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

Raimondas Gailiūnas, Limited but Safest Space, 2012. Oil, canvas, 146 x 114 cm. From the MO museum collection.

By Kerry Shawn Keys


The cup is cracked. I usually carried it with me when I went out. I say “usually” because I admit I forgot it a few times much to my frustration and shame. It’s a coffee cup because mostly I have used it for coffee. The crack, when I bought it at the flea market, didn’t go all the way through the cup except for one small hole, really just a pinprick of a hole, so I could still use it without it leaking. In short, it didn’t leak – the hole being too small or the liquid-air pressure, or something like that. I’m not being completely honest. Sometimes it did leak a little and I haven’t been able to figure out why. Often it appeared to leak when I had it in my pocket and it was empty. Well, it had its own private life and personality. I think the cup had inherited some special kind of genetic code, and that it incorporated liquids or ejected them according to that. For years I tried not to use any extremely hot liquids in it, not wanting to modify it by cracking it more – I was almost too aware that it was a receptacle because of its shape, and that if the crack grew it might no longer be a cup. But a cup is not just a shape. I think that it has to contain something more than what we call “atmosphere” to be a cup. Mainly fluids. I knew that if I put dirt in it and planted a flower, for some people it might no longer be a cup. I always carried it with me. Or usually.

Sometime ago when I got ready to leave the flat, I went as I always did to get my cup. I kept it on the windowsill in the kitchen. To my consternation, there was a bug in it, a beetle-like thing on its back, legs peddling frantically. I noticed that two of its feet were encumbered with something – and when I got out my magnifying glass, I was amazed to see they were sandals. But no socks. And it had wings almost like angel wings with an almost human face. What had been just an ordinary synthetic object – albeit special – was now a kind of dwelling, a natural environment or unnatural environment. I couldn’t decide. In any case it had its own sovereign sense about it, it was what it was and it was now a lodging.

I took up my pen and carefully flipped the lodger over, trying to assist its escape and thus liberate my cup at the same time, without scaring the bug or making it feel bitter, and without causing my cup any remorse or longing. But I had no reason to worry – the bug immediately flipped over on its back again, its legs not pedaling this time but quite still, slyly so I thought. It had found its homeland it seemed, its place in my intimate world. But I had mixed feelings and so I picked up my pen and repeated the process. Again, the same thing. Maybe a dozen times. Now I was becoming agitated; and it was, to the contrary, happy just to be there, still and stubborn it seemed. Finally in exasperation, I took the cup and dumped the little bugger in the wastebasket and left for my morning walk, cup in coat pocket, and that was that. I didn’t want to put a house and its inmate in my pocket. I thought of Alice with her limbs sticking out the doors and windows – what would passers-by think if it grew an antenna and it stuck out from the region I reserve for my private life.

Next morning I went to get my cup off the sill and to my surprise, there it was again, the same or another bug. This time I only tried once with my pen to rightside it, and then impatient with the possum-like response I dumped the bug in the wastebasket and went for my walk. Just as I was crossing the street outside my place, I thought I heard a horn blowing, but looked around and there were no cars. Then I heard it again, and it seemed to come from somewhere near the window of my flat. Never mind, I thought – just stress – and proceeded on. Well, all of this went on for weeks – the bug in the cup, a muffled trumpet like sound, and the cup secure in my pocket. For awhile, I assumed it was the same bug returning to the cup until one day when I dumped it into the wastebasket, I peered down a moment and saw a whole legion of bugs there. I never used to empty the wastebasket more than a few times a year since I always ate out, don’t smoke, don’t menstruate – and, besides, I jack off in the kitchen sink and enjoy flushing most odds and ends like coffee grounds, my turds, and teabags down the toilet. They swish and vanish like the innards of torpedoed boats.

The wastebasket was now like a bug-garden. I suspect they were eating each other but multiplying even faster. And they were making a lot of noise. I began to get afraid, terribly afraid at night while lying in bed and hearing the munching and crunching and what seemed like a very low buzzing hum occasionally punctuated by a trumpet-like sound far more ominous than the high E of a mosquito. Even though I had long since begun to put my cup upside down on the sill, the bug garden had developed its own self-perpetuating velocity. Though they certainly weren’t pets. Soon they began to fill up the whole wastebasket, drivel around the rim and then flow down the sides to the floor. My reaction was the opposite – scared spitless, my lungs and throat would pucker up in dehydration and I could only remedy this by swinging my legs up and over my shoulders and either pissing or jacking off in my mouth as used to be my practice when I took yoga lessons as an adolescent. In due time, the kitchen itself began to fill up. I didn’t put the cup there anymore because just to enter the kitchen was frightful and distasteful. I kept it in my bedroom on the sill, rightside up again. And the kitchen got fuller and fuller, and finally I had to just close the door and not go in anymore, taking my filters and coffee maker to the bedroom. But the noise was immense, and I would say the stench became immense also. My darling sister no longer visited – she had had a fondness for ladybugs and a superstition about killing any bugs, but I could see the repressed ardor of murder shining benevolently from her eyes. My parents, who had occupied a separate portion of the apartment with access only by the fire-escape, had also moved out to set up camp in a neighbor’s greenhouse.

