Keegan Lester is the co-founder and poetry editor at Souvenir: A Journal. He lives in Morgantown, West Virginia, but has managed to live in four states in the last four years. Inspired by Victoria Legrand one night on the way home from a Halloween Party in Los Angeles and Pat White’s subsequent return to the NFL—-Keegan came out of his post MFA writing retirement late last October. It’s rumored he doesn’t mind airports, the shapes of clouds and what clouds shape. His poetry is forthcoming or already published in: The Barn Owl Review, Sixth Finch, ILK Journal, Moon City Review, Death Hums, Red-Headed Step Child and Mixed Fruit, among others.
the topography of this place
The ocean stopped being cruel
so the sailors went home.
No one jumped from cliffs anymore.
People stopped painting and photographing the ocean
because the sentiment felt too close to a Hallmark card.
Everyone had treasure because
it was easy to find,
thus the stock market crashed.
Then the housing bubble burst
mostly not due to the ocean,
though one could speculate pirates
were going out of business and defaulting on loans.
When I say speculate, I mean I was reading
the small words that crawl at the bottom
of the newscast, but I was only half paying attention
because Erin Burnett was speaking
and she’s the most real part of this poem.
I’m speaking in metaphor of course.
The end of the world is coming
seagulls whispered to the fish
they could not eat due to their fear
of the ocean’s newfound kindness.
One of my professors spoke today.
She hates personification, treasure and linear meaning.
She hates poems not written by dead people.
She hates the ocean’s newfound kindness,
she wrote it on my poem.
Not everything can be ghosts and pirates, she says.
But that’s why I live here.
My rhododendron’s never crumpled in the summer.
the topography of distance
Intellectuals kill their bodies
because what else
can they kill
with just their hands?
I mean, have you ever seen
the hands of an intellectual?
This was part of a real phone conversation
I had last night, beginning:
“Edith, for twenty-years I misheard
the Fats-Domino lyric
my tears fell like rain
as my hillbilly name”.
On the phone
our words are like fortune cookie words:
Small blue font;
heavy in the “abstract”
and “unbelievable” departments
and yet: necessary for reasons
that will one day reveal themselves to you.
I only believe the fortunes
if the number thirteen
is tattooed to the face
of whatever is telling me the fortune,
because how could you not?
Tattoos last forever.
There is a kind of credibility
to forever. Ask Emily D
about not stopping for death.
Last night you said:
I once had two love birds.
I think my mother killed one accidently.
and I thought only of
the constellation of freckles
spanning your shoulder blades.
The manifest destiny of those freckles
following the continental maps
of tendons and ligaments to the muscle
wrapping your spine.
Each word has a color:
Petricher, glass and eucalyptus
are the blue
before the sky turns
pink some summer mornings.
It’s science, really. Fortune
is the last color you see
in the bath of your own
as they burn out
one by one like little stars
behind your eyelids.
I’ve heard it resembles
popcorn over a campfire.
I’ve heard that all of these things
only look small
because of their distance
relative to your imagination at night.
the topography of unicorn theory
for john cotton
Beauty finds such crush
A variation on a field
of dandilions, or red streaks
or a satellite
trailing sky. It’s the ones
I don’t sleep with
that I tend to remember, John says,
and if I catch my unicorn,
it may become people.
And what then?
And what then?
Listen to Keegan read his poems: