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Stomped Full of the Great Because and other poems by Claire Kelly

Reasons followed her pretty-girl looks
like the bows on a kite tail.
Her dad taught her to shoot,
showed her pictures of those who failed to shoot:

a body abandoned in pine grass, a tattoo
on skin gone corpse-slack. Because,
she’d say when grown, because.
Herself a strip-mall temple
to the fear-god of because.

Her dad’s voice exhumes worry:
“Always take your nametag off
when your shift ends, because
your name is a thing
that can be used against you.
Your name in the mouth of a stranger
tricks your brain into forgetting strange,
forgetting danger. Shoot first—
up-close—leave questions for lawyers.”

She ate up all the because, fell fool
to because, was sure because
couldn’t trick her with because.

And here I am now with new boots
and nowhere to go that doesn’t
have because stamped on it
like an old library book has due dates.

Forget about it.
Nothing to be done. Drop me a line
when you get somewhere safe.

Don’t forget to bring your gun.


A Sort of Life-Defying Nectar

Q. Are blood-lettings necessarily sombre?

A. This old thistle lost its pink, now it’s all pricks.

A. Imprecision, a quick game of jailbreak, of kick the can.

A. There’s more than one way to dash through a darkened hall.

A. Clutched breath until the wave falls.

A. Every girl knows how to get stains from cotton.

A. High-ground is mammalian mother tongue.

A. The snap of elastic, a thin glint pierced into the arm’s nook.

A. Changing shape was never less costly.


When I take to an unfiltered existence

plump gibberish conjoins the twins of my head and mouth.

When I prayed for rain it wasn’t praying, just wanting,
so I hustle to dry my kicks
before leaving any tracks to where I’m going.

I’m a no-nonsense Salome with one eye on my sinking two-step,
the other on how proud the mud makes me,
grown so large and with such merciless depth.

At a certain point a puddle is a trench,
is where the grey mare, unused to excess, is slopped under
and never seen again.

Shadow my tremble through brambles
like a bumblebee on horse tranqs.

My grandmother taught me a form of barroom brawl
that doesn’t throw a single punch,
is just disappointed that you chose what you did.

Mark it down for next week:
when we falter, the drones will scramble.

Corpus Callosum, what a singular trickster,
letting it all through the turnstile.

Be careful whose head you wish for.


Sometimes I Always Wonder

Thought you were my shadow,
plumping vapour into a density I could touch.
Following me so I’m not alone among strangers.

Occasionally not so friendly:
creaking the cupboards, an eerie screech;
just as I drift to sleep,

slapping down the toilet seat.
I jump the same as when an axe falls,
aimed through whatever tree is chosen.

The one time I chopped wood to kindling,
I learned that if you aim to hit the log, the blade
glances off as if the wood shrugged.

Aim through, as though trying
to hurt the ground, and the log
splits like a belly laugh.

I don’t know why I’m telling this,
or to whom, just that lately
the days drift into dryness,

and each morning my mouth feels
crammed with moths, their powder
scattered on my tongue. And I wonder

if you’ve been luring them
between my sleeping, open jaws
with a glowing orb. Like we’re part of

the same angler fish; I can’t get rid of you.
This passive aggression is getting us
everywhere.


That the day

wore a toque that clashed with its tallow mood

used all the candles—even borrowed some un-dyed, un-scented, pure-beeswax from the nouveau-hippies next door—to create a scene of such romance that everyone blushed and mumbled into their wine glasses

was a complete jackass

did what it did and won’t make excuses

thought about apologizing but took so long that the only thing to do was shirk calls, avoid, hibernate

ate what it could, broke and chewed old bones thinking there was marrow left

felt like something pressed between volume Maryb — Mushe of 1959 Encyclopedia Britannicas, bought at a drive-through town’s library that was closing down for good, and that it rested between the pages where the moon landing would eventually be

was forgotten, or in being forgotten, never was

moved to another hinterland city with almost nothing—books, some dvds, kitchen implements, a comforter

with the money left over after filling up on bronze-level gas clear across the country, bought a table, a folding chair, a mattress, and blackout curtains

arranged its meagre items in a studio apartment with twelve-foot ceilings and enough dust to make a warren of bunnies

heard how sneezes sound when they echo

in its new bed, dreamed of using a broomstick to steer its nighttime flight through the new city, dodging power lines, dodging magpies

memorized its first route to a low-wage job taken when funds ran out, and then a different way back after each shift to where it was beginning to consider home, if it didn’t think too hard, until dream-flying took on a predictable quality

thought life was really about balance and determination, like a one-legged magpie eating a Cheeto

was a small mystery to its neighbours until it wasn’t, then was just a voice that sang X-Ray Spex at inopportune times, that never did talk much, that didn’t ask for any favours, that seemed always to be slipping away when they looked too close


A Plumb Line Might Help, but Nobody Packed One

She advances towards them like she’s carrying violence wrapped
in a kerchief. That violence could be sheathed so tight, nearly
vacuum-sealed like an heirloom quilt, that it could have
such sharp, cut-you-to-the-quick edges but not tear through
silk.

Those who believed they foresaw
what couldn’t be imagined,
weren’t liars exactly,
but like a locker room
on sloppy joe day,
a miasma of mendacity
did foul up the place.

To have not seen it coming
was like stepping in
a puddle of unexpected depth,
right at the end of the driveway,
soaked to the hip after gravity-
slamming through patina-ice,
and not touching bottom.
Maybe no bottom existing.
Bottomless as diner coffee.

Bottomless so that you’d have to put
limits on it yourself or ditch your
crackerjack mind. So their refill
memories became the limits:
a willful pretending.

Allowed them to walk away after
paying their share,
after leaving
a hefty tip for the waitress.

Claire Kelly’s first full-length collection, Maunder, is available from Palimpsest Press. She has curated a chapbook of emerging Edmonton poets for Frog Hollow Press’s City Series. She lives and writes in Edmonton and is currently working on two new poetry manuscripts, one on moving to Alberta from New Brunswick, and one on contemporary loneliness.

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