don’t pass my door
My love, don’t pass by my door
Aiyiyiyiyi My love Aiyiyiyi
Don’t pass by my door!
All the so-called poetic geniuses
seem to gather in Vilnius, Uruk, Paris,
New York, to grapevine and such.
That’s why I left for the Dogpatch,
before my me became one of us,
a parakeet in a concert hall of verse.
Here, I’m just the genius loci of my house,
off key, out of step, but spirited nonetheless
with moonshine in an off-color blacklist.
When the local lushes stop by for a visit
and we get going with a sing-along,
they make cheerful fun of me and not us,
and don’t mind doing it to right to my face.
Tone-deaf musicians thrive as drunken poets.
…we pseudo-Buddhist monks are mixing
all kinds of hooch in our ample guts –
current wine, horseradish and ginger vodka,
unfiltered beer, Eden’s Last Stop apple cider,
to celebrate Night tonight. It’s enough
of an ambrosial, Bacchanal cornucopia
to make the man in the moon go mad
that there he is adrift above us and no one
has the courtesy to offer him drink or a toast.
Well, I’ll change his forlornity right now.
“Hey, you snow white, round, dung-beetle ball
of a pock-marked, potholed, littered buttocks,
get off your parasitical cushion of sunlight,
drop in, join us lunatics in a dervish dance.
the vat filled with fresh forest berries
and then Maria danced and trampled them,
well-turned legs working like pistons,
and I, long-since sober, knew for sure
I was in a storybook in ancient Greece
and come Spring I would drink,
get bloody skunk drunk and imagine
that my hair and hands were washing
her feet not knowing they were Christ’s.
Naked as a newborn baby,
Fisher wobbles out of the sauna,
downs two shots of vodka,
and goes out to take a pee.
Speechless, he staggers back in
stammering, shouting FULL MOON
FULL MOON, FULL MOON!
I can’t handle his booming ecstasy,
knowing there’s no full moon today,
but I rush out to check, anyway,
and myself to take a blooming pee.
The sky is an overcast, rainy black sea,
a last patch of snow on the ground,
and it’s round, yeah, it’s round.
© Kerry Shawn Keys recites Trout, with water backgroud.
It will be good to get some rest
at last, to request a balcony seat
and look at the stars, and configure
with Prospero once again the wondrous tales
of the constellations, the battles for blood,
love and glory, the metamorphoses,
the sorrowful arias of young lovers
chained to one another and released.
It would be good to get some rest,
roost high up there, eyes closed in mist,
and sleepwalk through the curtain calls
in a slow motion stupor, knowing that all
is a dream, that Romeo may or may not
love forever. Yes, get some rest. Tomorrow
Troy will fall, Hector will be dust to dust
again, the dead have already feasted on the dead.
It’s not that I’m overly fond of my stillness.
It’s just I’m after something intimate.
Here and there, there are a few of us
moving along the dirt road.
We’re not friends but I know them
and it’s easier to watch them than myself
when I spy them shining a little in the moonlight.
They are, in a way, shy epistles
where their medium is the message.
They are more mobile than a mobile
in their stillness, in their slowness,
and they give me a reason to think
that I also am, with no necessity to connect
one place with another.
Being so slow, almost still, we are
everywhere where we are in our slowness
in our stillness, in our illiterate remoteness.
I think that if the universe has a soul
then snails must be that soul in their soulfulness.
What do I know of closeness or farness,
of the skyline in the distance, of the forest
overhead when I pause in my remoteness in the grass
or in the middle of the road, where so many
of my companions have been lost or smashed.
Like most epistles at one time or another,
a letter opener takes care of us, or if a love letter
to another, we’re steamed or torn open,
ground into a pâté, or served with butter
as a way to grease the wheels of the universe.
So the message is indeed the messenger, the epistle,
and the soul is a snail in the intimate food-chain
of the earth that consumes all of us.
I’m proud of that, here, moving like a snail,
talking aloud in the delivery of this poem,
along the dirt road, shining a little, just a little.
30 full turns on the crank
with mud-caked hands,
and clear water comes up
or mixed with a little sand
from earth’s fluid ocean.
Whatever creeps in wait for me
down there stares thirty meters deep
(the divining rod didn’t work,
nor aesthetics nor guesswork
nor did they when this well was sunk).
What thing or things at the bottom
must be unaware of heaven
or what’s mortally human.
Sky’s melted crystal, timeless
hourglass of heart and eyes.
I turn and turn, my arm
a hinge of the mechanism,
hardly a Shaker rhythm.
Rainwater fills the bucket
under the roof’s rainspout.
There’s a catch basin
at the field’s other end
and enough dew in the garden
to sweeten herb and earthworm
or any innocent, scuffing pilgrim.
Hypnotized, I turn and turn
as if I were a turnstile chained
and condemned to perpetual motion.
What’s at the bottom of this grog
I swear is not your fabled frog
with well-casing for horizon.
Nor snake or eel from Eden.
When an umpteenth bucket comes up
I catch my breath in vain and stop,
peering momentarily down and down,
to wash dirty hands in its reflection.
Then, the passing dream begins again.
tr. by Jan Wagner
Wer weiß, wo wir heute gewesen sind,
die Beine an entgegengesetzten Enden
des Spektrums noch bevor wir dort ankamen,
und dort: Die Fliegen an der Wand,
die über die Grafitti kraxeln,
eine Eidechse auf der Jagd nach dem Tüpfelchen
auf dem I.
Ich könnte euch noch mehr erzählen. Vom Mann,
der mit seinem Gewehr
versucht, sein Boot
über herrliche Gewässer voller Lotus zu rudern,
zurück zum Strand, von dem er aufgebrochen war,
doch da ihm die Mittel fehlen,
entzündet er die toten Sterne,
und wie du und du und du
tötet er dich und dich und dich.
tr. by Jan Wagner
Der Fluß wächst direkt aus der Erde. Ein totes Schwein
treibt vor der Böschung. Nein, ein Reh. Ein Mensch.
Entscheide du, es ist so dunkel, daß es kein Schatten sein kann.
Die Blumen sprießen in den Himmel und zerstreuen sich
in tausend Teile – grün, rot, violett. Berühre
ich eine, fällt sie ins Wasser, ein Engel von Menschenhand.
Obwohl das Schwein anschwillt, brennt, sind die Gräser
am Flußufer matt und schön. Ein Aal schimmert
sich ans Gedärm heran. Fische tröpfeln im Regen.
Als ein Freund die vom Messer aufgeschlitzte Krawatte anruft,
die Blutwurst auf der Dachterrasse, spüre ich
die ersten Sonnenwendgeräusche ein Streichholz entzünden.
Irgendwie blitzt die ganze Welt auf im verdampfenden
Licht, und wir gesellen uns zu den Tieren auf der Arche, die diesmal
ins All aufsteigen wird. Noch zehn Minuten bis zum Countdown.
Betrachte noch einmal den Fluß. Er eint alle Dinge,
während er durch unsere Hände strudelt. So verletzlich die Farbe
der Blumen ist, so störrisch verweigert das Schwein die Wiedergeburt.
tr. by Jan Wagner
durch den Wald
wie ein Hirsch
in der Kehle
sondern eine Kugel
ob er blöken
oder weinen soll
ohne zu wissen
wie warum wann wo
als du dich aufmachtest
mit Gottes Blut
an deinen Händen
nun mit deinem Blut
tr. by Jan Wagner
Ihr Stiefvater erschlug sie mit der stumpfen Seite einer Axt,
und voller Unschuld und religiösem Mitgefühl glaubte ich,
Mangel an Respekt, ein Ausgehverbot wären Anlaß des Streits gewesen
Die Aufbahrung bot all den düsteren Schmuck einer Hochzeit,
doch kein Bräutigam sollte sich je an ihrem Glanz vergehen,
keine Gewächshausrosen als Blumenstrauß am Mieder dienen.
Foxtrott des Sternenlichts mit dem Grabstein meiner Klassenkameradin
heute nacht – wie Ziermünzen aus Pyrit am schneeweißen Kleid,
das sie wie einen Fischschwanz zum Abschlußball hineintrug.
Zwanzig Jahre und noch einmal zwanzig Jahre,
und vielleicht zwanzig Meilen Luftlinie zum Susquehanna,
wo traurige Männer noch immer ihre Schnüre absenken
Durch einen Wunschbrunnen aus Eis und Wind, sich an etwas
zu halten versuchen, was dem fremdartigen Rauschen ihres
Kleides gleicht, dem Funkeln dieses Steins, dem sphinxenhaften
Quecksilber ihres Lächelns, doch wahr ist: Keiner wird dem,
was jenseits des jauchzenden Zugriff seines Reiches liegt,
näher kommen als bis zu Pfeiler und Pfahl des Fleisches.
