Poetry by Devin Kelly
MANSION ON THE HILL
To be honest, the house would be there
whether you knew of it or not, a graveyard
with the echo of a ghost, some kind of haunting.
You know the ritual of a small town funeral:
a body dies & each who remains pretends
they knew him better & liked him better
than they ever did. They tell stories to summon
the right kind of ghosts, & this goes on
& on. The procession of smoke that comes
when candles are blown out one by one
into a kind of forever beyond where the last
street ends & the first of some other life
begins. If you believe in the self as a funeral,
if you wake into morning already mourning,
you know the heavy aching nothing
of being alive. Children play in the yard
of a house no one has ever set foot inside.
They tell stories to give themselves permission.
The house stands & always stands & watches
& the children play & then grow old
& forget what it felt like to leave something
behind. It’s what you leave behind
that counts. When the slow train of cars
rolls down the one road in town & then
beyond, past the last storefront with its halo
of light rimming the smooth glass of the infinite,
toward the mansion on the hill, who is looking
to see what remains in the yard? A bottlecap
from when we drank beers years ago
& told stories of losing our virginity,
like we were sacred. We were sacred
once. Never forget that. You get old
& forget that. We were there, getting
too drunk, telling ourselves stories
like we were loved, like we were heroes,
like there was nothing stopping us
from becoming the myth of what we left
behind. We left that behind, too. We left
the yard, the creak of what listened,
& grew up. Think of the self as nothing
but a dream. It’s lucid. It’s clear. It’s a thimble
full of holiness. It’s so teetering & fragile it could
shatter when dropped upon cement. Think
of everything you’ve ever dropped before. It’s so much.
POEM FROM INSIDE THE PIANO A LITTLE BOY PLAYS
No, not there. Don’t strike
so hard. Your mother is in
the other room. Her cat –
remember Eugenie – just died,
legs splayed straight & rigid
across the floor. The pup
tried to kiss her back alive
& failed. We all fail at this, & will
forever. So no, little boy,
you don’t even know arpeggio
from the indigo of the bruises
you batter me with. I was just
trying to sleep in your innocence.
Instead, you hammer me
with felt & string, the nascent
longing to be heard, no matter
the noise. Listen, mother
is crying. We have both abandoned
so much. I am hiding. I have not
called in months, & you,
with the starlight slipping
through this room’s blinds
like the slowfuck of lovers,
this room mother left our father
to inhabit, with your fingers
like parsnips, you keep
harping on the harp,
trying to drown out a body’s
silence. Dampen the music
until it dries upon the night.
You will grow old sooner
than you think & cloud
your memories with newer ones.
They will seem right until
they aren’t, & you will forget
what you tried to forget. Nothing
is worth not remembering.
Mother’s tears can be the sheen
of a new dress your lover wears –
the hair she cut short & dyed
can be a kind of autumn. Find
new ways to play your sorrow.
Let your mother hear them.
In between your silences sits a home
where a body lives. You do not need
the fingers of a pianist to sit
beside another, touch the skin
of cheek so close to bone,
& be alone together. Leave me be.
I came here to warn you. I am
so sorry I did not do enough.
Devin Kelly earned his MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and co-hosts the Dead Rabbits Reading Series in New York City. He is the author of the collaborative chapbook with Melissa Smyth, This Cup of Absence (Anchor & Plume) and the forthcoming books, Blood on Blood (Unknown Press), and In This Quiet Church of Night, I Say Amen (ELJ Publications). He has been nominated for both the Pushcart and Best of the Net Prizes. He works as a college advisor in Queens, teaches poetry at Bronx Community College, and lives in Harlem. You can find him on twitter @themoneyiowe.