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Candice M. Kelsey

Ekphrastic, On Anxiety, My Golden-Caped Lover

while viewing Klimt’s “The Kiss”

 

If art is a line around our thoughts as Gustav Klimt declared,

Then what does that mean for my depression & anxiety

 

Which are nothing if not a heap, or a thrust, of lines?

 

Can I knot them, sever them, belay or splice them—

Are they coiled too tightly? If art can be a simple geometric

 

Concept, I wonder what that means for mental health.

 

Do its lines hug like a Mobius strip, or twist its neck around

A galvanized dock cleat, or string the eaves like holiday lights?

 

When the glow on the lake signals the sun to call it a day,

 

Can we motor in toward the dock & toss its lines over

Like C.K. Williams tossed his lines across the page, tongue

 

Like the lovers in Klimt’s golden mosaic? Self-negativity

& intrusive thoughts like recurring motifs, geometric,

 

Our consciousness is an obscene embrace called poetry.

 

 

For My Daughter on Her 21st Birthday

November 2023

 

It’s a girl! She’s six pounds

and six ounces measuring nineteen

inches with blood-red lips

her eyes full of hope for the world

 

Four months after you were born

to our shock and awe

Baghdad fell from a U.S. bombing

campaign and you took

my nipple as Saddam Hussein’s

Ba’athist regime toppled

 

We are ready to sacrifice our souls

so as not to give up Iraq

we say this so no one will think

America is capable of breaking Iraqis

 

The month you were conceived

President Bush

declared Iraq one part of

the Evil Axis as our bodies

created yours and war

prepared a million fatalities

 

America will not permit the world's

most dangerous regimes

to threaten us with the world's

most destructive weapons

 

Two years into college

you found your voice and quit

the track team knowing it was time

to become authentic

you shocked your father

but I was in awe

 

She is beautiful, she is small

She don't wanna play basketball

But there's no tellin' what she might do

Georgia Rae sings John Hiatt

 

A year before we married

in shock and awe

your father and I stood

over a hundred stories high

on the South Tower

in love on Top of the World

 

If we learn nothing else from this

tragedy we learn that life

is short and there is no time for hate

–wife of Flight 93 pilot, 2002

 

Tonight you turn twenty-one

and I am toppled

from shock and awe at the Israel-

 

Hamas war because Daughter

you are living proof of

just how damn easy it is to love

 

  

A Tree Falls in the Forest of Men

 

1992 will leave you worse for wear | you will train for your first triathlon | days will be spent cycling, running, purging | watching Silence of the Lambs in the Oxford Theater will undo you | the scene when she helps him load furniture into his van | this will be the year you break your middle finger helping a stranger untangle the leashes of five dogs from a tree | you will apply to law school & cram eighteen final credits to graduate & ask your professor to stop calling  | your parents finally divorce | your father will refuse to remove his wedding ring | your mother will start an over-fifty singles group at Good Shepherd Church—Betwixters | a fuck you thirty years in the making | your father a lamb to the slaughter | takes in feral cats | places a felled Sycamore tree in his living room just for them | when they chase each other the branches shake as if the soul of the tree | this will be the year loneliness wins | the silence of bark | you will live at home after graduation | intern at a firm downtown | fall in love in the file room | your lover will get Miss Saigon tickets to celebrate your law school acceptance | that night your older brother will say this guy is a loser | you are forbidden to go | stupid you don’t answer the door | your brother will not remember this night | your lover will leave in his old Chevette | you will make a mixtape of break-up songs | in your recurring dream the felled Sycamore sprouts wings | your cry is heard

 

 

Because Your Husband’s Shirt is Ironed

 

is the punchline

of my husband’s assistant coach

meeting me finally

that’s how I knew you were in town

 

I politely smile

turn to hug my former student

who’s often ostracized for being queer

the lunch crew

 

misses you, Jacob tells me

I hug him again

to confirm my appreciation for the wrinkles

 

he causes in the First Presbyterian

private school fabric

 

while at the Pizza Joint in downtown

Augusta my son orders

a large pie and extra garlic knots

 

rather than the garden salad

dry no dressing

 

my daughter chooses

a week before the Homecoming dance

and eight moms start

a text thread to make plans

 

one mom texts I’m sorry

promises to be more organized next year

 

I respond let’s remember the dads

don’t have a Homecoming

dance group chat – no response

 

is the punchline as they iron

out the wrinkle that is me

Back in Los Angeles

 

a male colleague confesses

he walked out

 

of the Barbie movie incensed

at how boys were

 

portrayed claiming the scene

where a guy slaps

 

Barbie’s ass is unrealistic

he tells us in the faculty lounge

 

that never happens

and I ask him why I have a decade’s

 

worth of therapy bills

so later I binge

 

videos of post-menopausal orcas

protecting their sons and

 

a 60 Minutes segment

on the British zoologist Lucy Cooke

 

whose work with sloths

reminds me Darwin was a Victorian

 

man branding the female

species as a feminine

 

footnote to the masculine main event

oh how I want to see a man

 

call the female spotted hyena

passive coy and chaste

 

see her laugh

in his face after she’s bitten it off

 

  

Candice M. Kelsey [she/her] is a poet, educator, activist, and essayist who splits time between Los Angeles, CA, and Augusta, Georgia. A finalist for Best Microfiction 2023, she is the author of six books: one parenting guide, three full length poetry collections, and two chapbooks. Candice is a mentor for incarcerated writers through PEN America and serves as a poetry reader for The Los Angeles Review. Please find her at www.candicemkelseypoet.com.





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