The fountain of Kerry Shawn Keys’ poetry is in the Appalachian Mountains, urban America, India, and Lithuania, but the roots go worldwide. From 1998 to 2000, he taught translation theory and creative composition as a Fulbright Associate Professor at Vilnius University. He has dozens of books to his credit. His work ranges from under-mountain vagrant-pastoral and urban-salvage to theatre-dance pieces to flamenco to children’s books to meditations on the Tao Te Ching to a polyphonic epic poem, composed from his South India journals. He has performed and recorded with the free jazz percussionist and sound-constellation artist, Vladimir Tarasov (CD-Prior Records), and now quarterbacks the jazz Nada Quartet. Recent books are Night Flight (poems), 2012; Pienas (prose tales and plays), 2013; Sich einen Fluss verschaffen, bilingual English/German poems, tr by Ron Winkler, Hochroth Verlag, 2017;  New Poetry from China, 1917-2017, co-transl. with Ming Di, 2018; Black Ice, May, 2020 Black Spruce Press; Shoelaces for Chagall ( bilingual English/German selection of love poems, Bübül Verlag, autumn, 2020). Keys received the Robert H. Winner Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America in 1992, and in 2005 a National Endowment For The Arts Literature Fellowship. He was a Senior Fulbright Research grantee for African-Brazilian studies, and is a member of the Lithuanian Writers Union and PEN. He received a Translation Laureate Award from the Lithuanian Writers Union in 2003. He authored a bi-monthly column, Letter From Vilnius: Eastern/Central Europe and Excursions Elsewhere for Poetry International, San Diego State University. He also translates from Portuguese. He is the Republic of Užupis’ World Poetry Ambassador, and Chevalier of the Order of the Silver Garlic Bullet of the Republic of Užupis.

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reflections on belonging

a palmers chronicle right bw

Graphic Novels

James Penedos - The Moon Is No Longer Round, Period

Poems from the poetry book “Black Ice”



The Creature

To protect my image, how’s that possible
now, floating in the measured saltwater
of this outdoor, special admission aquarium,

my tutelary Gods wagering bets above
as though their pet raven and dove were each
a haruspex, and my body Noah’s boat.

I can’t escape this worldly exhibition.
There’s no gate, and anyway the hectic light
of jacklights would poach me vessel and soul

wherever I might even hope to go.
Once I had a compass, a tailwind, a cross breeze
but now my home is empty-handed except for me.

Only when the sun goes down and the audience
returns to its own element, sated and benign in its
dream of me, do I have a chance for mine.

Then I lie on my back, bloated buoyant with desire,
my own island, my own Robinson Crusoe,
discovering in the stars the larvae of Lascaux.



Ant Hills

Ant hills at the pits of Ponar.
And here on Lowland Street
an ant departs from under
the floorboards, its sticky feet
heading towards the forest.
Antennae know the way by heart
on the darkest of nights from the garret.
I sleepwalk after them by flashlight.
Other nights, moonlight and the satellite
in my tablet are enough equipment
to feed the morbid zakhor of our detachment.



Black Bag

               in memory of my Aunt Margie

Often I too casually daydreamed I would drape
and pull airtight over my head and neck
a plastic trashbag blacker than the mind’s
midnight mined malignant anthracite,

Until one night, hunched over, pissed, face to face
with a black bag jerry-rigged Christo-like
on the cracked  porcelain of a public toilet,
I repulsed the mirror of myself in that palette.



