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


I live on this ridge. Live? Perhaps I die on this ridge could be substituted. I’m not referring to my health. It’s another question I intend, or answer. As we end up dead I think, therefore we are dying I suppose – moving towards that end. To live, what would that be – the reversal, like putting one’s own body on as one puts clothes on. Or turning into a baby, an infinite baby, or maybe an eternal baby. You see how difficult it is to live and describe what that might be, and how easy it is to die and tell about it. I die on this ridge. Not for the view since the trees block that. I’m just here. Hi. No answer. Maybe no one has ever seen me here. No other human that is. But I die and live here. I won’t give up on the living just because it’s hard to define or accommodate. What isn’t hard to define? Take green for example. My skin happens to be green. I am green. Or maybe I should say I green. Or maybe I should say I am not blue and not yellow but something in between. And then back to what is green. A color? This is getting infantile…I will leave it behind by saying I’m growing. And therefore I’m green and not brown or grey. And I listen to the pine cones falling on the leaves. Ah, there goes one. They remind me how once small pieces of light would fall on the floor of our living room. I would hear them first and then sometimes see them before they disappeared. My main endeavour then was wondering where the pieces came from. Stars or the sun or moon, or maybe the overhead lamp even when it was turned off. Ah, there goes another. I love listening to the light, the pinecones, the darkness, you whoever you are. I’ve never left this place though there have been sightings elsewhere. Yesterday I was spotted by birders in Vilnius and Rio at the same time, drinking coffee and homebrew, if you believe the newspapers. See here – there’s my photo at Praca 7 doing the samba with a gorgeous, liver-lipped, near-toothless swayback; and see, that’s me perched on the fireplace mantle at the Third Brother Tavern engaged in some conspiracy with the mammary glands of a go-go dancer on the windowsill opposite. I think these photos are of somebody else. I have many doubles in this world. Twins. Living or dying, Cast and Pox. I often jokingly call them Past and Cox. Or maybe I have triples. How do you say 100 in this fashion – one hundred’les? Yes, even that many. A double is obviously by my agreed definition with it, my double. Or I’m its. But I’m a he and how can my double be an it? Let those engaged in science explore this. I’m engaged in reverie. But a triple? well, a triple could be a double of my double or a double of me. Again, we could stumble over gender here, but I don’t care, nor do angels for that matter. I’m not referring to clones or simulations. And not even Aphrodite would consider making me an effigy. And hundreds of others – leave these connections in the scheme of things up to an accountant. I am here. How do I know. Right now I know because I’m drinking water from the creek there at the foot of the ridge. So how could I be elsewhere. Lots of birds fly over. Starlings in greedy bunches, falcons and hawks on their way to Hawk Mountain. Geese too. My father is buried under this oak over here near those pines and hemlock. Maybe the pieces of light in my dying room were just part of a goose’s golden egg. Never thought of that. Sometimes I stand there, under the oak, up close, close enough so that the bark rubs my coat or in summer my bare arms. My coat’s fluorescent orange. My arms are kind of pinkish-white. After eating a lot of acorns, sometimes if I stand there under the oak with my arms spread out, I fart and depending on a chemistry I’m not aware of, it often sounds like a pinecone falling on the leaves. In Autumn that is. It’s fascinating, resemblances that is, that are.

At night you can see the planets and stars. The constellations are terrific. Once I saw Aphrodite caught in the claws of a crab. And I saw the Southern Cross, though no one would believe me. I was pinned to it. Not nailed, pinned – as in a voodoo doll. No big thing…I’ve seen pin-ups of Mary in firehouses. Miracles are miracles. An owl roosts in the hemlock nearby, just as I live or die on this ridge. It quietly swoops away at night for a few hours and then swoops back. I never go anywhere at night, nor in the daytime for that matter. Though I’m not certain about this. But sometimes I dream I am with a woman on another ridge – her ridge I guess – and we are posing in some sort of Tantric position for the Court sculptor of an Indian prince. Every time I awake from this dream, I’m very thirsty. It’s very hot in India. I reach for my tin cup of creek water and look into it before drinking. And sure enough there’s a Great Wax Moth staring back. Anyway, not some raven with another piece of light. I think the moth is only my reflection of a previous living or dying, so I drink the whole drink in one swallow – and I’ve never felt anything unusual, like wings or tiny legs, or wax in my throat. Maybe I would if it was my next living or dying and not a disappointing previous one. Though once I remember, I looked in the cup and saw a turkey vulture – when I drank it that time I could feel something. And I stunk for weeks. Actually, maybe I only wake up after I drink the water and not when I think I wake up. I’m not sure. And I wonder if the woman on the other ridge also gets thirsty after we meet, and if she sees anything in her tin cup. It would be wonderful if she was drinking milk and saw me in the milk. I hope sometimes she sees me. I’ve never seen her in my cup. Maybe if she sees me there sometime and drinks, then I’ll end up over there instead of here. She’s never come over here to pose for the Indian prince’s sculptor, so I suppose I’ll never see her in my cup, and she’ll never end up here.

