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Claire Keyes

August 2008

What Remains To Be Seen


The Day Pavarotti Died


Drying my hair in the locker room,
I listen to an aria on the club’s speakers:
it’s Luciano, his soaring, dulcet tenor

familiar as the shiny black lapels expanding
over his white shirt, the limp white hankie
he flourishes to mop his brow.

Despite the whining of my blow-dry
the thrill of him is as present
as the sweaty, red-faced woman entering

from her workout. I don’t know her name,
only that she’s a nurse in her fifties--fit body,
every muscle defined.

During Luciano’s tender diminuendo
she informs me, He died of pancreatic cancer.
That’s how my husband died.

Murmuring, It’s a terrible way to die,
she dumps her gym bag in a dressing room,
pulls the door closed.

I didn’t know she was a widow,
just another stranger-sister-locker-room pal
sharing a hair-dryer, hair-gel, an obsession

with calories burned, ab crunches, spinning.
Now I know she works out her grief
every day, willing it to shrink

like the inches around her hips. If only.
I’m sorry her husband died
and that Luciano Pavarotti died

a terrible death.
And so we mourn, each in our own way
and together.



R. Crumb at the Grand Canyon

He comes out of the Men’s Room, short
and folded in on himself and I know him
by his scruffy dark beard, by the crush hat
he wears against the Arizona sun.

Like every cartoon of him you’ve ever seen, he’s pale.
Can you imagine R. Crumb sunning? Beside him,
his wife, the equally short and younger Aline.
She adjusts her hair, wind-blown. Behind thick glasses,
his eyes scan the motley crowd of tourists
before he heads for the canyon, its towering stone
escarpments and precipitous plunges drawing the eye
a mile or more down to the copper-brown river.

Its brutality attracts him: some big ditch.
Brutal in his own way, he never flinches
from depicting his flaccid body, craggy face,
whiskers to scare children.

The canyon wears its scars with élan.
Over time they translate into beauty.
Beside it, celebrity is a moment’s interest,
then reduced, like everything else,
to a pip.


The Stump

for Pat

The surgeon severed my sister’s leg just below the knee
telling her it was the only way
to keep the gangrene from spreading

and she accepted it. But necessity doesn’t diminish
the disgust at her own body, a stump
therefore hideous. In memory, my sister

perches on her boyfriend’s lap in our darkened living room,
her slender legs dangling over his: a shapely calf,
slim ankle, an arch higher than most.

His arm cups her shoulders: my wild sister,
newly engaged, bravely defiant.
As we stumble in from the movies,

they don’t disentangle
as though the darkened room were their right,
our intrusion the nuisance.

So when, from her hospital bed,
she beckons me to sit close and finish
her half-eaten sandwich, I do it,

until the nurse enters and removes the tray.
Eyes closed, my sister balances a thermometer
beneath her tongue

as the nurse whips off the sheet and I glimpse
the clean cut, bare and healing.
Only then can I assure her: It’s not as bad as you think.

You’ve seen it? she breathes and I know that my seeing
may help her accept what’s not there
and what, for the rest of her days, remains to be seen.




Claire Keyes has published reviews and poems in The Women's Review of Books, The Georgia Review, Calyx and Rattle, among others. On-line, you can find her work at Tattoohighway.org, Poemeleon.org, and poetrymagazine.org. She recently won the Robert Penn Warren Award (First Prize) from New England Writers. The Question of Rapture, a book of poems, will appear in fall 2008 from Mayapple Press. She lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts and teaches in the Lifelong Learning Program at Salem State College.
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