Tour Diary from Fredrick, Maryland: Bring in a Giant Wal-Mart if You Want to Put your Town to Sleep like a Loved dog

by Keegan Lester

You won’t realize it, but it’s too late for you
if you’re on Dr. Phil. At our Motel 6 this morning
we’re watching Dr. Phil, his preacher drawl,
his dolled up wisdom & beauty obscene like a teen
in a pageant. I want to hand him my sash,
hand him my tiara, say I believe you
believe you’re helping someone, instead I try to clean my eyes
of the confederate flags of Virginia we passed
to get here. This is America. I read in Publisher Weekly
Poverty in Appalachia is still in vogue. What else
would we be without you, but electric?
What else could we be, without you? What else is left
but the soft pocket of jowl?

On the Phone My Mother Asks When Are You Coming Back to California?

by Keegan Lester

& these waters that every now & then speak
                                                                       when I’ll listen to their ho hum depths.
& this light from minnow scale bending body of water
                                                       from the body & back. I’m of the Pacific. I’m
               small of rock
                                                                               catching moon electric, coercing
                                               wave shimmer, silvery against the school of cycloid
glowing from the womb. A brother’s absence is a prayer
                                                                                       unspoken. A prayer
                                                                               unspoken is
as close to grace as human is capable, though through this absence
                                                                       California came to me one night,
                                                               Mother. Its eyes
               ripe. & it apparent the world’s shaping never needed us, nor our hands, it was
plentiful already
                       with trees growing
               & in the fur of deer & in the chaff colored threshing wind
                                                                                                       gulling seeds
                                                                                                       across land,
in the spores germinating & in the coat of swallows
                                                                               all answers. Then the language
of humans. Each syllable. & in this
                                                                                       bent California moonlight
                                                                                       here
I was born
                                                                       out of my own failure, in these waters,
                                                               within this
& in this ocean & in the salt & the fingerling waves with the minnows,
                                                                                                       & from a swift’s
                                                                                                       beauty,
which is most beautiful when one is looking up at the body
                                                                       when the body is surrounded by the
                                                                       context of sky,
indigo swallowing it
                                                                               as it glides across the face of the
                                                                       moon.
Moonlight is what holds my body taut. I’m from all of it. From you
                                                                                       & the absence of you.
                                                                                       From God
& the absence of God. From all the years
                                                               it took to form a handful of sand.
                                                                                       & no matter what you’ve seen,
                       I promise I’ve never left you.
                                                               All this time mother, I’ve been learning to speak
                                                                                       with the ocean, through blunt
                                                                       trauma
grapes turning into wine & other miracles teaching me
                                                                                       miracles owe me nothing.
How can you say I’ve left
                       when I see you in everything?

Keegan Lester is the author of this shouldn’t be beautiful but it was and it was all i had so i drew it, selected by Mary Ruefle for the 2016 Slope Editions Book Prize. His work has been published in: The Academy of American Poets: Poem A Day Series, The Boston Review, Boaat, The Adroit, CutBank and The Journal among others and will be anthologized in Bettering American Poetry.