Ich kannte Kathy Larneard in der nachtbefleckten, scharfumrissenen
Schuld meiner Jungenträume, stellte mir vor, ich sei Feldspat, den sie
besudeln, beschweren könnte, um sich von Entzücken zu nähren,
Und sie würde meine undinenhafte Maria Magdalena sein,
mein rätselhafter Initiationsritus, meine Aloe Vera zur Ewigkeit.
Nun verzehrt sie die Reise der Zeit unter zwei Metern von Torf,
Zu tief, als daß ein Menschenfischer sie halten könnte,
um die Seele vor Himmel oder Hölle zu retten, zu tief als daß Wurm
und Feuer sie reinigen könnten, zu tief für diese Erde.
© Mykolas Kuan Keys (clarinet) and Evelina Kuprytė (piano) 2019, Concertino for Clarinet and Piano in E-flat major op. 26, adagio ma non troppo, Carl Maria von Weber (rec. Sonata Paliulytė, poet and actress)
And this lamp lit this lamp and this lamp was the sun. The sun’s eye and the body of the breath of the wind. I saw India. Sniffed. Smelled perfume in her ears, and the fumes of fewmets smoking from the unfertile earth. I see 74,500 virgins prostrate in an empty ricebowl. Blisters of combat boots and raped widows taking poisons. Chanting in the street a child with a clavicle for a tongue, clubfeet, chanting stepping on a crack you’ll break your Mother’s back, on shit you’ll break your Mother’s tit. Parvati. Parvati, round-breasted, milk-refinery of the universe. To her I came with fire and a lingam that trembled under the stars and the shoulderless black night of a ricebowl full of soma and the moon. Her room ached with feathers and saris shimmering like silk whips. Not for her but for the nymphs that served her I came. Noa-Noa. The girls with flowers, the cherries. Water was turned to milk, the snake slit, the golden germ of semen, both horizons yoked. His blood is poison. A plum. White cells imprisoned in the black epidermis. Tambourines unheard. A blue flute off in the bare hills at dawn and dusk. In between Swami Viva and his lesson of the Virgins. Oospheres beating tablas. Chasteness is pornography: axiom: on the distant hill a pipal tree lies under the dust of thousands of years. He who eats too many figs and ignores the leaves, farts forever. Look—castor beans are growing in the dung, coliform in all the wells, Kaliform in the wishing well. Hookworms with bleeding gums circle the bazaar. Take the flashlight out into the thorns, find the ghosts of the virgins, caress them, stroke their yonis, show them the Vedas, the postbeams of the first house, and the cinderblocks baking in the sun. Under the green tomato and under the red, a scorpion whose veins are fire, whose wings were grafted from a dove, suckled by the six stars, who slew Taraka on the airstrip in Delhi.
And so I took out my horn and began to blow it. Then she began to blow it. Then the neighbors. Then the lady slippers and the friendly ladybugs. The refracted light in the holywater. She said. He said. I, you, and everybody, then Vach stepped up and said. And that was when it started. In the beginning was the blowing out. Indra got jealous and put the horn on his head, bent over, and became a one-breasted, decapitated, thousand year old Amazon. Then I towed in a tug-of-war. And won. Amrita. The conch, the horn, the yellow horns of the moon and the orange peaprick. Penicillin. The dolllike effigy up the donkey’s ass. A cobra curls around an abandoned anthill, slides past the well, past the blue buffalo in the turnstall, past the ex-harijan touch-me-not cleaning the shit and mopping the spittle and pigs in the john, past the Deccan Chronicle, and the man in the customshouse measuring himself by the hardy intensity of his history, past the deluge and the mongoose in the ark, past the tattooed ass with Blitz newspaper print on both cheeks, past the word-dripping piles, transformed vegetarian eggs, past Canto XIV, into the illusion of endless energy. The tug-of-war won with the plants poisoned. Hellebore and monkshood. Carbonoxhide and fratricide. Faunacide and floracide. Seaweed served in the dark ocean. Seaoatmeal, and Saint Anthony and Saint Xavier’s lost toe shooting up from the desert like Mount Kailasa out of the footplains, like a cactus that destroys and debilitates and does in those who touch it without wonder. False peregrinators and droughts, Krishna came with a seashell dangling like a dinghy from two davits under his armpit. Every 7777 years he boils the sweat for seven years, sprinkles iodine tablets over it, quaffs the nectar, ferments 40 days and 40 nights in deep sleep, rises, faces you, reader, and irrigates the arroyos and wrinkles of this world with his divine deluge.
