Claudia Keelan

Four poems



Camera Lucida

Though the photograph deceives
The viewer is drawn to its light,
Vision itself a device
Where the world becomes
An animated drawing.
The lover, for example, is hollow in the middle,
Standing beside the skeleton bones
Of a 19th century hoopskirt.
And though you can’t believe it,
She’s you.


Gateway to the West

Behind bars on his terrace,
A man sits between
Evergreens, two evergreens.
To his right, a fir’s green is tipping
Nearly over the railing,
& on the left and brown,
Some other year’s growth
Has died, and an American flag
Is crumpled, an afterthrought
Or a shroud, over the balcony,
While a bird drops
Straight and suddenly,
To the street
And a St. Louis dawn.
The man is reading a newspaper,
Head tilted as he turns the pages,
While I — Maybe I’ll give up reading
For birds, any variety, whose wars are local
And disconnected to flags...
Ah, but see I have left
The picture plane
& so must leave you,
Pulled again to my life
& the near waking breaths
Of my mother and my son,
Leaving behind the poignant picture
I was intent upon making for you.
Ah, so I see now the man has left
The scene, and so I love him,
The missing reader who left my poem
For the day, which is now
Bright in the traffic sounds and sunlight.


Tide Table

1

Shall not start with the sea
Though he looks to it,
The man, falling lower and deeper
Into his body as he sits
On a South African shore,
But with the sad pat
A woman sitting beside him
Gives his hand.
                           Consolation doesn’t involve courage,
Only simple observation:
                          History has shrunk him,
The little man,
                          To a lonely individual sitting
By the sea.
                         Though the water
Unfolds into a narrative of the missing
& is beautiful, the waves
Turn into another man in a hospital bed,
Surrounded by figures whose postures seem friendly,
& then into an angry crowd
Throwing snowballs at a militia.
The individual is left alone by an empty bed,
Having just carried his father’s body
Back to the water where he found him.


2

Earlier, his chair was empty,
          Set at a distance from a row
Of small beach houses. The hotel
          Is the protagonist, function
Is the protagonist and the individual
          Stares through binoculars
On a balcony above
          Three generals who stare
Through binoculars, at the sea,
           Which is filling now, as it always
Fills, with a baptismal party lowering
           An initiate into the water.
The cows who have come to the shore’s edge
          Are losing flesh and dying.
Their looking gives them possession
          Without  power, the general and the
Man above the scene.
          The hospital beds are multiplying
And filling, and in the ocean,
          Someone with the star of David
On her back stands beside someone else
         Who wears a primitive cross
The artist appears to have smeared
         Quickly with his thumb.
There is power in the gaze,
         It is elegy, the sea’s eternal murmur.
The individual has fallen asleep in the chair
        And a newspaper slips down across his feet,
Print face down in the sand.


3

But who is the individual?
A tribute to his younger self?
“I am so sorry. I was supposed to look after you.
But along the way,
I made some bad decisions and in the end,
Turned you into me.”


4

The artist wants to believe
          He is an individual
But he continually blends
          Into a group,
As the hotel alone has no function
          Without the three generals
And the solo man. The protagonist
          Has bled into a primitive pilgrim
Projected on the wall, and so is
          After all, a shadow figure,
As is the artist, despite his belief.
          Nothing hidden speaks up for him.
And though the individual has fallen
          Short, he has multiplied
Into several, now they are doctors,
          Around a hospital bed.
They are as unable as the rest of us.
          Yet serve a function.
They help us die.


Via Americana

Reading the canyon wall,
The viewer can’t put the words together,
Which is as the artist intended.
He’s put sugar in the letters he’s traced there
— It’s his technique, you know —
So the ants will congregate,
Spelling with their bodies
His message. The ants can’t finish
Even one sentence, saturating
Their communal body on the first two letters.
The tour group fathers around the partial
Word portrain, hmming and scratching their heads.
It’s too hard!!
All the while, she is smelling eucalyptus
And wondering how a tree can look so sad,
Shedding its bark on Avenue des las Pulgas.
She herself is in a movie and doesn’t know it
While          The ants go marching one by one
                     And the little one stops to shoot his gun
& the tour group and all go marching
                     Down
                     To the ground
                     To get out of the rain
                     Boom Boom Boom Boom
Oh, stop the camera! Stop!
She wants something easier, something, oh...

All this time she’s been so close to Mexico
& never crossed the border
Afraid w/ out question
Of the guards and cantina
& the unwritten contract
Between her, the gringo viewer,
& a breathtakingly violent
& beautiful amigo,
Fighting the corruption of a local
Gang run by his brother.
He has a guitar that ne never plays.
Oh, she wishes he’d play it for her,
But their love shall never be,
Because even his life on the screen
Scares her from her...
Is she as stupid as she seems?
Yes, she is.

Claudia Keelan’s fourth collection The Devotion Field is just out from Alice James Books. She directs the MFA International at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.


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