Well, one day I awoke and there was a bug in my cup in the bedroom. In my cracked cup, in my constitutional companion. I started to shake – I had lost my sister, I had lost my parents, my kitchen. And now there was a bug in my bedroom as if it was capable of replacing them in my affection. I was determined not too repeat previous mistakes. I removed its sandals with a pair if tweezers and simply plucked them across the room into oblivion. I clipped its wings and rolled them into a ball of wax between my fingertips. I gagged its mouth with my precious, used dental floss, and flipped the bugger outside the window. Then I began to seriously ponder on what to do next. It seemed like some conventional chemical like a pesticide might be the only solution. I would fill the cup with a toxic and foul-smelling liquid, and no bug would venture anywhere near. I was certainly not going to compromise by turning the cup upside down on the sill. It worked. Weeks went by, months, and no bug. And the crack didn’t leak. Before my walk, I would just pour the pesticide into another cup – a green one by the way – wipe my cup clean with my socks and go out. Then on my return, after a cup of coffee, I’d pour the pesticide back into my cup from the spare cup. Of course, there was always a little bit less because of the residue that went into my socks when I wiped the cup clean in the morning. I decided not to add any extra pesticide from the can, but instead curiously monitored the ever-decreasing level of pesticide in both cups. It was going down very slowly, immeasurably so, and then one morning I awoke and noticed that the pesticide had all leaked out during the night, and there was a little puddle on the windowsill and on the floor. It quite pissed me off – the bugs had indirectly if not calculatingly, destroyed my special cup, or so it seemed. I filled it up with water, and yes, sure enough, the water flowed out of the crack and into the bathroom sink. So I decided to experiment and piss in it, and yes, sure enough, the piss flowed out of the crack and down on the floorboards and into the crack between, and probably onto my neighbor’s bed in the flat below. I didn’t mind since the bastard was a vegetarian and an animal-rights activist, and had recently reported me to the authorities for illegally harboring a zoo of bugs. I didn’t ask for them, and if he didn’t like them, he could squirt pesticide up his ass for all I cared. Just then I heard a loud, bursting sound from somewhere near the kitchen. Sure enough, the kitchen door had just exploded outward and into the hall from the pressure of the millions of bugs like a billion sperm in a condom, and then the rupture, and then heaven knows what brave new world.

I hastily decided to move out myself. But what to do with my cup. It was useless now – the hairline crack had grown into a fissure. The fissure would grow into a chasm, and the chasm into an abyss. Even I might fall in. And what would be the sense in carrying even a very special cup around that no longer served me as a cup, and would soon become the servant of its own imperfection, the liquid flowing out almost as fast as it entered. Surely, liquids would someday flow out of my own body something like that – piss dribbling over the floor, spittle on my tie, blood soaked up into an inner abyss. Never mind, I took it with me anyway, if only to commune, to try to make it whole again. To all appearances with success.

Bugs mean nothing to me now. I live at the entrance to the Cathedral near the preserved heart of Władysław IV – too near because its constant thumping keeps me awake at night and is worse than the bugs were in the flat. The belfry should be shut down for noise pollution, though at least it’s some kind of company. And then there’re the motorcycles and the distant car alarms, the bongo street musicians, and the thundering libido rhythms from the underground pubs. I’m blind now, so super sensitive to all these sounds. I got too much pesticide in my eyes from using my socks as a washcloth. No matter, I can hear what no one else can, like strange horn-like sounds muffled in the clouds. Luther’s farts far away as the Lutheran church. Burps. Organ pipes and water pipes. The insufferable, loudspeaker ads from a Polish church up the hill. Of course everyone hears the NATO fighter planes overhead. I can hear the captivating click of high-heels better than any Mexican. And when I hear a bug fall in my cup, I just spit on it a couple of times and then just swallow it. When people clang coins in my cup, I suck them clean and then swallow them or exchange them for late night blow-jobs or weed. On Sundays, my father leaves the greenhouse and comes to put sunflower seeds in my cup. I swallow them whole, hoping to create some new hybrid. My mother pours skim milk into my cup, and I drink it since I don’t suffer from colic anymore. My sister is more compassionate – she steals some of the Eucharist wine and pours that into my cup. I drink it but I worry about AIDS and where Christ hung out all those missing years. If the Holy Father came up and put pesticide in the cup, I’d drink that too – I’m not beyond being a martyr. If someone put a nasturtium in the cup, I might display it for awhile to the passers-by to enjoy, before I ate it. I’m not ignorant or a fool. I know about the Buddha’s sermon, reincarnation, and such things. I suspect I might be a bug in my next life. Right now, however, I have my cup, I have my abyss. I hear the world going by. My life is simple.





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