Gary Keenan: Three poems


i. warm up

To listen for starlings
while dodging a Fifth Avenue bus.

To arrive breathing hard,
bent in the shape of a grandfather.

Coffee weak and sweet,
light fluorescent. This is work?

This is work. A wall of cowboy novels.
Tough dames by the dozen. Elf villains.

A cracked window, a cool wind,
overtones in blank corners--

office as aeolian flute.
Desks papered with papers. Passwords.

ii. rain

steep close walls
granite and glass reflecting blurred bodies
the end of suffering does not come in this life
yet choosing extinction causes more pain
why does the rain wrap
the city in silken shimmer
and no one run naked collecting beautiful glances
living near God one must constantly turn
from eternity or be caught
in the undertow,
rapture replacing breath--
the lure of pure thought,
embryo of being or its fruit
or endlessly both
if desire rules materiality

iii. break

Last night a tangerine moon
rose through fog
cast a pastel glow
on dark upper windows
along 26th Street
mist made rays more visible,
red tail lights of passing cabs
lingering like a rash
urine-tinged waves
cresting beneath streetlamps

iv. entry

Pistachio shells, blackened gum,
a drained pint of Captain Morgan rum,
the sun's copper light
twenty floors above the street,
polishing spires and cornices
to lethal clarity.

Crossing signals blink demands
at shaded eyes, and gloved hands
conceal beauties left and right.
Men in trucks drink coffee
and plot the day's deliveries.
They don't look at me.

Today nothing seems enough,
the sleek bloated, the smooth roughed
in every face, as if last night
left scars of desperate dreams
beneath the skin. What sleep
has done to these,

none can undo--the young age
or die, bricks crack, sewage
bursts a pipe--cities expire,
come apart at riveted seams,
sink into sepia and rubbled stories,
a salvor's treasury.


Stay a while. Night lifts the dross
from eyes too used to day
to see beneath a city's skin,
the thin lunar blade

rending a hazy seamless sky.
Though trousers chafe my legs
I feel a different dance in each,
sweat glands drained to dregs,

my cap on straight, thereby askew
of fashion. Let guitars
drift in and out of curtained panes;
the better fed they are,

the less famished I shall be,
who want nothing save grace
and wish every evening its jasmine
veil. If the stars deface

a dark fresco with sprawling glitter,
the sky's still rich for ruin--
no art's better than none at all
for those who'd frame the moon

and hang it upside down. A moth,
a silk chrysanthemum,
a burst of brakes and metallic thud,
supposed separate, become

the orchestrated energy of chance,
meaningful without rhyme
to complicate things past unreason.
I'm like this all the time.


In fact, ballads so loved in rude company
Seem now to index common feelings lost
To direct experience, some translating operant
Required for even so recent a bard as Burns
Who still frequents smoky taverns, slopping ale
Across barmaid aprons and braying for a tune;
He'll show up for work on Monday, pumped
With caffeine and Advil, market surveys in hand,
Greeting client, bean counter, shareholder,
With the peculiar nod each asks of him,
That he might eat, drink, rent a flat
Where nights he sinks in an armchair,
Nursing heartache with scotch and cd-reissues
Of gramophone cylinders, arias floating
From McCormack's open throat, pianissimo Cs
Nuzzling the Persian rug and muslin drapes
Drawn across cracked panes: from here
The way to the grave is clear, only wait
For the light to change oaks and elms
To boon fellows of a childhood
Spent combing tall grass for crickets
And fireflies, young lungs near bursting
Giddy, pierced with quick nostalgia;
For headstones melt slowly, thorns outlast roses,
And skies retail every plausible weather
Whether foul or fair, but true love yields
Sorrow and loss unless lovers
Die together.