Tag Archives: Kelly Shaw

Phoenixville in Sphinxland

by Kelly Shaw

The sky turned into a giant grey
glove, flexing its fingers.
I looked over and winos were

laughing as if the clouds were
dodging comets. Someone tossed
the I-Ching out the window

onto the street below. I rush and
try to hide in a museum. A metal
sculpture gets off its perch

and tiptoes around. A stuffed owl
flutters its wings and flies across
the room. An antique music box

starts playing an old melody.
The paintings drip their paint down
the walls but the colors remember

the arrangement they were in.
Where’s the exit, I asked the uniformed
guard who had the facial features

of my most disastrous lover.
She invited me to ruffle her hair
and we laughed as the mummies threw

postcards out the museum store windows.
Outside, the people shrank and tried
to leap up onto the blue wings

of large birds, soon going to the forests
where it might be too dense for the glove.
The group leader, Mr. C, was wearing

a green-jeweled robe and singing
a pop song into a beer can. I decided
I might as well clean myself up

before my ascension, or grab, so I lay
down into the bathtub, closed my eyes
and let the palms of my hands

skim over the water’s surface.
But Mr. C found me out, put
his hands on my shoulders

and pushed down until water
rushed in over my head. I don’t
know how to stay under, I said,

which did nothing to stop him.
Tell him you’re made of fire so the
water can’t surround you, a guide said.

I did but it came out only like gargle,
so the guide whispered strange things
into my ear, and no longer able to hold

my breath, I flew out of the tub, drenching
Mr. C, and stood ready, just in time, for
the reach and sweep of the giant grey glove.



by Kelly Shaw

I can pretend to love
the things I don’t, but I can’t
pretend to love you.

Listen to them. Anything I say
will now be rot.

You old fraidy cat, what happened
to you? I refuse to embarrass you
any further. I’d rather cut myself
in two.

My sisters are “successful,” not you.
A fool’s love is all I do.

Nixon as the Last Liberal

by Kelly Shaw

The first-born East sweeps by
to kick out our crutches. Tunics move
through the streets splotching the
façades with Rorschach blots.

Hoisted sacks of self-preserving contracts
are hung outside the buildings, ready to be
dropped on the fountains of melee below.

A horse is off and running, tearing up
manicured lawns and the suburban turf,
its head turning towards the tree houses
from time to time.

A distraught woman leaning against
a door frame, chewing gum, smoking
a cigarette and drinking a gin and tonic
is yearning for the storm.

Will the world, too, renew itself, from dunes
to warm flowers, the Temples drinking in
lush breezes during the eruptions while
the rabid dogs are out of season?

For the bacchanals and gorgers we ask
the customs of Italy and France to open
their doors to us a little further

so a sort of art can be celebrated,
or at least some of the trinkets burned
that are used to decorate the fraud
so floridly above the fiery furnace.

Trip to France

by Kelly Shaw

Write what you know.
“But we don’t know anything.”
     – John Ashbery

Like a gliding igloo sliding south
to be melted by glistening warm coconut drops,
or a Stonehenge slab flopping itself over
to try to fit itself in with its cousin
the Mediterranean amphitheater,
and pausing to take in the beautiful
runway of Elm tress colonnading
the French country road
where a magnificent trumpet player
dazzles spastic birds in the distance,
encouraging them to try out strange new songs,
there’s an elegant party behind a chatelet
somewhere nearby trying to release itself
and unite its participants. I can sense
the clandestine love-making going on
in the backrooms and like it.

But the hunting group is more interested
in bonding with the ancients
off in the foggy bogs, and excited
by the pounding waves, rough-housing
kids run along the narrow cliff crags
where the wind’s whimsy complies
and doesn’t sweep one of them off today.

Yet the apotheosis of solitude
still cannot raise its head
if it tried, and will continue to wander
among the fields and distractions
along its way up to those walking
next to the avalanches.

Virgin births are not thought of,
nor yet haunting choral harmonies
heard, but pearls are leered at
with mortal dollops of half-light.

The weapons arsenal is toyed with
and clinking goblets smooth over
any anxieties.

Two little fishes suckle the hostess’s breasts
as part of her live costume design, causing
an unheard-of suburban bacchanalian
uproar. The compartmentalists stew, the dogs
howl and the moon burnishes its pulsating
gleam the carpenters like to hammer to.

The valets sing out a chorus of the
chatelets grouted from the blood
that matches their jackets, but quickly
the trained horses are slapped to gallop
over their voices – all until the festival
of a savage storms arrives to make
its own dance in the festivities.

