Spring 2004

Gary Keenan


Gary Keenan Gary Keenan lives and works in New York City. His poems and essays have appeared in various literary journals and e-zines in the United States, England, Ireland, and Australia, since 1986. He is also a musician, songwriter, and founder of American String Conspiracy, a performing ensemble.
The Rest Of The Days Of My First Life

How might one intuit waking life while asleep? Often I dream of having
Already risen into the morning air, fully dressed but for my trousers,
Fueled with caffeine and corn muffin and outrage at the day's headlines

And bound for battle with the bulls of rippling lethargy, a toreador of torpor,
Only to wake in warm silk sheets, a beautiful but married woman in my arms
And cat claws combing through my eyebrows. O, that the days were so green,

The sun's blue pallor might be visible to all! That's why I keep a spare star
In my wallet, to illuminate codes scribbled in lemon juice along the margins
Of each day's reportage. A UPS truck idles, full of destinations and discoveries,

Driver more heroic for the advertising, the muscular angel of a cargo cult
With its unfortunate fecal colors and acronym puns. I'll never sign
For a neighbor's parcel again. I may not even accept my own. I've enough crosses

And naughts to cover every corner of this burg, my mayoral hopes be damned!
So foraging with one eye to the grindstone has exacted a cyclopean price
I'm unable to pay except via my arts and what subterfuges they betoken in kind.

Today's editorial is smeared on my cuffs, and someone keeps poking me from behind
With what feels like a young goat's new-sprouted horn but must surely be an umbrella
Though the sky is clear of everything but airplanes and contrails and winds made visible

By scraps of newsprint spinning down the sidewalk with the rest of us. I've read enough
To know the stories inscribed therein are mere chapters in the autobiography of a dream,
And pity the dreamer who wakes before the denouement. Still, the pricks of ambition

Will not rouse me from my hobbyhorse. I enjoy anticipating the reservations of guests
When presented with motley bonbons, without a hint of which holds the cherry,
Which the stone. The hand posed in divine indecision, the absolute uncertainty

Over unintended consequences�my moments of intense faith, if you will. I can praise
A random universe generating one me per eternity, as well as the next poet maudite.
I still sing that looping hymn the refrigerator taught me in my youth, the cycle

Of human desires for a cool drink in the afternoon when the house pulses
With machinery and napping hearts, the transubstantiation of jello, the tabernacle
For butter. If sopranissimo is no longer within range, so be it. Pianissimo must serve.

And yet the thrill of listening intently also becomes a quality of attention
For attention's sake alone, and by this sign one might find the exit and leave
Secure in all that comes next, immune to confusion by the embrace of same.



Landscape With Stuff In The Way

" is an artificial world..."
               Wallace Stevens

When the frame is more beautiful than the picture,
Look at the frame. That small piece of advice
Never looked bigger than it did a moment ago,
When only it separated me from the chaos
That was my seedbed and will be my grave.
Ah, the sleep of suburbia, moth wings scraping
The window screen across from the nightlight,
The leathery flutter of bats above the willows�
Night still comes over me like a symphony
From a far FM broadcast, moon conducting
Crickets in the tall grass, choir of stars
Waiting for the grace note that cues their fall.
I used to lie awake for hours, afraid of missing something.
How new desire seemed then!�every cell
Itched to tell its own story to charm a beloved
Who never quite appeared as the dream dissolved,
More sister than mother, but stranger to both.

Why did adults always have things to say?
Did they practice in advance, or just make it up?
I'd ponder such issues from the dark end of the hallway,
While my parents entertained neighbors with clinking highballs
And Nelson Riddle strings. I grew up surrounded
By genius�it glowed in robin hatchlings, it hissed
Through red oak leaves in a summer storm
Like violas behind Nat King Cole's breathy tenor�
Though no one thought to point this out to me.
I thank the silence in these matters, the immanent
Inadequacy of talk. My friends were idiots, mostly,
Marionette adults with cigarettes and stolen beers
And drunk with inherited hate for Jews,
Blacks, each other, themselves�not even
Their own pets were safe�pity the turtle
Or hamster kept in those bedrooms.

I claimed the silence, or it claimed me.
It was sanctuary during my trials of prosperity
When I was encouraged to dream the right dreams
Of a property owner, to dress as if fear were my business
And business boomed. I learned to lie, said I wanted
A house, pool, and neighbors like me, or said
Nothing and let the beards have their little chuckles
While I caddied them toward the clubhouse.
I did nothing to earn my escape. Nothing worked just fine.
It still does. When in doubt, doubt�a finer mantra
Was never mumbled. I love the strangeness of my life,
The awkward moments when I think I don't know
Myself at all�am I a farmer or rancher?�and then
Catch myself thinking about who I apparently am not,
And whether those two might get along in a future life
If not this one. This past Memorial Day, I went
Back to the land of lawn furniture for a family cookout,
And spent most of the day with my nieces and nephews
Teaching them to play rock and roll loud enough
To silence their parents. The kids played a tiny synth,
Wastebasket drums with wooden spoons, a junk guitar,
Recorder and marbles-in-tupperware maracas,
And I picked mandolin. We sang a Hank Williams song
About the fate of all ramblers and wrote one together
On the I-IV-V chords in a thoroughly unoriginal way
That had kept me in my body throughout childhood
And still does. I felt this was the baddest influence
I could offer the next generation of my genetic pool,
To give a bunch of six- and seven-year olds
The key to a really dangerous code that, if handled right,
Would wreck every expectation parents and grandparents had,
That something holy might arise in imagination
And claim their childish bodies for its own.



Gary Keenan: Poetry
Copyright © 2004 The Cortland Review Issue 26The Cortland Review