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 by Dainius Dirgėla

By Kerry Shawn Keys


on a brief sojourn with Paco de Nada thru Honduras and Nicaragua,
circa, 1980s

Baseballs gloves to Nicaragua some decades ago. Thank you Goodwill Stores, now Humana but not the “vintage” limited selection. Not much has changed since then; everything has changed. Paco is with the a ghost rider with the Immortals. More drug running now (though I’m remembering the Mena Airport in Arkansas under Governor Clinton, and the running of drugs on its landing strips). The flamenco guitar went on top of the rickety bus, chickens inside, the countryside kids scrambling for a catcher’s mitt. Paco’s idea to bring them. No compensation for what’s been stolen from these Republics – in the end, just symbolic, romantic tokens, but prized no doubt. Soon to go overland to Ortega Land from Honduras, Paco (Frank Miller) and Zopilote (Kerry), after a month in a Contra Hotel in Tegucigalpa, like living inside a halfway-horse inside the walls of an affable Troy. The grey streets radiated rancheros, soulful Chavela Vargas at times, cumbia, military police, devotion, and suspicion. Ever since his childhood, when Paco first heard the word Te goose see gal pa, he dreamt of this place. So many hidden puns, erotic. Say the city slowly, say it as Nabokov says Lo-leeee-ta in the opening paragraph of that book. Perhaps the lusciousness of the language as well as child porn lawsuits is a reason the remake of the film was forbidden for so long in the Land Of Freedom where, with the rusting Iron Curtain down, the enemy of political and social correctness became the mouse within. Mice can morph into rats quite easily (‘Police Rat’ by Roberto Bolaño).

Inside Tegucigalpa the Yankee Embassy is a barbwire fortress, and the pharmacies and pizza parlors and guns, stunned misshapen flowers. Still, te amo Tegoose, galloping toward I know not what myth of creation, sodomized by Big Brother up North.
Well, we were glad to be on our way from Honduras to Managua, putting a safe distance between ourselves and the Pennsylvania National Guard, the cocaine connection, the torture house around the corner from our bean and avocado bar, Pic Nic, where the police trained in the state of Georgia practiced their skills on social activists:

                after Jan Zwicky, p 49, Robinson’s Crossing
                and Béla Bartók, beyond the First Door

No noise now.
The security cooperation Doctor
whisks on his jacket
and takes the limo home through the sunny streets.
Pedro swings open the well-oiled gate
and then recedes to his booth.
Siesta time.
High noon almost,
and back at the holding house
a sliver of light serenades the room
through the ceiling
as if through the eye of a needle.
It pinpoints a mute larynx
dislodged from the Adam’s apple,
scans a puffy, bruised face,
pauses over discordant thighs.
It’s not deaf, but hears only too well
the panting accompaniment
of a dog in the corner.
It drapes the roof with a cloud
while disappearing outside, fearful
of any appraisal, faithful to its shadow.


Soon, I would see the volcano in Masaya where the U.S. government’s patsy, Somoza, dumped dissidents until an earthquake toppled him. A local there told us about hummingbirds that sucked blood, and later we would stay in a posada where the communal toilet had ants and roaches thicker than sand, and mosquitoes sprayed out of the showerhead along with a trickle of water. The Sandinista’s economy was crippled by the Yankee stranglehold and internal dissension and corruption. I gazed around the crater moonscape of the volcano looking for a spirit, a resurrection, a shoe, but saw nothing but smoke. The country was poor, poor as ashes. Beans and rice rising everyday in price. Hope and discontent galvanized. Dilapidated fenceposts sprouted flowers. People were tired of the conflict, the uneasy truce. Screw the Contras, screw the Sandinistas became the undercurrent – peace, peace at a reasonable price. No superhuman Castro to protect them. The boys – the Ortega’s – even sadistic Borges, and Omar Cabesas (Fire From The Mountain), didn’t have the vision of statesmen. They were idealistic warriors to the end, though soon one might question their ideals ( Dostoevsky pictures a few of them in Demons). Paco played guitar for everyone. Omar hugged him. I read at the Rubén Darío Festival. Daniel showed up – we were amazed at the lack of security guards. Yet we suspected it was all hopeless, the energy had petered out of the Revolution. Once again, United Fruit of America would win. Paco recorded much of this in maybe a hundred drawings, the flamboyant colors applicable to the blood and destruction, the beauty, the absurd, imperial theatre of poverty.