The happy are thrown landing
on haystacks, the unfortunates on
pitchforks or cobbled streets
where bakers are calmly
selling their bread and whistling
to their vision of the world
to come, for they too know
they’re unable to avoid the ghost.

How to negotiate these various escapades,
infused hours of our regions and
dreams catalyzed by the slightest nudge
is anyone’s guess until after years
of mistakes, and all the more mistakes,
coalescing each time into something
hopefully frightfully new.


by Kelly Shaw

In broken Russian I asked
directions to Kresty.

The man gestured and I felt
privileged: turist: ashamed.

My sister and I stood in silence
watching the little arms high up

throw notes out the windows
to women below. We whispered

as at a funeral how far the folded
notes could be thrown. My stomach

sunk, imagining gruesome loneliness.
“People can live through anything,”

I said. My sister said nothing.
A woman picked up one of the crumpled

notes on the ground and walked quickly
by us, her head low, lost in thought.

How long would she wait for him?
No amount of time mattered

it seemed, and was all that mattered.
I figured we’d feel things here

we’d have no chance of feeling
at a church, a museum, or a park.

My sister agreed, reminding me
of the prison, to visit Kresty.

I’ve forgotten if it was before
or after we went to the country

western bar “Money Honey”
and slathered our organs in vodka.

No, it’s Kresty that cements
the image, the little arms dangling

out. Putin is now going
to turn it into a theme park.

Drink champagne in the Trotsky
Suite. Turn up the air conditioning.

This is no time for fiery tears
burning through New Year’s ice,

they tell us, nor crumbling nineteenth
century buildings, but a paperless order

and ease. I’ll visit it, grateful
those little dangling arms aren’t

there any longer, but strange
to feel nothing for the topiaried

garden, for the concierge dressed
in yellow and pink, and so on.

No, it’s not me, but someone else
who would be staying at the hotel,

as it was someone else who was
imprisoned. In each case,

I would not be able to bear
what happened, and

what’s going to happen there.

First Crisis

by Kelly Shaw

Hamlet:                               What a mess.
Ghost:                                  I’m not what I seem.
Gertrude:                            I am.
Claudius:                            He knows how it is.
Polonius:                            Because he’s in love, or out of love?
Fortinbras:                         Just do it.
Horatio:                               Just go with it.
              :                               Just…
Laertes:                               I’m outta here!
Osrick:                                 Excuse me.
Ophelia:                               Where are your strings?
Yorick:                                   I told you so.
Osrick:                                  Excuse me.

Hamlet:                              What to do.
Ghost:                                  Make things right.
Gertrude:                            Content yourself, enjoy.
Claudius:                            I do what I want.
Polonius:                            I do what I can.
Fortinbras:                         Just do something, anything!
Horatio:                              Just wait and see.
              :                               Just…
Laertes                                I’m not doing what they want (yet).
Yorick:                                 Listen.
Osrick:                                 Excuse me.
Ophelia:                             Do you have any strings?
Hamlet:                              I prefer not to.

Ghost:                                 All will become clear.
Gertrude:                           All has become clear.
Polonius:                           If you want something done,
                                              give it to the busy man.
Fortinbras:                        This is one way.
Horatio:                              This is another.
Hamlet:                               Come what may.
Laertes:                               Death is the mother of beauty.
Ophelia:                                And there are moments of bliss.
Osrick:                                  Cards anyone?
Yorick:                                  Sure.
              :                                The rest is like silence.

Cliff Party

by Kelly Shaw

I used to love a partyfull
of spectaculars, dancing on our
numbers, kicking wildly about,

near them still, now aliens
pop out, cobalt blue and pink
little creatures with antennas,

who say, “Give us that tan suit.”
“That’s my skin!” I say, yet
the corporation’s anthem has

no part for the voice, no words.
Sometimes I think if the people
on tv got their teeth straightened,

we wouldn’t be able to understand
them. Nevermind, we go about our
business behind suits of animals,

snakeskin boots, tortoise shell
glasses and cowhide coats. I’m often
in bed, just after waking up when

descending pressure gulfs into my
room, and with bad breath starts
making out with me. It sucks in,

which is an odd way of kissing.
Is it trying to pull out the other
person inside me?


The eyelashes of the sea
say if you jump, you’ll
live a full life while

falling. You’ll get married
to many ideas. To some
I showed my teeth,

green teeth, gnawing on
brown roots until the one who
watches me sleep appears.

Then I’m a tray, balancing
delicate things, becoming
more and more jaguar

pattern, limber, one hopes,
leaping through the trees,
over the rivers of goodbyes,

over the candy-dangling bullies
hooking indigenous children
before they have a chance

to look for a good place to make
out. At least the night is still
rustling with breath outside.