I was a scavenger living under the sphincter muscles of the State Apartment, the BDO Office, and my karma as an indigenous dolichocephalic Dravidian doomed to dung and death and nothing in between. My ecology was cleaning the alley and the assholes of uperclass one-armed amputees. I mobilized the results of the rich earth with my chembu in the latrines of those who lived like lilies in the scorched fields, and my ledu lived in the lights of their eyes. Invisible speculum. That’s all past. Squatting one day in the Muslim cemetery at the edge of town I found myself constipated, drenched in rain with a banana leaf for an umbrella, and I heard a man from Saint Francisco sitting on a siddur, humming OM OM, an oriental jew with a jewel for a tongue, and I joined in, for in the lotus is the lung breathing OM, drenched in the patter of the rain which syncopated with the OM OM, and echoed by my OMPH as I squatted squeezing the old squeeze- box harmonium, and the hills echoed OM OM, and the caller in the mosque joined in, the telegraph wire passing near Walden Pond began to hum along. Oh, this was the diastole and the systole of the cesspool bubbling together with the round voweled ozone sound of OM escaping from the ocean of darkness through the lizard-like arteries and the artesian wells, and I squatted on the geotaxis balancing myself with one hand on a headstone inscribed with Urdu angles chalked over with swirls of Telugu. And I remembered the foodcycle, the colorcycle of excrement at each house—fisheater, vegetarian, goatsucker, currycrapper — then came the revelation of no distinction in castes, the contingency of consciousness, the castoff case of the chrysalis and I became a dead hermit and departed like a scarab through the door of the sun.
by Lêdo Ivo
tr. by Kerry Shawn Keys
and José Carlos Dias
Here I am, waiting for the silence.
Before the rotten shipyard
I catch only a glimpse of the flotsam
left over from the illumination.
Like all leftovers, it bears the mark
of things hidden forever
or of those interred at the top of the dunes;
like the letters branded in fire
on the flank of a horse stolen by a gipsy, or
on a much-beloved hip.
Now, night descends for good.
My weary gaze follows the canoe
moving away from the mangroves.
A light in the salt marsh. A crab in the mud.
And life evaporates like the souls
in a heaven that doesn’t shelter a single god.
Every landscape I saw has crumbled
into corroded postcards. And a dirty fingernail, dressed in black,
takes the place of an ancient hand. The endless doors
of the docks that stored braided onions and sacks of sugar
shrink in the darkness, reduced to a single door,
refractory to the dazzling clarity of daybreak.
At the Sand Bar of Saint Miguel, facing the sea,
only now I have understood:
the longest day of a man
lasts less than a bolt of lightning.
The hours will no longer be celebrated
among the constellations.
Sky and earth will disappear
in the ashes born out of the coming
days and nights stolen by death.
And everything I loved, dissolves.
The scarlet cloud softly lands
between the stucco huts and the wave-torn sea.
The time has come to say goodbye to the dark water
that roars in the darkness of the lagoon,
and to the planetary wind that dries the fish
hanging from the poles of the thatched huts,
and to the virgin forest descending to the sea
along the steep coastline of my lost homeland.
Eternity passes like the wind.
Only time is eternal. I’ve always been here
amid my decimated people,
and beyond the dunes my hands made
the golden anthropophagical bonfire
of the awesome feast. A night of ashes
now follows the clamor and the joy.
The sea douses all the shipwrecks
and every fire quenches itself, the whole golden fire
scatters and dies down into the silence of the world.
Here, in the water and earth of my continual births,
my shadow roams through the wrecks
of ships lost or dreamt.
And I search in vain the transgressed waters
for the chastity of the clear and intact water
that emerges from the sea at the break of dawn
in the heart of the muted night.
Oh! gate promised as life’s comfort,
after such filth and such splendour!
In this final night, the heavenly bonfires
burn up all hope and bury in ash
the foolish dreams of earthly souls
and the death rattle that suppresses any paradise.
In the crematory-night, death is a bonfire.
Beyond the cold and heat
and the impetuous cockroaches that spread like petals
in the abandoned granary
and the funeral bells in the morning of childhood
and the swinging lights of the trucks slowly crossing the cane fields
scaring away the raccoons,
and beyond the baskets open like corollas
in order to collect the remains of the day mutilated by hates and wars,
and far from the fallen nests on the winter ground
and the waters of the unyielding rains that suddenly disappear
on the great table of the primordial sea
and the feathery crystal-clear moons that rule the passage of the mullets,
there is a nowhere which dispenses with begging and hope
and frightens off solemnity and reverence.
Beyond the dreams visited by the restless sea
and the fetid dark of the cesspool and the solar clarity
where bewildered we move
like flies made dizzy by the swelter of summer,
a non-space waits for us. The day
crawls in hours that open to the landscape like windows.
The noise of the world reaches the shore
and encircles the salt flats, the treacherous reefs of shellfish,
and lagoons of sugar.
Beyond reality, there are other realities
that unfold like rungs. Our steps
climb up and down the ladder in the miserable day,
in the gentle night.
They are like dreams that are tributaries of other dreams
or open windows to the sea.
We don’t know where we are. We don’t know what we are.
We know nothing but the existence of a night
pure and empty, waiting for us. An untouchable night
beyond fire and ice and any hope.
With its sinister hand, death crushes
our dazzling insect dreams,
and pours the purity of the water inside the vase
as the flower’s fragmented promised disaster.
Death, always death, bugging us
with the buzzing of a funeral fly.
I’ve always loved daybreak. The prow of the ship,
the clarity that moves forward between the sparse shadows,
the lingering murmur of life in the train stations.
A bonfire of words breaks out in the square.
A black fjord of a train crosses the city.
Day spills the syllables of the world onto the sidewalks.
I’ve always loved the thunder that tears the afternoon apart,
the rust and the rain, love that ends
and the smoke that rises from screeching tires.
The idiotic days pass like bridges.
Statues fly like birds.
The tightest doors open like lips.
I’ve always loved what passes by: crowded taxis,
the whistles of trains, stray clouds
and the leaves dragged by the wind.
Hail punishes the pyramids of death.
The brothel’s door cracks in the sultry weather.
A yellow sunset enfolds the shipyard.
I’ve always loved junk, the form destroyed
by time, rank as a tidal pool.
I’ve always loved the weevil hidden in the silos.
The din of torrential rain makes the night clearer
and unfolds between the rocks the beautiful banners
of a dream accompanying a dismantled sun.
And I’ve always loved the love that is like an artichoke’s,
something that you peel, something that conceals
a green unpeelable heart.
At the shipyard of Sao Miguel dos Campos
the sea gives back to the sea the claimed spoils
of the lost vertebrae of the ships.
I’ve always loved the thunder that awakens those who are asleep.
The door of my house is open to the thunderstorm
and to the hours that lose their scales like a fish.
I’ve always loved the fog that hides the landscape,
mannequins, scarecrows, broken mirrors.
I’ve always loved rust, erosion, and junk.
Containers are deposited in ships’ holds like baskets of flowers.
The line separating land from sea flashes like lightning.
On the immense counter of the world there is division and commerce.
I’ve always loved the piers that support the bridges,
ships leaving port, the lighthouses and the hoists.
I’ve always loved the Ocean and the semaphores.
Where the dead live, I will live someday,
in that nowhere place that the fleeting gods
reserved with the ashes, nothing and nobody.
And I’ve always loved snow falling among the plane trees
that hem the Seine, while the boats
pass slowly and white under the bridges.
The clear anthill of clear waters
bursts in the morning under the brilliant
blue sky braced by the birds.
I’ve always loved the mirrors of barbershops,
the flower stands, the newspaper kiosks,
the vegetables in the gondolas of the supermarkets.
Day is a coin oxidized by chimeras.
And the bridges shake at the passage of the dusty buses
that accomplish the migrations of misery and death.
I’ve always loved to listen to the noises of the world:
the golden humming of the bee in the dung,
the noisy day and the wandering wind.
The ships whistle. It’s time to leave.
Each closed door is a port to be opened
by the triumphant wind that lacerates the ocean.
I’ve always loved the light of the mangled sun
that nests in the mangroves, the fluvial light of the day
over the dunes that walk the horizon at night.
He who has the key to dreams opens any door.
