Rumpus Original Poetry: Two Poems by Keegan Lester





The Topography of Hemineglect

Left you near route seven with the blue jays and sparrows with the trail of deflated plastic pools
            and chicken wire barbs, with the expansive infantry of lawn gnomes

among the ruins of last winter. I left before the invasion of lilacs and the percussion of spring,
            everywhere. I left before learning the patience to decode the tin roof’s slant the banjos

and mandolins. The television says Appalachia wrong, in the dialect of the television. Ap a lay
            sha. I left with a tundish and timshel inside my peacoat’s breast pocket. I left you Edith

after you named your cadaver Sylvia. I thought on the Bayer plant in New Martinsville,
            the first time I snaked up river through a snowstorm, how it was all snow and smoke.

Your dad pulled his hunting knife on me and smiled the first time we met. He made wine
             from the fruit and nuts he cultivated on his land, land that was most definitely poisoned

by that plant. Now it all seems Shakespearean. A plot where people ingest poison wine
           from their land, little by little, to build a tolerance to their land poisoning them over time.

I dreamt you encouraged me not to drink too much poison wine and you turned on the faucet
            tap and we just looked at each other’s dimples for the minute or so it took the water

to turn clean again. I dreamt
            last Thursday the world invaded our kitchen like a wailing teapot. There’s no angels here

in the West Virginia rain of my lonesome head, just crossroads and train tracks, rose beds
           and names for rose beds. I dreamt you left Sylvia’s heart on the nightstand again

and I could hear my grandfather’s voice clear down the hall retelling the story of St Francis.
           St. Francis borrowing bells from Islam. St. Francis shooting a sparrow off a stone wall

from his bedroom window with a .22, when he was a boy. It was Christmas. All winter
           the sparrow wintered and in spring when rain stops pretending to be rain,

the sparrow did not get up and fly away. The thing about leaving is once you’re gone
           you find out you’re never allowed to return the person you’ve become. I dreamt

the other night you let me crawl back. I crawled all the way back into our bed beneath the quilts
            and you were singing our song and I didn’t realize it yet, but I was singing too.


Our Finite Nature

Is the Eucharist Gluten-free? I google search
before leaving for mass. It’s not. My dad asks Grandma,
you wearing your hearing aids? She’s not, and so
I turn the car radio way up. At the top
of the hill, Grandma asks What’s this building?
Is it home? It’s not. We walk into the church and
I notice the tapestry of Oscar Romero
is gone. The most beautiful woman
from my college dorm is buzzing
like an apparition after mass in the hallway
we share with everyone else trying to get through
the last gauntlet between the church
and their car. She looks just the same as she did
ten years ago, but she isn’t. None of us are.
Her children coil her legs, swimming
in the harbor of her and her husband.
He’s a stranger to me. Life has a way of continuing on
passed us, passed the context of the tarnished lockets
with which we hold our images of others from
back when you meant this to me. We pass each other
quiet, the way our own great-grandparents
slow-danced years ago on foreign soil
beneath foreign Lithuanian moonlight.
Quiet to avoid disturbing whatever was scheduled
to pour from the sky that evening. We dance that quiet
now as if we’ve forgotten each other’s name.
She has a long drive back to Parkersburg.
I don’t blame her for talking to one less person
from ten years ago in the church of our Grandparents,
that we only attend when visiting our grandparents
to show our grandparents how we’ve grown.
The maple on the grounds of the church grew sick
years ago. The church decided to cut the top of it off,
leaving the trunk and I used to look
at this wooden thumb sticking up out of the earth
thinking one day it’s gonna grow its head back
like a fool, because I believe in miracles and love and green paint.
Now, it’s the one thing I can count on to stay the same
headless mess as me. On the way home, Grandma asks
about her mother and father again and
my grandpa’s about to say They died forty years ago,
the way he does every day, forcing her to relive the grief
of losing her parents, as if breaking every light in her
might make her shine less, but the same bright
celestial metallic turquoise each morning she wakes
into her forgetting she shines. So I say —Oh I think they’re up
in Thomas and she says Oh, that’s nice and I turn the radio
way up before anyone can say anything about it they’ll regret
later on and the Mon River squirms north
beside us and all of the children chasing lightning
bugs we once were we continue to be.


Photograph of Keegan Lester by Ashley Lester.

Keegan Lester is the author of the collection of poetry this shouldn’t be beautiful but it was and it was all i had so i drew it. His work has been published in Ploughshares, Poem A Day, The Journal, The Boston Review, and CutBank among others and was anthologized in volume three of Bettering American Poetry. More from this author →