Devin Kelly: May 2016 Poet of the Month


Say you don’t believe. Say you’re seventeen,
your father’s chuckle steaming the air
outside the car he lifts his mother into,

how you watch her, in the hour that passes,
lower her almost-century to her knees
& pray for forgiveness. You have far more

to be sorry for, you, in your clothes always
too small for a body too big & ungentle
to know tenderness. Years later, the last time

grandmother left her house, you help her climb
the stairs into a restaurant. There’s only three,
but it takes almost ten minutes & you want

to lift her, but you can’t. You’re embarrassed,
staring off across the lake, toward Canada,
not because you know anything more or less

than usual, but because life is a little more
about death than people make it out to be,
& you know if she was you & you she,

you wouldn’t have climbed the stairs at all.
You would’ve sat down under plenty stars
beside the dim passing bulb of a ship’s lantern,

& cried. Say you’re me now. Say you just
got a call from your father’s sister asking
if you could write the obituary for the woman

you always thought was eternal. Say there
are not enough words, that you have had
more students named Jesus than men

who have come down from heaven
to save the world. Say that, even hundreds
of miles away, you can still smell the dust

fragrancing itself from her aged skin, that winter
will forever be a season ashed from your fingers
like a cigarette, each night spent calling forth

the bright red of the sweater you buried her in.
Your father’s tears are icicles hanging off the roof
of a porch somewhere. Say you don’t believe. Say it again

& again. You’re nearly a quarter-century old.
You want to sit down. Your breath is a train steaming
long the water. It’s not too late to believe in heaven.


So there is your collarbone
bone-bridging out your body
like something strung between
two points above a river somewhere.
So there you are as well, sleeping.
Be careful. There is a river
running through your body
& I don’t want you to drown.
It’s okay. Close your eyes. Morning
is just another word for the blood
that rushes to a wound before it
becomes a bruise. Morning won’t
last all day & you will get your hair
cut & maybe I will see you again.
It’s okay. You won’t drown. Your body
is the soft rhythm of a brush brushing
along a snare. Your body pulses & quivers
like a bird. You are a bird. You are a bird
in my bed. Hi, bird. Listen to the other birds
calling their annoying little calls. Look at you,
nesting in my bed. Hi, bird. It’s okay. These
are just my hands reaching out to touch you.
Don’t fly away. You’re too sleepy anyway &
there are so many sheets to push aside,
ones you have gathered round you like twigs
& bits of bark. It’s okay. These are just my lips
softing through the sky. & the sky is just a shorter
word for what keeps us bound to one another.
I just want to kiss your collarbone, that’s all.
I have to leave soon. You can stay if you want.
There are other birds outside & you
have a prettier voice than all of them. When I
get home, I hope they are each singing your song.



Somewhere far away from Brooklyn,
where to be lost is not a goal, not
an arriving at a somewhere aboveground
twelve blocks from a destination.
Somewhere past a tree line that tilts
like a pup’s head, each tree lilting
toward the other, seasick & scared.
Somewhere where your body snugs
into a dress & your legs shadow
by the shinbone & my lips ghost-wet
the skin above your toe. Somewhere
where god does not exist. Where
a cry in the wild is another animal
crying out for more. Somewhere
in your night, not mine, however
it begins or ends. Without another.
Or with. Somewhere breezy & moaning,
like a song. Where a wind whispers
to your ear while you are out
walking your own pup, tending
a tomato plant, or secretly spicing
your beans with barbecue sauce.
You know a soul can live a thousand years
multiplied by an infinity beyond
the body. You know a soul can keep you
up at night & then put you to sleep.
You know a soul can love you,
deeply, for a very long time.

Devin Kelly earned his MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and is a co-host of the Dead Rabbits Reading Series in Manhattan. His collaborative chapbook with Melissa Smyth, This Cup of Absence, is forthcoming from Anchor & Plume Press. His work has appeared in Drunken Boat, Gigantic Sequins, Lines & Stars, Post Road, The Millions, and more, and he's been nominated for both the Pushcart and Best of the Net prizes. He works a college advisor for high schoolers in Queens, teaches English at Bronx Community College, and lives in Harlem. You can find him on twitter @themoneyiowe.