He who sails sleeping reaches any pier
and on the ships sees the abolition of death.
And I’ve always heard the voice that calls me in the dark,
the voice on the other side, coming from other worlds
that crumble in the air, licked by the fog.
I’ve always loved this voice which is a no voice,
a whisper of nothing, startled ash,
a grain of sand that rasps on the endless beach.
The foliage of the night covers me while I sleep,
shroud of a pure sun always seeking the dark,
murmur of a fountain, white stone of a wall.
And I’ve always loved time and intemperate weather,
the termite that thrives in the nudity of matter,
in the pale colonies of the plundered night.
Fortune decided that I would always find myself
when lost, even in a shipwreck
which is always the work of the wind.
I’ve always loved what lives in the black water of the mangroves.
I’ve always loved what is born. I’ve always loved what dies
when the night collapses over the houses of men.
The lights of the airport hurry like harlequins.
At the railroad crossings, the whistling freight trains
carry mannequins to supply our dreams.
And I am the one that departs. And stays. And flies. And remains.
A beam of a lighthouse divides the universe.
My hand hunts in the dark for a nuptial body.
I lick the secretive salt of the barely opened shells.
The lingering silence between roots and lianas
opens a solar path in an aqueduct.
Sultry weather sustains the clarity.
Day is a shattered lightning bolt.
A shadowy cone eclipses me from myself.
And the day passes like an ant. The days pass
like the breeze in unfurled sails.
The days pass and always bring death.
I say goodbye to myself in the vespertide of darkness.
And now the night descends. With it, the lost cause.
My hand no longer touches the beloved’s body.
A dark sun illuminates the night of my soul
but I want the other sun, the great clarity
of the solid day opening like a door.
I only feel complete with my shadow
and the mask of everything I ceased being.
My uninhabitable sun rises in any horizon.
Only to the wind that blows do I trust my amazement.
I need to be exact and impenetrable
so I can be understood by the passing day.
The flight of the falcon accompanies my steps
towards life, towards death,
under the indifference of an imperishable sky.
I see death hidden in a sunbeam:
the remains of the afterglow, the nest of no bird
and abolition of flight over any plateau.
Happy are those who depart.
Not the ones who reach the rotten ports.
Happy those who depart and never come back.
For I stay always half way
and my journey remains unfinished.
Happy are those who don’t know the final station.
Happy those who disappear in the fog,
those who open windows at dawn,
those who light the lights of the airfields.
Happy are those who cross the bridges
when the afternoon lands among the refineries like a bird.
Happy those who possess an inattentive soul.
Happy are those who know that, at the end of the passage,
Nothing awaits them, like a scarecrow in a corn field.
Happy those who only find themselves when windborne or lost.
Happy are those who have lived more than one life.
Happy are those who have lived countless lives.
Happy those who vanish when circuses pull up their tents.
Happy those who know that each fountain is a secret.
Happy are those who love storms.
Happy those who dream of illuminated trains.
Happy those who loved bodies and not souls,
who heard the hoot of white owls in the silence of the night.
Happy are those who found a lost syllable in the dew of the grass.
Happy those who crossed the obscure night and the untimely fog,
who saw the crackling fire dancing in the big bonfires of June,
happy those who watched the sky open like an altar cloth
to welcome the flight of the falcon.
Happy those who live on the outlying islands
and are surrounded at nightfall by a cloud of leaf-cutter ants.
Happy those who just sat around and then one day left.
Words follow me like dogs
when I walk among the constellations.
I rise like the day, and I die at nightfall.
I am reborn from myself and to myself I return
with the promise of another dawn.
In the circle of time, I pass on and I stay.
I dawn and grow dark among the galaxies
and between two suns I drink my eternity.
Added or divided, always I multiply myself
when the constellations fly in the sky like birds
and the truth of the world is stored in the hold of the ships.
I am the wind that blows in Maceió
and the mullet imprisioned in the fishtrap of the sea.
Night is a door that closes
when I pass. Day is a shipmaster’s atlas.
Before sleep and the dream, I sip the silence of the mountains
and cross the border where death is hiding
like a fox in the forest.
Along the way, I’ve always listened to
the endless sea’s murmuring of syllables.
At cold’s eve and at the end of mystery,
I search once again for the rigging of the shipyard
and I can’t even find my own shadow
sucked up by the clouds of the crimson sunset.