There’s a couple of storks that live nearby. I like to watch the way they fly. Their nests are so big and strange – sometimes you can hear a baby crying in one of them all night long. I remember one of the babies had a rattle and kept me awake for about two years straight. Once I looked in that nest – and there was a clock in that nest too, and a bunch of used condoms, and a pair of plastic gloves. And there are nightingales and whippoorwills around here too, but I can sleep when they sing. In the daytime, the owl usually perches on the same branch as at night, seemingly asleep, but I really believe we spend a lot of time looking at each other. Changes in the environment change the words we use…maybe sometime I’ll spend a lot of time exchanging looks with a harpy or a banana in a different tree – maybe a Christmas tree. Then this whole reverie will be kind of quaintly historical. Maybe it’s the reverse – changes in words change the environment. “Screw you, your Honour”, and suddenly somebody’s flushing me down a prison toilet.

When it’s light enough, I like to play a game with pine needles, a game of strength and suppleness. I take two pine needles, cross them, and then bend them, pulling them apart against each other to see which one breaks, to see which one doesn’t, to determine a victor. Yes, it’s a very primitive game but then you could say life or death up

here on the ridge is pretty primitive. The game may be conventional but the evaluation of the outcome isn’t. For example, the victor for me is the one that breaks, though I concede

that that is my heretical, pietist opinion. My version of the Contract. The loser, then, goes on to be challenged by another pine needle. And so on. Like lances broken by me as the master of discordant Myrmidons. The ones that break get flipped away on the mass of pine needles everywhere around me. Of course all the losers end up there at some point. I think maybe that’s how I got here, but I can’t remember. Maybe I was a loser for awhile and then a victor, or I was a victor right from the start. And who in the hell might have thrown me here, well that’s another question. The green needles get to be losers a lot longer than the brown – they’re more supple, less brittle. The owl must be amused at my game, these mice and cat metaphysics.

I’m not sure if there was ever a time I wasn’t here. Maybe I was thrown here like a palm nut or a pine needle as a very small child – and that’s what all those doubles and triples are about. They were losers and then they became victors elsewhere – like in Vilnius or Rio. Or maybe I was in that stork nest and the storks got sick of my rattle, and dropped me here wrapped in a banded shroud of swaddling. When I’m out on a boat on a lake fishing, or dancing the limbo, or petting my dog on the porch, I don’t really believe I’m doing any of these things. I’m here. When I watch the sky at sunset and sunrise, the saffrons and pinks, the rotten flesh-colored pastels, I might be anywhere, but I am here. And crickets are here disguised as stars. I’ve counted all of them. And each night there’s a different moon etched by a different script of branches and leaves and hairpins of silk that Tu Fu would have admired. I think when I am dumped in a Rasa or a St Peter’s Cemetery, and later, people come to read the inscription and spit or light a candle, they will be going to the wrong place. Curs too, and those half-wild pigs that gobble up the nightwaste in the cemeteries of India, they should all come here to the ridge, babble a bit, and see if they can see themselves or something else in my drinking cup. And it’s comfortable too – the pine and hemlock needles are soft, and there are thousands of them. And it’s beautiful, especially the oak, the poison-ivy and sugar-maple leaves in Autumn. My father’s buried under the oak over there. And see that ridge over there – there’s an actual woman there. And take a look at those stork nests, and my stars, my dog, and my buddy the owl. And guests can have all the trout and crackers they want. The crackers are a bit soggy – the ducks drop them for me when they’re migrating in the Spring and Fall. I often even do the limbo for a show – I tie my fishing line to these two saplings and then follow the beat of the pine cones as they fall. I’ve never fallen. I never was good at belly dancing, though one of my hundred’els is reported to work in a harem in Utah. A millennium ago he had been excommunicated by Gershom for trying to bring back the old ways The whole world floats by. My owl is very wise. I think I’ll make some coffee and go out for a walk. Maybe go clean my father’s grave in the cemetery – he’s buried two places. Or maybe three, or maybe a hundred. The loveliest way to keep the weeds from sprouting up all over a grave is to throw a carpet of pine needles all over it. Though some people use lime. These pine needles are a big mixture of victors and losers, though they’re all victors in the end, broken and lying around by the thousands. I’ve been

playing this game for a long time. I like the smell, to breathe in the amber resin of life, or

death. Sometimes I just can’t wait to get here or there – and then I ride my exercise bike. Never had an accident yet. I think because of my fluorescent hunting jacket. Or maybe because it’s just one of my triples on the bike, and they haven’t found him or me. It’s easier for me to think in terms of triples than hundred’els, and if one of us is dying or living but not dead or alive, and if so, am I part of a triple or just a double in a larger trinity. Identity is a life-long obsession of the dying. As for origin, sinful or not, there is no delivery service up here on the ridge other than the storks, or whatever It is that might have dropped or thrown me here. Notice I didn’t say cast. Listen, there goes another pine cone. Sometimes one drops on my head and I wonder if the left ear hears it first or the right, or…






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