Issue > Poetry
Mary-Sherman Willis

Mary-Sherman Willis

Mary-Sherman Willis lives in rural Virginia and teaches at George Washington University. Her books include Caveboy (2012, Artist's Proof Editions) and the forthcoming Graffiti Calculus (November 2013, CW Books).

Kilroy (from Graffiti Calculus)

In my Cold War duck-and-cover American girlhood, in the bull's-eye
      of Washington's nuclear radius,

under a blue sky etched in contrails and filled with the keening of air
      emergency sirens, in brick-walled

Horace Mann Elementary, Mrs. Wilson drew her chalk across the board.
      Let AB be a line segment with midpoint M.

Let two small semicircles X and Y rise above AB; a parabola Z below AB;
      and a large semicircle L, above X and Y....

And I doodled this charm: now let two little eyeballs fill X and Y! And two
      sets of cartoon fingertips below AB!

KILROY WAS HERE, I wrote, and because I could, I let AB become the

     horizon of the whole Earth,

flexing along lines of longitude and latitude from sea to shining sea. Hail
      Empire's wandering warrior, king killer....

He was Kilroy, Super GI, all-present, all-seeing like God. There first
     to greet advancing men on rubble

at blood-soaked beachheads, on shattered battlements, his face and name
      daubed on still-smoking walls.

Kilroy was here. The peeping imp kept a step ahead of American troops
     from Europe to the Pacific.

He was there at Potsdam, when Stalin came back from the toilet asking,
      Who is this Kilroy?

A year later, safety-suited, Geiger-countered Blandy found him on the nuked
      SS New York's port side

as clouds of sand and shattered coral rained Strontium-90 from the sky
      onto Bikini Atoll.

Natives on Kwajalein, sucking Lucky Strikes and bottles of Coke,
      goggle-watched two sunrises that day.

Kilroy is back. He's bombing walls, destroying, killing train cars, busting
      and ex-ing tags, sidebusting throw-ups,

dropping and burning pieces. He's on maneuver, alone or mustered
      in a crew, with his cans of ammo,

his digital intel. He finds his spot, cuts his lines fast and with precision,
      an insurgent dodging cops and thugs.

He's a hardcore free agent, straight-edge or into 40s and cigarettes,      
      into hiphop, into go-go, into punk,

into guns. He's an upstart, a raider, a thief—steal paint, steal the wall
      a commando outlaw ninja samurai,

locked and loaded, with his uncontrollable urge to get up and wreck
      every wall in sight. Every underpass

and overpass, sidewalk, billboard, subway, trainyard, toilet booth,
      garbage-stinking alleyway is his.


The wall knows itself to be inexhaustible and endlessly renewable.
     It brings us Kilroy, sizzling through

cathode ray tubes, LEDs, computer screens, flatscreens, JumboTrons
     with the ping and zip of electrons.

He comes to us (even as the screens reflect us), and speaks to us
      in the first person of the brand.

He wants to be of service, flapping tongues of cash, setting our
     coordinates, helping us decide

what to buy. Authority imprinted upon emptiness is money; currency;
     the circulation of a name.

And Kilroy is there, screaming through space on a uni-linear subway,
     logo turned logorrhea.

It's the wall upon which to leave the free stroke of the name,
     the same story over and over.


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