We returned to Tegucigalpa by plane. At the airport, our passports were confiscated until Paco made a loud fuss. A pigeon tried to sell us drugs. I conceived the poem, Identification:

Sir, your passport please.
When a bird flies through the air
where are its footprints.

I said, Sir, your passport.
When I held her goodbye, breath
on her hair, the wind took with her
all memory of other desire.

You can’t enter this country, Sir,
if you don’t comply with the regulations.

I’ve complied with the dark,
licked clean as a light
with no leaf to shine in.

Come this way.
Daylight, Sir, is an animal
stuck in a circle of snow and mud. Blood
for ink, stencils for eyes. My feet
are not mine. Color of heart: blind.

There is a problem, Hombre, you can’t leave
without name or passport.

Without roots or dreams, there’s no problem
of coming or going. I am where I am.
Today I saw a stuffed frog under glass,
a uniform with a gun, purple flowers,
and a stone turtle in the park.


We went back to the Contra Hotel, resumed our rum and guaro and fried avocado tapas , the poolhalls, the gloomy dancehalls. I trysted with an actress (“so beautiful your eyebrows, Leticia, the blue rain of curaçao in your veins”). Paco drew a pooltable with skulls for balls. A few friends of friends had been killed since our brief trip to Nicaragua –  professional social workers, not armed revolutionaries – but for the imperial plutocracy and its puppets, deliberately indistinguishable. One was missing an eye, parts of his genitals, fingers. A tradition inherited from Columbus and perhaps also percolated to these lands from the Aztecs. Soon, we left by bus to the northern coast to Tela and its surroundings to lounge around, strum flamenco, and cavort with the Garifunas. There, a gun-toting Garifuna dubbed me Zopilote. We also took a side trip to the bloody altar stones of Copan. The poet, Robert Bringhurst, once wrote about “the rumpled blade of darkness that is/ lodged in every fissure of the brain…” – that was nearby El Salvador, and still the genocide continues throughout the Western Hemisphere. Honduras simmers and will go on simmering. Guatemala, Mexico. Nicaragua feels like a country slashed and burned but capable of recovery despite, as Chomsky says, “the legacy of malnutrition and ruined lives fostered by the ‘U.S. Fair Play’ policy to wreck the economy. And now, despite Daniel Ortega.

And so a few months went by before Paco and I returned to the Susquehanna Valley where I finished a book of poems, The Hearing, about our experience, and Paco published a chapbook collection of copies of love letters to Lisa, and commentary, Drawn and Quartered. His colorful drawings were auctioned off or given away or sold for a bottle of sherry or an obol. Quite wonderful they were, but mostly vanished I am afraid into an oblivion of the incomprehensible as most likely much of the phantasmagoria depicted. A few I am sure hanging on blighted chestnut or black walnut walls in my old haunts in God’s Country, Perry County, or in the swamps of central Florida. Nicaragua has the baseball gloves; Honduras and her crazy Juana have a few more poems and songs amid their quiet, almost submissive poverty and obscurity, their terror and grinding cumbia; and the rubber ball (an invention of folks from those parts) still ricochets in the atomic squash courts of Chicago and Washington D.C. Cheap labor and the stick of big business still own the order of the day. Crack and coccaine, the night. The Pope has visited Cuba and blessed a Yoruba Goddess disguised as the Virgin Mary. Ghostly figures of Arawaks and Mayans, their hands chopped off, run drugs on the coasts. Quetzalcoatl has blond hair and blue eyes, and sports an M-16. The I.M.F is poised. George Soros does his best but has been out-trumped for the while.

The poverty and caste and class violence continues. Paco and I went back to live in the Hood where other kinds of slavery are endemic – crack, heroin, and racism, domestic versions of the vicious cycle of history. Jack and Jill and Jingo-Gringo are addicted to oil.

Today’s not much different, really. Paco de Nada’s ghost plays an alegrias, hands and goat skins clap out the rhythm, a poet recites a piece about love and a knife, there’s a drive-by, four students are raped in Guatemala, whores and losers, peasants and cops are decapitated in Mexico. Almost unreal, there’s a radiant rooster trussed to a mile-high ceiba tree, keeping one eye on a dismembered horse, and the other on a guitar hanging in the window next to a rifle leaning on the sill at the bar near the headquarters of the Dirección National de Investigaciones in Tegucigalpa. O’ Henry and Sandino shoot turtle eggs and grenades across a pool table. Te goose see gal pa. This is the Heavenly City called the World.

Links: Chavela Vargas:


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