The sea advances like a sword.
For this journey I bring nothing
but what’s left of me,
the wreck that verifies my shipwreck.
I walked in the crowd. I listened to the noises of the world
in the voice of the demagogue, in the booming reggae, in the cry of the street peddler,
in the turbines of a jetplane, in the cursing
of the impatient poor at a bus stop, in the whisper
of love that clears the darkness,
in the flashing rain.
I talked with the stone and I came to know
its silence and thickness; and a tree of foam
blossomed for me in the brightness of morning.
I watched the wind blow in the lagoons
and circle the misery of the world.
Like a lumberjack, I ended my day and waited for night.
Night came and blunted the axe that leaned against the wall,
and the woodpile stayed in the shed until transformed into fragrant ash.
I saw the lame horse coming down the hill and neigh under the starlight.
I tried to open the door that is always closed.
I crossed the bridges of the big cities
and breathed love, and drank the universe
and saw the sea once more, a fullness like wine and bread.
I saw the lights of Europe lighting up
as night slowly fell.
I was a man among men, a visage among many,
and now I’m alone.
I was always love itself in the unforgettable bed,
and now my wandering hand only finds darkness
where before there was the beloved body.
A mute ocean surrounds me
and it’s white like a shroud.
And the rain falls and washes
the latrines of death.
Sea, drums and hammer, music and salt of life,
huge resounding sea, here I am at your side!
Next to the bridge of the shipyard that creaks above the waves,
I long for the silence of the fish that cross the fiery red tentacle
of the coral reefs,
for the chasteness of the moon that rises in the pale sky and for the vigil of the sea
that invites me to be eternal,
and for the solitude of the sunken ships
that, in crustacean beds, keep the coins lost in the shipwrecks
and the lolling mew of the seagulls.
Everything I said to the foaming tide and to the radiant seaweed
was erased by the wind that nestled between the warehouses
and followed the sudden silence of the rain falling in the estuary
and moistening the damaged anchors
of the ships that hide in their rusty holds
the coupled smell of salt
and the dark hammering of the waters.
In the shipyard that jibs like a boat
when the dripping branches reach the shoals
where the dreams of men toss in graveyards of lime
and the holy sewers sip the summer rains,
I claim what I’ve lost on the long passage.
Where are the madmen of my childhood,
the madmen that escaped and danced in the asylum devastated
by the sun?
Where are my ships and the light of the lighthouse?
Next to the waves that die and are reborn,
the eternal return and eternal movement,
once again I call you but you don’t answer.
Now, only in my dreams I see your shadow.
Surely, you have flown like a bird into the darkness
and you went beyond the sun and the furtive thunder
and the clarity of the water. Like all of the dead
you are now where you are not,
in the nowhere that excludes all hope.
Only death teaches that angels don’t exist.
All that I lost, I lost forever.
Day falls in love with itself
like a naked body in a mirror.
Time, composition of the water that flows
in a river of rumors and desires.
Loud cry of being! The blush of dawn
in the highest sky, in clouds that are doors
in the glacial flight
far from fear and horror.
And the whiteness of the world, snow and ice
dawning into white sculptures
at a height without vertigo.
Under the dawn-white precipice of the clouds
the earth holds our destitution.
And an insolent death follows the footsteps
of men that walk beneath the sun
toward the supreme night, toward the unruly sea.
We are not in a hurry to die, yet nevertheless we die
in the hurtling day.
And here I am, placid as the water of the cisterns.
And death is an impatient dawn,
and bursts from the wide open sky
towards the roaring dream of life.
I always lacked wisdom.
Throughout my life, I have learned little,
and now, before the exact and visible ocean, before the great prosodic sea
I know nothing about the passage.
After so many trips, this is the final frontier
that I have to overcome.
The boat without a boatman rocks on the slimy water.
And I am the dark mud full of miasmas
that supports the pile dwellings of misery and death.
I only got to know the endless rain
and that wind which drags the wind itself
in the delirious day, in the glowering night.
I watched the tide moving forward in the peninsula
and the sea coming to meet me like an invitation,
the feminine sea that fondled my feet.
There is a knowledge that escapes my footsteps
even when I step on the rotten boards of the shipyard
and look into my shadow for the prow of ships.
Time is the lord of truth and of the lie.
I say goodbye to the sultry weather. It’s time for the arrival
of that migratory bird that only shows up in winter
and disturbs the sedentary world with its strident scream.
