• Thomas Keith

Three poems


JOLTIN’ JOE

they took his dad’s boat away

after Pearl, when everybody from Seattle

to San Diego was running scared

no wops in San Fran Bay, can’t trust

nobody not even the fisherman whose

kid turned out to be the best slugger

alive so Giuseppe you stay at home

nights don’t go too far don’t try

anything you can dream of Sicily if you want that’s okay

but keep your nose clean and Joe

you keep swingin’ for the fences just

in khakis now feel that cool

Hawaii sand have a beer live it

up as much as any soldier

boy can don’t fret over

Monte Cassino up in smoke

typhus in the Napoli water

your papa showing his papers

back in the batting cage Mister

Fifty-Six Hit Streak don’t

complain we are all in cages

THUMBLING

At first, he exulted in his smallness

and the chances it gave for mischief.

A speck of a Hermes, a pocket Anansi,

he made off with coins and secrets –

spelunking through keyholes, abseiling

down table legs, dancing the occasional

jig in a dozing sow’s ear. Nothing

was unreachable. At night, beside

the fire, he would tell his parents dreamily

how a fly’s eye is really a million

close-set jewels, how it tickled

to walk barefoot on a fern frond.

If sometimes he must cross swords

with rats or bullfrogs, why complain?

Such was the stuff of epic.

But from the shadows he saw

his mother’s hand shake as she measured

his thimble-full of brandy. He saw

his father, grey hairs flecking brown,

stoop to yoke the oxen and stagger

beneath the weight. Their voices

carried through the timbers and shook

him as they traded blame, cursed

each other for their hasty wish.

Retreating to his nutshell bed,

he held his knees tight against his chest

and dreamed he was a giant.

GOLDEN LAW

She was born a mere ghost

of a tritagonist, thin

appendage to

her siblings’ blazing pas de deux.

Beneath their wails, the usual

hair-pulling and breast-

rending, you could hear her

timid goldfinch voice

offer dollops of reason, like

cough syrup to children. No,

Electra, that’s not the Furies calling,

just an owl up too early.

No, Orestes, you shouldn’t go

around telling people

you were dragged to death in Locris.

Axes – remember, dears –

are meant for splitting wood, not

Mama’s skull.

But just as no one blesses

the dirt for holding up

their feet, no oxen fall

slain at the tombs of the sensible:

it’s the broken we remember.

Freud filled journals with

lurid tales of sex-crazed daddy’s

girls, while countless good

Vienna Hausfrauen,

fearing (not without cause)

a life lived invisible

would end in the drawing-room

wallpaper swallowing them

whole, never dreamed

they were in the grip

of an undiagnosed Chrysothemis Complex.

I once saw the Chrysothemis of Richard

Strauss, a redoubtable mezzo,

slip and fall on her tailbone during

the curtain call, her bare feet

slick with fake blood

that had run in streams, minutes

earlier, down the palace

steps. Even as she struggled

back up to the tune of

chuckles from the dark,

blushing, bowing,

I knew it was right,

the only proper ending, really.

No doubt when the curtain fell,

she – spare tire of the House

of Atreus – surveyed

the mess of vengeance spent,

and, with a little rueful grin,

got to work mopping up.

Thomas Keith is originally from Austin, TX, but currently resides in Chicago. He has work published or forthcoming in Westview, Poetry Salzburg Review, Pudding Magazine, storySouth, Old Red Kimono, Packingtown Review, and Blue Unicorn. A classicist by training, he has translated much Greek and Latin poetry into modern English verse, including Euripides’ tragedy Andromache.


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