Poems By Kerry Shawn Keys

Photo Credit: Julius Keleras




Queerly odd, he was to some
and clearly odd to others,
and to the one he loved best
a contrary or a squirrel, no less.
To himself, he thought the Crackpot
would be the perfect epithet,
imagining the omni daemon all about
while he pursued the predatory witch.
Now he worries he might end up
a cracked clay pot potted in a pothole
while on a nightout. Who’s to fit
him together again, a body and bone Doc,
but what do they know of a broke
chakra and a wayward spirit.


The Yellow Waters

Twilight starts to ink the clouds and grass.
Later, I will do the same on the green-lined,
yellowish-sepia notebook paper where so many poems
have received a hastily drafted baptism.
Some days they look like sparse musical notations
from a silent John Cage improvised collaboration.
Other times, they appear to be the rippling marks
of my raft’s wake across the yellow waters.



Yudhishthira used to sit on the hillside
with his beautiful Devika, the woman
chosen by his heart, who he had never gambled
away in a drunken ceremony, or would have.
Yet over time, she envisioned other mountains
to climb, and so he’d go there desolate, alone
and stare deep into the space of stars, imagining
the dear past as the future heaven of his longing.
But as often happens as the seasons change, soon
he was not alone for his faithful dog came
with him and they would sit side by side howling
at the moon for fun, or in silence as boon companions
so often do, unconditional in the boundless calm.
Simba, his name, but in truth his Dharma in the end.



He never had a street portrait done
since one a lifetime ago in Disneyland.
Never wanted one since what heirloom
could be worse than a carbon copy
of a vagrant in his sitting best facsimile.
But then one evening, quarantined on the isle,
he was composing a tale about Actaeon, and how
after his dogs had killed him inadvertently,
they set about mourning, howling so loud
that the locals wished he had never been born.
And Jesus, he didn’t want to be so scorned,
so he borrowed an old Kodak from a friend
and took a selfie to capture a likeness, to befriend
his unchained dog, Dharma, calm him down.


Apple Sauce

Ethereal, jeweled whiteness of jasmine
at dusk, and just minutes before dawn.
Earlier in Spring, a parasol of apple blossoms
at twilight, and the white lilac, the transplant
with one blossom, rival of the blue and pink
and purple lilacs in the hearth of high noon.
My wrinkled fingers caress and graze a jasmine
bloom close to my lips to inhale the heady fragrance
while my daughter off in the distance, bends a branch
of lilac next to her rosy face, not knowing I see this
tentative move of love, and I’m overjoyed that she’s
curious enough to have found in time that fragrance
of a dying world’s singular beauty and solace.
As for the apple blossoms, the guardian reptile
is slain, the nymphs are lamenting, inconsolable
at Athena’s newly-won careless indifference
toward them and us and jars of apple jam and sauce
lining a codger’s shelf come mid-Winter’s Solstice.


About the Author

The fountain of Kerry Shawn Keys’ poetry is in the Appalachian Mountains, urban America, India, Brazil and Lithuania, but the roots go worldwide. From 1998 to 2000, he taught translation theory and creative composition as a Fulbright Associate Professor at Vilnius University. He has dozens of books to his credit.

His work ranges from under-mountain vagrant-pastoral and urban-salvage to theatre-dance pieces to flamenco to children’s books to meditations on the Tao Te Ching to a polyphonic epic poem, composed from his South India journals. He has performed and recorded with the free jazz percussionist and sound-constellation artist, Vladimir Tarasov (CD-Prior Records), and quarterbacked the jazz Nada Quartet. Recent books are Black Ice, May, 2020 Black Spruce Press; Night Flight (poems), 2012; Pienas (prose tales and plays), 2013; Sich einen Fluss verschaffen, bilingual English/German poems, tr by Ron Winkler, Hochroth Verlag, 2017;  New Poetry from China, 1917-2017, co-transl. with Ming Di, 2018; Shoelaces for Chagall ( bilingual English/German selection of love poems, Bübül Verlag, autumn, 2020). Keys received the Robert H. Winner Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America in 1992, and in 2005 a National Endowment For The Arts Literature Fellowship. He was a Senior Fulbright Research grantee for African-Brazilian studies, and is a member of the Lithuanian Writers Union and PEN. He received a Translation Laureate Award from the Lithuanian Writers Union in 2003. He also translates from Portuguese. He is the Republic of Užupis’ World Poetry Ambassador, and Chevalier of the Order of the Silver Garlic Bullet of the Republic of Užupis.