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Don’t tell your father I never voted for Nixon

Three poems by Keith Ekiss

Keith Ekiss
Keith Ekiss

Hubert Humphrey

  • — Richard Avedon, March 12th, 1976
  • Whether or not he won,
  • Humphrey looks like the candidate
  • who lost: no sensual lip,
  • cheeks drawn, eyes slanted
  • wary of hawks. Vietnam
  • has ended. In a gallery
  • crowded with faces looking
  • at faces my mother can’t recall
  • his name. Don’t tell your father
  • I never voted for Nixon.
  • Didn’t she watch us
  • burning ourselves to hell?
  • Over ghost paper, a presence —
  • Humphrey’s still here:
  • I can almost shake the hand
  • of one whose name sounds
  • like he shrugs too much, whose face
  • loses nothing in gray, born
  • in a land of lace and hymnals,
  • Sundays spent on church
  • and Mondays worrying
  • (don’t tell the women)
  • what to do about the Russians.

Calendar

  • Visit a beekeeper to learn about stings.
  • Summer drips cream. Lesson yourself
  • in honey, contemplate sidewalk botany —
  • penny flowers — talking away
  • the day to willing neighbors. Months
  • lumber by like streetcars take them slow.
  • Only your father seems less than permanent,
  • coming and going at hours, while teachers
  • sing for a face that’s known to reveal joy.
  • Flip switches, toggling between good
  • and evil. The world obeys your commands.
  • In the evening, clocks and mothers
  • return shelter as you gesture toward
  • the window and darkness she can’t hear.

Night Sky Calling

  • I prick at window-cries
  • peek through curtains spy faces
  • or listen to drunken voices
  • singing off-key but at least
  • they’re singing. The same voice
  • I’ve heard it more than once
  • some woman moaning no.
  • How do I keep what’s mine
  • from hers? Squeaky-mouthed
  • hooker who curses out her john
  • forgoes the rules of traffic.
  • Midnight invaders want nothing
  • but a night-share on these streets
  • which seem so placid by day.

Keith Ekiss is a Jones Lecturer in Creative Writing at Stanford University and a former Wallace Stegner Fellow in poetry. He is the author of Pima Road Notebook (New Issues Poetry & Prose, 2010) and translator of The Fire’s Journey, an epic poem by the Costa Rican writer Eunice Odio forthcoming from Tavern Books in four volumes. Territory of Dawn: The Selected Poems of Eunice Odio was published in spring 2016 by the Bitter Oleander Press. He is a former Robert Frost Fellow in poetry at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.

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Keith Ekiss
Keith Ekiss

Hubert Humphrey

  • — Richard Avedon, March 12th, 1976
  • Whether or not he won,
  • Humphrey looks like the candidate
  • who lost: no sensual lip,
  • cheeks drawn, eyes slanted
  • wary of hawks. Vietnam
  • has ended. In a gallery
  • crowded with faces looking
  • at faces my mother can’t recall
  • his name. Don’t tell your father
  • I never voted for Nixon.
  • Didn’t she watch us
  • burning ourselves to hell?
  • Over ghost paper, a presence —
  • Humphrey’s still here:
  • I can almost shake the hand
  • of one whose name sounds
  • like he shrugs too much, whose face
  • loses nothing in gray, born
  • in a land of lace and hymnals,
  • Sundays spent on church
  • and Mondays worrying
  • (don’t tell the women)
  • what to do about the Russians.

Calendar

  • Visit a beekeeper to learn about stings.
  • Summer drips cream. Lesson yourself
  • in honey, contemplate sidewalk botany —
  • penny flowers — talking away
  • the day to willing neighbors. Months
  • lumber by like streetcars take them slow.
  • Only your father seems less than permanent,
  • coming and going at hours, while teachers
  • sing for a face that’s known to reveal joy.
  • Flip switches, toggling between good
  • and evil. The world obeys your commands.
  • In the evening, clocks and mothers
  • return shelter as you gesture toward
  • the window and darkness she can’t hear.

Night Sky Calling

  • I prick at window-cries
  • peek through curtains spy faces
  • or listen to drunken voices
  • singing off-key but at least
  • they’re singing. The same voice
  • I’ve heard it more than once
  • some woman moaning no.
  • How do I keep what’s mine
  • from hers? Squeaky-mouthed
  • hooker who curses out her john
  • forgoes the rules of traffic.
  • Midnight invaders want nothing
  • but a night-share on these streets
  • which seem so placid by day.

Keith Ekiss is a Jones Lecturer in Creative Writing at Stanford University and a former Wallace Stegner Fellow in poetry. He is the author of Pima Road Notebook (New Issues Poetry & Prose, 2010) and translator of The Fire’s Journey, an epic poem by the Costa Rican writer Eunice Odio forthcoming from Tavern Books in four volumes. Territory of Dawn: The Selected Poems of Eunice Odio was published in spring 2016 by the Bitter Oleander Press. He is a former Robert Frost Fellow in poetry at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.

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