Opening the window

Opening the window
to let the air come in
and the darkness
on the dark wind…

not to lie alone
and isolate in the room
I opened the window
to let the night air in

but better I had remained
with  you side by side alone
than to have let the darkness
join in with the wind

and gutter the light
and blanket the floor
the walls and the ceiling
the hours everything



The Basement

There was a mummy that maybe was from a monastery or Mars,
            and Time had embalmed it with the image of each passer-by

There was a Cornell box with the music of the spheres
            playing a funeral dirge on a loom for Laertes and King Lear

A Rodin creation whose breasts were now discolored
            from the tobacco-stained fingers of the curator

There was a birdcage with Adam and Eve inside with a two-
            dimensional wormy apple suspended
                       above them, executed Calder fashion

And a chunk of a totem pole depicting some bygone spiritual-world
            organism as yet inhuman and undetermined

There were countless other things yet to be seen when I looked
            at my watch and noticed time was suspended

But I guessed it was about 3 hours since we had descended
            to the storage place where they kept their playthings

Then brushing the dust from my hair, I looked up searching
            for my lovely guide
                       and saw she had donned a bridal veil

And was now frozen still as a statue of herself in a wax museum
            from Hell

I wasn’t sure how to resurface without her so I asked her
            to please lead the way up the channel to the door

She reluctantly agreed, and in a moment melted away into sunlight
            and thin air, leaving me alone in a multitude of earthenware

As I’m on display here now demonstrating for you
            what it’s like to bear even the afterlife lightness
                       of a cobweb upon one’s shoulder.



All Souls’ Eve

How do we know it is All Souls’ Eve
when the wind’s already thieved the calendar
through the steamy air of the kitchen,
out the window, and into the gutter.

My son waves why and goodbye, and the pages
of the years that were so happily engaged
a moment ago in the brisk furniture of air,
now barely flap their corners in despair.

Are they dead, he asks why, but really he says,
and this prompts his sister to whirl, and flutter
her hands pretending that she is leaf and dove
let loose from a dark magic theatre above.

Brother, I can see the other side of life
where these yellow candles of my fingers
are dancing to sutartinės next to the stones,
and Christ’s tears are turning to snow.

Sister, the calendar’s in a pool of water,
does that mean that Time is dead
and why spirits will come to buzz by our bed
and feed us with mums and beebread.

Amazed by the strange talk of my children,
I bid them climb the chalk-white pony I’m riding,
and three Bellerophons on a lively errand
we fly to the graveyard to prance our bones,

to weep with Saint George for slaying the dragon,
and to kneel, three kids, before the chimera of Heaven.



The Fountain Of Youth

Only a stone’s throw from the church of Saint Kotryna,
my happy-go-lucky children are throwing dozens of stones
into a broken-down fountain graced by the head of a lion.
I’ve told them nothing about desire and its vagrant wishes.
For them it’s a game of getting wet and plips and splashes.
As for throwing coins for luck, they know nothing of this,
never suspecting anyone could be blessed in the heart of Vilnius.
Anyway, today I don’t have any wisdom or coins to give them,
or obols or hunks of sea-washed amber or precious gems.
Besides, if these little Cyclopes had their way, they would plop rocks
or some looted, busted off piece of rococo or baroque.
Instead, I point out a few dandelions thrusting their sunny heads
through the dilapidated sidewalk, and like most kids
they already know what the dazzling florets will soon become,
resurrecting into the breathing of parachuting seeds of fuzzy cotton.
Like little gods, they are eager for some change or experiment,
so they don’t at all mind my baptismal suggestion to “transplant”
the golden, severed heads into the fountain along with the stones
to see if they’ll float like Christ or sink like an adulteress
                      to the bottom –
an old man’s gratuitous game. Fortunately, the young
                      don’t listen long,
and soon decide to take a bouquet of them back to their mom
to put in a tiny vase to regale the pallid parlor of their home,
where fittingly they will droop milkless and dead by morning.
But I’m getting too far ahead of myself. They’re back
                      with their stones
at the fountain with this would-be king of rock-throwers
                      watching them
with admiration as grown-ups so often do, grown-ups addicted
to more Sisyphean and melancholy pastimes. Reverie
                      can be seductive,
and soon I am far away from wherever I am, in some other land,
imagining myself picking myself up and throwing flesh and bones
over my own shoulder, turning into God’s clay again
                      or better yet, stone.

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