Claudia Keelan is the author of four books of poetry: Refinery (Cleveland State University Poetry Prize 1994), The Secularist (Georgia, 1997), Utopic (Alice James Books, 2000 Beatrice Hawley Award), and The Devotion Field, also from Alice James Books. She is the editor of Interim at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where she directs the Creative Writing program.


Four Poems by Claudia Keelan


Principle         is only found alone

Gandhi, for example    A calf was maimed     An animal

Suffered        without cause & so was killed

In Ahisma         “as with one so with all”

A concept of love         A slavery

John Brown, for example         “as with one so with all”

& his sons, murdering for him        are murdered too

A concept of love         Gandhi:
“Suppose for instance, that I find my daughter—whose wish at the moment I have no means of ascertaining—is threatened with violation and there is no way by which I can saver her, then it would be the purest form of ahisma on my part to put an end to her life and surrender myself to the fury of the incensed ruffian”

Her wish        muffled in a calf’s bleat

My wish:        to love you without rights

In the absence

As I do what is left of God

In me


History ran away with little Pluto,

Too small and “orbiting irregularly,”

It is now relegated to a dwarf planet.

History took Christopher, too, from the stained glass windows

And I couldn’t look at his magnetic face ever again,

Attached to the glove box in our car,

The heavy child still on his shoulder,

Though we made it safely every day to school,

Even after he lost his status.

                                          Earth is a small, rocky world,

Nothing in size to the gas giants, Jupiter, et. al,

And poor Pluto--resembling in the end only

Other icy objects in the outer solar system--

Is far to small to be grouped with worlds such as ours.

                                          Christopher was taken down by his story

And the words the child spoke:

“thou hast borne upon thy back the world

and Him who created it.”

The instruction his action gave to all travelers:

To assist without knowing

And you too are God--

Thus to Pluto, the ninth planet, farewell,

However small, I wonder at your fall, I shall miss you.

LITTLE ELEGIES (At The New Orleans)


Without his plural

The billboard

Signing his appearance


              NOV. 11-16

Is epitaph

He’s lost

That loving feeling

Oh, oh, that loving


His S, his other,

How much right was His

The Brother

Who is gone

Gone, gone

Oh oh who-a

2. (American justice, by rule of congress)

The Banker’s family

Was awarded

More than the Firemen’

& the Stockbrokers’

More than the Cops’

The Insurance Man

Won out too, over

The small Rosa

Who dusted his many pens,

And all the way down

The many floors, the lives

Were rated, all of those

Who died September 11th.

3. (cummingsworth)

I            Loves   My Collective


-ly                   whee, whee

             All the way home

Only baby goes home

             & Papa goes

To market & someone

             Else eats meat

Getting & spending etc

             Lay waste

But the five little friends too small

             For the burden

Ease it

             Inside their common nest.

4. (Self and Other)

Said      good-bye           to a way

               Via age & the end

Of My U.S.

                The notes don’t sound in the spaces

Don’t drop into place

                In the Beloved Plurality

Where did you

                Go wrong

This way

                & that

                & There

Green, green

                Absorbed in flags

And a way waylaid

I dreamt we ripped up the grass

And laid carpet over the earth

The heat came      The carpet died

“We certainly weren’t doing anybody any favors”

“& He certainly wasn’t doing her any favors…”

Our day was out of favor

                & this was My Mojave

5. (Robert Creeley)

Here can’t recognize

There, thought it moves

Inside it,

And I can’t find

You in your poems.

Nothing whatsoever

Of love, love of God,

God love, love or God,

In a Pope.

It’s the lack

That teaches.

Look, he’s over

She’s there, there

I never touched your empty eye place,

Everything all spilled from it.

The shape of you,

A shape that’s filled with the waiting

You gave off, sometimes

More patiently than others,

Is patiently beside me,

Or in me, or both,

Right now.

You are not an elsewhere!

Passing through me

Passing through you

Though I’m solid,

I’m a passenger

On an airplane.

There’s no you to visit,

But you do.

6. (Vietnam)

The general is dead,

Who said we didn’t lose.

The general was a humanist:

Kill more, he knew,

And they’d have to surrender.

But the further East,


More land,

Whole villages and families napalmed,

The further lost,

He and his war,


The general was a humanist:

Scratching his head

On his last day

Wondering why, though he killed so many,

The East to the


Gave not one bit

More land.

[from American Hybrid, Norton and Co., 2007]


She came as grass       She came in the grass    She did not ask what is
       grass via grass

She was Green               She came in the grass to which

Your men had already lit fire

She did not ask what is grass              via grass she was green

              She was that to which your men had already lit fire

And the fire pursuing her pursuing the grass and burning down the        village was beautiful,

              Typical, typical fire, powerful fire       She had lived before fire

The grass the native grasses she’d fed on and become never knowing
        that change--

Human limb, human sex, human decisions and mistakes--would blend
        so easily into

Grass which she’d with pleasure become        Via grass she was green
        and the blunt little

              Villages the small huts and grazing animals as grass she’d

Never distinguish and everything she touched knew

                                                   Her not understanding was true

Beautiful unknowing, this wholly unnatural unknowing of what she’d fed
        on and become

Her muteness, her green and willing greenness        It was a society
        A tribunal

And each living thing that had ever fed from her, bled on her, lay dead in
        her, in turn

Was born in her, in the grass which of her we had become.