Oh clarity, farewell! I bid adieu to the sun,
to the incomparable sea and the untimely night.
I have lived without learning that everything is loss and passage
and that the breakers erase the names of the ships
and take to the offing the rumble of life.
Now the silence of the world seals my soul.
The rosy ray of the rosy sunrise
points to the dark night.
Separated from myself by death,
that shell that doesn’t stow away the noise of the sea,
it’s here in the dark mud of the salt marsh
that my long road between two nothings ends.
It’s been an enriching journey to build a webpage for Kerry. In the last few months, I’ve been a mixture of agent and publisher, a web-designer, an adviser and simply someone who listens. This is a journey of self-discovery. I’d always known my writer’s site, however good I might be, should not be just about myself. Writers coexist. They must talk to each other and definitely about each other.
I selected one half of the poems, Kerry the other. I focused mostly on recent works. For the poet it was a more powerful journey. Kerry dived into thousands of poems and decades of production to assemble some of the finest. The result is a compelling anthology, showing the poet’s power from all corners. A poet among the most original of our time.
I didn’t want this to be printed. You could have an illustrated poetry book, of course. It’s done all the time. Only the internet could provide the space for a true dialogue of the arts, albeit a dissonant interaction. The audios, the digital art, the poet’s voice can’t be heard on a book. I wanted the poet to speak for himself, literally.
My aim was a page that could accommodate the dissonance of arts with a minimalist approach. Countless resources were available, the task was to keep it simple, for this was the challenge: to disrupt poetry with other arts without letting it drown. We all know that the reading experience on a screen is different. It’s harder to focus, the eyes get tired. Acclaimed print fonts won’t work as well on a browser. It remains one of the biggest problems of the digital world to enable an enhanced culture of reading on screens. I tried to bypass some of the technical and aesthetic problems, not an easy undertaking in a digital world in which rapid innovation does not allow for the permanent solution of ever lingering problems.
My aim is a page that can accommodate art so well that it becomes a work of art in itself. In an ecosystem led by a digital monoculture of behaviours, you have to break the spell of platforms and monopolies. You have to make others realise the full potential of the internet. Looking at this unassuming webpage now, I know I created something rare, if not unique – something so new that I don’t even know what it is. And it’s good this way. I’m not fond of coining fancy names. This page is not a blog, not an account or channel, not a platform. Its assembly of arts is not an anthology, not an exhibition, not a performance. I frankly don’t know what this webpage is, and I love it for this.
I have a different vision for the internet. I see artists coming together in a decentralised ecosystem, building their websites, hosting each other. It’s about creating a network, stable, free from the venality of platforms, of cheap-and-cheerful accounts trading with people’s data. We deserve a better internet. So we must create it. This webpage is built on collaboration from alpha to omega. It’s not my place, my work, my person, there is nothing mine here. More than twenty-five people worked on this project, not to mention those indirectly involved. This is what a genuine social network is about.
I am a humanist. I support the League of Free Arts. It wants the internet to serve artists, not the other way round. If you also long for something better, check the mission of the League. Get in touch, and let’s shape the world wide web for the benefit of intellectual ambition and free creation.
This webpage is fruit of a collaborative work. I would like to thank all contributors whose generosity enabled this page to be become a dialogue of the arts. Let this place be remembered as a homage to their work. I would be grateful if you could honour these artists by visiting their websites: just hover and click on their names.
α. Airdrie McLean, painter
ε. Evelina Kuprytė, musician
ζ. Frank Miller, painter and poet
η. Giedra Purlytė, painter
ι. Gregory Talas, photographer
κ. Hallsw, digital artist
ξ. José Carlos Dias, translator
ο. Kyuho Han, digital artist
ς. Mykolas Kuan Keys, musician
τ. P. Fraundorf, digital artist
φ. Robert Bringhurst, poet and typographer
ψ. Sonata Paliulytė, poet and actress
ω. The Nada Quartet: Kerry Shawn Keys (voice), Vladimir Tarasov (drums, percussion), Liudas Mockūnas (saxes), Eugenijus Kanevičius (double-bass), musicians
α'. Thierry Dugnolle, digital artist
γ'. Vytautas Valius, painter
δ'. Wolfgang Beyer, digital artist
© Kerry Shawn Keys recites Vesper, for Helen Kirk Keys.