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Kerry Shawn Keys minibio

“I don’t know who I am, but I have many names and live in Vilnius,” says Kerry Shawn Keys, an American living in Lithuania of nineteen years now. He is a human orchestra: translator, poet, prose writer, author of children’s books, dramatist. Kerry has already become part of the Vilnius landscape and culture. The poet Sigitas Geda said about him, “by his presence and participation in the everyday life of Lithuanian poetry, he has made us stronger as well.” Kerry, though, calls himself an “outsider”, and outsiders are generally better at seeing certain things than locals or those ensconced in everyday life, in the “system”. A view from the side is always interesting, and with that in mind, the Vilnius Review has decided to begin publishing Kerry’s short, witty essays about Lithuania and Lithuanians. So, here, each month you will find "A Palmer's Chronicle".

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reflections on belonging

Graphic Novels

Photo from Domantas Razauskas archive

By Kerry Shawn Keys

This lyrical essay is dedicated to the artists killed in a fire on March 11, 2007, to the memory of the poet, translator and scriptwriter Mantas Gimžauskas (Šamanas) (1976-2007), and the musician, singer and photographer Remigijus Audiejaitis (Tanaka) (1972-2007). It may seem that everything happened a long time ago, but these deaths are etched into the lives of the generation born in the 1970s – like a dash, a period, a flame, with which youth ends.

 

They were in it for the short run, the singing one and the other one. No racetrack to go round and round like ageless Centaurs, they spun round and round high on the weeds of the sun and the darkness that followed them. The other one whenever he wished would step back and forth between the dark and the light, as if there were a windowless entrance between, but most often he rested in this between as if on a windowsill, the huge owl of his own dreams. He measured his sun by the hearts and flowers scattered among the tombs of the pyramids that loomed over the Nahuatl codices he so admired. They etched into the parchment of  his flesh like exotic graffiti into cacti, or the equally expressive scratchings of Livonian fingernails. He measured his darkness by the way his Time there standing in his own shadow could be entered and tuned or turned, slowed down, or stored in a pocket or sachet. His friend, the singing one, was a bird of a different sort, and lived in the light of his immense imagination, ignorant of the darkness, an Icarus of feathery linen and wax. He had the world at his fingertips, the intriguing, burnt surfaces of things that he abhorred with their grainy, charcoaled auguries, the erect nipples of women, the lyrical Braille of their retted lips, the blind vision of voices in the bottles of flesh and language that were his companions. He measured his sun by the lion of Judah, the spirits in his bladder, and soirees at the inimitable canteen in the Writer’s Union.

The newspapers and television had much to say and see about their tragic fall. They say the reasons they weren’t saved (dying and being saved are two distinct categories) was a blind spot that contained many open-ended contingencies, which, if we follow Alexander Kluge, the devil may or may not have penetrated. Let us list a few:

The fire escape was full of  oversized bric-a-brac – toilet seats and bags of asbestos and cement, discarded sofas, pathological drunks – so how could the residents of the apartments scurry down, or the firemen up, in case a fire engulfed the apartment building. It was the residents’ guilt, therefore, and not the city’s, who either never inspected the building or never enforced the regs if they did. Nor, it seems, did the journalists follow up on this to see if this was indeed the case. Their preference is always the glitz of interviewing relatives and survivors, or showing meditative footage on the devastation.

There were too many automobiles surrounding the apartment complex, so how in the hell could a firetruck get up close to douse the fire. It seems that many apartment buildings are surrounded by parked cars, so why didn’t the fire companies make a list of the buildings that qualify as impossible to get to, so that they needn’t report to the fire at all, but instead watch the conflagration at the workplace or in bed. Anyway, the media can always slither through the parked vehicles for the show. It’s doubtful the press ever followed up on what emergency plans the fire departments had in place for this so usual set of circumstances. Their preference is always the glitz of interviewing, etc.

There were no nets in place for the entrapped to take their chances jumping into.

Or maybe there were no nets at all. However, this may be an old-fashioned method or something better associated with a circus and its acrobats. Given the hopelessness of their situation, the singing one and the other one, jumped or were pushed, or fell from their roost, and who is to say whether the impetus was theirs, God’s, or the Devil’s. It is certainly, according to an ancient essay on Adam, an unanswerable, theological question.

In any case, they plunged, and there was no net, nor any tree of Knowledge to save them by breaking their fall. It’s doubtful the press is doing any investigative journalism at present to ascertain the efficacy of nets, and if there is none, then whether they might be put to better use as discarded fishermen’s nets are in restaurants. But the press’s preference is always the glitz of interviewing, etc.

