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Poet's Sampler: Karla Kelsey

I admire the Americanism “to talk your way into”—or out of, for that matter. It suggests language’s authority over space. So when Karla Kelsey writes “By the way the nude has of talking / her way out of her body,” she re-embodies nudity since the notion of body itself is again, through language, made interior vision—is made fluid and a flirtation of the tongue. This is not an abandonment of the resistant, physical world, even if such a world is observed “through false eyes and a hole in the siding.” It’s just that the boundaries are so beautiful there’s no need to stay on one side or the other for long: what shimmers behind these poems isn’t Plato’s image of the cave, but that of the cage, the aviary of the birds of knowledge. Kelsey writes a gorgeous sort of language, disciplined by intelligence and by experience (such as that of the dancer she once was), and by a surprisingly complex history, but an implied history, behind each poem. We look not to her history, intriguing as it may be, for the key to this work, but to our own pasts we have talked ourselves out of. —Bin Ramke



The what gone symptomatic
into the orchid-body—seed-vessels produced
in the beholding of wrapped-in resolution

cruelly deferred by sepals clenched
over the fringing lip. By the way the nude has of talking
her way out of her body, out of the vacant lot caught in dialogue

with the men who will come toward this vision
dressed in white, asking us to become
their children, slowed into form, helix, double-

helix, irreproachable, for with respect to the average body
or seeds per capsule, hardly anything need be said—
we’ve been pressed into capital arms. This

is the way to light us unto, to form us into
the polis of brick and holding, the way marked by the white
of a path through the green, or the shadow

of light scaling her body as she reclines in classical pose. Held
here as the horse in the burning shed, these are remembered
antidotes for the body, for the politic hand holding us here

in a resolution, or no other—stopped in a turn
and a counting of sands, dunes eternally shifting, the thought
in secreting images, marble statues, half buried in siftings

of the elemental, of the wave, here, in-curling, as the petal-wing
        curves over egg cells,
as her arm curves, never to be gotten of the origin again, gold
leafing off and into air. We have been left, bare stone, in this

of the regime, accent placed and displaced upon
what we were pictured holding: the basket of apples changed to a
        child over-
pink and moving into a solid state of metal, the gun

firing out orange blossom into the flock held captive, sparks or
becoming the progeny of birds burst into the shadow
of coined knowledge. Of the electric blooming-off of the creator

of the nude body reclining, he lights her hip,
thigh, holding the shadow
in the pocket of his hand to be cupped—as in a window,

as in a seeing into other windows, and the words
crisp to be held and labored over, as the image
of her dressing, and the buttons—one and one—

slipping into their woven nooses,
in orchid-light, or in what is the means of caring,
of carrying on into dusk or the tarmac we have paved over

some bird’s flight over the black and white planes
following a different pattern now, for there is no dictionary to
these wildly smooth lines


Composition (Template)

Gone to the window, light there wood-glossy and in non-repose
As in pick up the seeds and throw them into the street
As in 1 color, gone gold and so seeing, all blurred around edges and walking
Another sort of line this time, message burnt into the gold
Into the edges and a man in the street breaking bottle after bottle



And so this to explain the glittering splash of sidewalk, such a color or lapping
At the river mouth, or an aquarium in the window stored, this new aperture
Not just a hole to see through but blasted man-sized to step through
Into the other room, call it treason, call it a certain element
Of shimmering given off by impressions and the glowing



As if there were not the possibility of any other name for the color
Formulated in the mind, an original shock of orange
None other like it from sunset to tangerine, rendered by your feeling forth
Of color sensations, the taut wires between them outlining new objects of space
Coined visible, invisible, or an alternate scraping of rust


Three (of chrome, lighting)

This is what I see through false eyes and a hole in the siding. A gape and then flooding. A gape in the ribs and then flooding called breath. Then the red curtain and phrase of one and one. As if painted, the sky approaching sunset, duration of fire. Smoke filling our lungs as we mount, two by two along the wooden railing. Placed, we receive bouquets of patience. The strum of. And guitar,

garden dry wall crumbled and branches a-fade, fading. The call outlined with arc of birds in the sky. Winging. Felt in my hair, a moment, then hands put to. Well of the eyes. We stoop and they sweep the tin siding, the roofing patented green. For the lost. This is the way that it has to be. As in her eyes on the edges of her lower lids. For the sight lines and valley over brilliant blue battering. A falling. Flag foment and the pages crease. And creasing shared over the marble and granite sun. Over forms accidentally there.

The moment clouds entered the building, in the outline of our shadows. Don’t ask how this occurred, akin to roses, browning along edges. Trees, the necessary distance from flames. We write them off shore, securing the mind’s eye. As in his aviary birds of knowledge fly captive, saved from asphyxiation. A way of leaving the field of snow and fire while flying forward without a chance for adjustment, nothing caught in the clearing


Of Contiguity and Fracture

A scudded facet of what was tried and the wind

so loud through acres, billowing as we watched

the tossed heads of flowers, and over edges, the harmonics,

breaking as in the stream of lightning caught

up around power lines and the birds, here,

unnatural, hovering, over this blood-letting, the unknown,

back on the line with a message: someone is wading

into a desert of abandoned light



Folded through this aisle secretly,
wishing our bones to remain hardened
in the wind, for our bodies are constituted bodies
and we seep—though in this other version,

the feel of linden, grove, the not waiting
to write the marriage poem
though in solidarity with standing in the sun, light—
lidded grove, we have walked

in the shuddering breeze
for a reason and the sad waves of it
and air twisting banners.
Impression. Of the sweet march,
cake, hands held to the heavens
that will not be promised into. This moment

has come to a branching, what it promises,
in writing, for the health of it, of us,
the life of the tree in lifting. In we were listing,
here, and so sweet despite the copper tower

disrupting the lines that we sighted
toward the hedge of mountains, blue-bannered sky.
It was and it is so, the story not to be told
because it has come out folded, melody lost, left

to face another direction. We are the ones
who are held and hold,
for the travelers all aspire to this passage,
we among them, and only two

passing, a tolling of bells
as if in a medieval city,
crier, town spire—this
burgeoned from the personal day,

signing the contract, contracting
so tightly that I out at the edges—
the breath—the song let loose—

And so unto the electrical bells, sing,
washing over bones to heaven,
heart to earth. Not any other way
to do it, though the hand aches
from holding and
elemental of the heart: hooded.

To the chapel, then, of sand,
over the rose-lit fire of buildings
lift us our eyes

lidded and seeping. To be kindly
and wonder at, how here in this house
of marching and not waiting
we have been won over by wind,

silk lifted over decision.
Elemental of your heart, mind, hand,
or the waving of us
into a series of gold-tones
layered over gray. A city’s song

of the sweet wedding of hand to
and held to, and heart to—
we are so, as the end of the banner,
untied at the corner and whipping

Karla Kelsey graduated from UCLA and received her MFA from the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. She lives in Denver, where she is pursuing her Ph.D.

Bin Ramke's eighth book of poems, Matter, is forthcoming from the University of Iowa Press. He edits the Denver Quarterly and a poetry series for the University of Georgia Press. 

Originally published in the February/March 2004 issue of Boston Review.

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