058.1: Keetje Kuipers:: The Open Spaces & The Ocean & Drought & Dolores Park 058

Keetje Kuipers' work is a testament to the necessity of the human heart in contemporary poetry. The speaker in these poems has an immense love for life, the world, and all of the people in it. The speaker is brave and capable of delivering and taking a few ass-kickings, flexes a wit ripe from the whetting stone, is equipped with an internal magnet for the beautiful (despite all costs of heartbreak or worse in pursuing it), and has, I imagine, a light inside of her that could, even into her old age, very well power a small city. Of course, I may be speaking out of turn here, but if so, the gracious and humble quality of her words compels me to make such presumptions. Work like this is beautiful in its comfort and familiarity and reminds me of a sentiment I first had when reading Whitman: "Hello old friend! How long have we known each other, though this is the first time I've read you!"

For example, "The Ocean" begins,

     There are too many views of the ocean.
          A woman lays her body down anywhere
                          and it’s the ocean. She lives in a city
     by the ocean, she drives her car on a road

     fingering the ocean, she wakes up
          in the morning and the blue in her window
                           is the ocean. She is sick of the fucking ocean.
     But where can she go?

If the beginning of this poem is a petty gripe, it certainly is one of the most charming, daunting, and lovely petty gripes I've followed in quite some time. In a world where sincerity, beauty, heart, and love have all achieved "dirty word status" in many conversations about American poetry, Kuipers' poems have a way of forcing us to forget all of that jabber, to get comfortable, and to accompany her in enjoying the world inside her work.

Finally, for those of you who have not read Kuipers' first book with Boa Editions Ltd., please go get a copy of Beautiful in the Mouth (2010). You will thank me later that you did. Cody Todd

The Open Spaces

She said it was a place that held nothing
but sadness for her. Still, I think I could
lie down in it forever, head resting
in the sagebrush flats. I told her I once had a man

who drove us past every chapel in Vegas
threatening to turn in. But I’m wedded
to the burlap hillsides and bearded drivers
of pickups, my dog’s face the shadow

in my rearview mirror. With all this light,
I don’t need water, don’t need the river’s
green lung. I can take up the sadnesses
that surround me, these small ones

of dust in the air, of weeds that climb
the ditches until yellow is the worst
color. Semis that make the dead
bird’s feathers fly again, the deer’s tail

leap from the gravel of the road. She
can go home to the farmer’s sunless chest
under his shirt. I’ll sleep beneath
mountains still choosing which name

they want to take. If I’ve learned anything
about myself, this is where I belong:
with the dead scattered where we hit them,
the engine ticking as it cools under my hand.

The Ocean

There are too many views of the ocean.
          A woman lays her body down anywhere
                                                    and it’s the ocean. She lives in a city
by the ocean, she drives her car on a road

fingering the ocean, she wakes up
          in the morning and the blue in her window
                                                    is the ocean. She is sick of the fucking ocean.
But where can she go?

The desert’s white-capped dunes are the ocean.
          The prairie grasses’ silty waves bent double
                                                    are the ocean. Even underground, the soil
filling her mouth is the salted taste of the ocean

breaking on her tongue. All her friends want to know
          what’s so bad about the ocean. But she can’t tell them:
                                                    She knows if she stops breathing,
she’ll become its silence, repetition, grey certitude.


The last days of dandelions—even the dog’s gone
to fluff. And those flowers that smell like semen,
like alcohol and sugar swirled under my nose. I’m so

thirsty I could cry. What’s the name for those bugs
that bat against any lit window? I stumble around
my dim furniture just to keep them away. I’m not sure

I could stand their need. Heat lightning is all I have
coming to me: its silence, its lie. Some nights
I go outside and pretend I can feel water on my face,

imagine it draining down to the aquifer, changing
the shape of the darkness that’s been sitting there
all along. I’ll shoot out the street light if I have to.

Dolores Park

In the flattening California dusk,
women gather under palms with their bags

of bottles and cans. The grass is feathered
with the trash of the day, paper napkins

blowing across the legs of those who still
drown on a patchwork of blankets. Shirtless

in the phosphorescent gloom of streetlamps,
they lie suspended. This is my one good

life—watching the exchange of embraces,
counting the faces assembled outside

the ice-cream shop, sweet tinge of urine by
the bridge above the tracks, broken bike lock

of the gay couple’s hands, desperate clapping
of dark pigeons—who will take it from me?