As for how the blaze might have started, this is the field of Fire’s forensic experts, and are there any other than Lucifer himself, if God has turned his blind eye to this world, and the world’s inhabitants prefer scapegoats – witches, misfits, and deadbeats being easy  ones. It’s here in Arachne’s world that suspects and suspicion are interwoven  This is the forbidden zone where the curious are often turned into catgut, and the defense teams themselves convicted. Vengeance, a chain-smoker’s smoldering fag, the serpent of electricity, spontaneous combustion, Prometheus, children at play, a municipality firecracker. The press pokes around a bit. This is their true, exhilarating turf. But on sensing a Tiresias might be the guilty party, they back off, and go in for the glitz and the meditative footage, etc.

Now back to our subjects. They were both stars, not the princely sort, but stars nonetheless. Films and photos, with more to come. Once you are in a film, there is a certain sense of immortality. And now on the reruns, those who watch themselves with the dead, can share in their mortality, and believe the dead may be sharing with them their immortality, because there they are all together in one world. After all, we all sire one another, dying into earth and air and fire. Who tastes this illusion keenest, the figure played or the playing figure, or both, or neither. The other one did his best in black and white, uplifted his soul in black and white, lived in this dichotomy but dreamed in the grey, smoldering realm of inertia and desire scheming toward satori. The singing one saw himself the clearest because he could not imagine himself as invisible or visible, and he no longer cared. He was more ecstatic. He gave himself to himself, flew through all the seamless worlds of being, and dreamed his own death too many times in too many places.

One cold evening in Winter not long before the Fire, in a conversation he imagined himself frozen dead on the sidewalk, with his cock still erect and on fire, protruding from his pants like a phoenix about to burst into outer space. Another time, he realized he was a CD and could download Jah’s voice from the burning bush if he wished.

Not long before the Fire, the two of them lodged together. The other one taking the outcast singer in under his wings. Yes, just the two of them – the philosopher of metaphors and by this I mean a thinker of earthly fables; and the transcendent one, the singer who flew like a bird, whose raucous voice pleased the Gods who blinded him. They perched way up high together in an aerial catacombs of alchemic desire, somewhat like two bats crammed in a hazardous cave, or a phoenix and an owl leasing a little anonymity for themselves in a peaceful barracks.

When the fire raged, when there was nowhere to go but down, they plunged. The singer never saw his ending nor knew there was no beginning. This was a happening, he was a happening, fluxus in movement, a constellation. He sang as he fell, as he flew toward the ground, they say, and he sang like a bird they say, whose eyes were put out so he could sing whatever he imagined – the beauty and terror and black humor of the world. And the other one, the philosopher of metaphors, he was silent, he was amazed at the ground rushing toward him to embrace him, to sentence him, to devour him for being a Magus without wand or crown or prophylactic bungee cord, or Wonderwoman to come to his rescue.

The blind one, the singer, was buried in a leafless, leafy glade while some of his friends sang and some were silent, but none refused to mourn the majesty and grave truth of the passing of this youth and their own innocence. The orchestrated kick of the shovels and plopping of dirt providing the accents without the syncopation. The flowers were silent, and except for the fluttering of their petals, rejected any personification as they flew over him and to the ground, as he too had so recently flown. No devoted, seeing-eye dogs were in sight to hanker after a finger’s touch or the bones, nor mourn their unemployment. Though gifted in this life with no sense of direction, surely he is at last his own shepherd, and his enameled eyes the stars that by their own reflection now navigate him across the Styx on this his first death and his last. Soon, poppies and mums, and later wild thyme and the straggling vine.

As for the Magus of inertia and satori, of immersion, his hand wrapped in linen to disguise from the uninitiated the fiery violence of his last embrace, of every embrace, the virulent violence where Thanatos and Eros rage into one, he longed in his death to be laid to rest, to look homeward far from any concrete promontory or wreathe of laurel or oak. The candles at his viewing kept guttering out. His soul must have been hovering above, blowing on them, blowing on them. What use now for their light, their warmth, their deadly flames, with his friend, the blind singer, as his pilot.

Now their souls perch together above the earth, maybe not so far above, maybe only six stories up so they can keep watch over the rest of us, laughing at our innocence. Smoking, drinking beer, their hearts on fire, their smiles drinking us in, their agony washing us clean. Did you ever see a soul smoking or drinking while singing or writing poems or songs? Next time it storms, and the next time and the next, look up and gather the ashes, and think of Remis and Mantas, our brothers. Here we are embalmed in the Canopic atmosphere of our mundane affairs, and there they are just as in the fabulous tales we always knew were true, metamorphosed, hanging like grapes above us in their eternal ripeness, and who died for nothing unless we honor and love them by our remembering. Gather the ashes and remember Remis and Mantas, who one morning only, blossomed like flax, the herb of the sun, the linen shroud of the moon.

A Palmers Chronicle The Singer 03Photo by Remigijus Audiejaitis

A Palmers Chronicle The Singer 04Photo by Remigijus Audiejaitis

A Palmers Chronicle The Singer 05Photo by Remigijus Audiejaitis

A Palmers Chronicle The Singer 06Photo by Remigijus Audiejaitis

A Palmers Chronicle The Singer 07Photo by Remigijus Audiejaitis

 

 

 

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