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The Gifts of San Francisco


were the gifts of San Francisco, the popsicle

invented by a boy not even 12 years old, in a heat wave;

the Mai Tai, like a chapter from Drew Cushing’s novel

of boy brothels in the days of the Barbary Coast;

cioppino, crab soup of the Genovese fishermen who

swam, like Mark di Suvero, through the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge—white thick hot mass of potash in bowl;

Irish coffee, a splash of brandy in java, perks you up as it knocks you down;

the fortune cookie, poem, warning, ransom

wrapped into thin dough, you will meet a dark stranger;

Crab Louis, named after Louis Quatorze?  Louis CL?  Louis Armstrong?  Louis Nye, crabfaced specter of my childhood,

crazy Frank Gorhsin-like villain of afternoon TV;

Pisco Punch with that little hint of piss in its very

name, oh sure, yes, shake me up a dozen, bartender;

chicken Tetrazzini, they hailed her at the opera,

held her aloft by her legs and arms in a torchlight procession of chicken, of angels;

green goddess dressing, not the protoplasmic creature of Robert Graves’ desiring, but

a woman like Alice Waters in the slow food living foods movement,

her arms stained with light and chlorophyll;

the Martini, they served them at our poets theater intensive performance in Vancouver,

but instead of vermouth, Lee offered lemon-lime soda, delicious and wry,

like the late Elaine Stritch, next day it’s pretzels and beer;

that seems clear

Rice-a Roni, bell clang on hill top, swoops of brakes unfurling down Nob Hill, I longed

to be in the TV commercial like a boy in a brothel, red, gold;

Hang Town Fry, before the end of the poem I will know what it is, the image shall descend on me like a halo,

like a hey-hey-low, and

It’s-it, graham crackers and chocolate, dipped over ice cream, part time paradise, like its id, and these,

the gifts of San Francisco, I extend to the ego, the superego, the colors and germs of your generosity.  Come Freudian constructs,

I am tired of my self and of hobbling these lists,

in infinite reconstruction throw ashore your appetites,

want all of them to unravel under my skin, like that Korean movie we saw,

The Host, a little drop of poison and an alien sea lion erupts from river downtown

in Seoul, chaos ensues, family implodes, a hundred things dissolve their hope in acid;

my gifts come softer than those.

Ruined city under the apoplectic heel of the eel....  in the blink of time in which the match head catches, can you see its










Mallarme’s SEA BREEZE

My skin’s all peeling, ugh, my tats melt from my forearms,
into the illegible wax sperm flat on shower floor.
Let’s you and me follow the gulls drunker than Onan’s daughters
deep into the vault of violet sky.  Hey, sea breeze.
Nothing, not even the gated community of Sea Ranch
can stop us from jumping off the ruinous cliff
into the dark!  Quick, Laure, blow out the candles.
What’s that white unicorn-esque maquette in your palm?
You feed it honey from your glass menagerie?
Just quit this life!  Little canoe, tied down with twizzle sticks,
swivel your bow towards exotic everywhere:
“Kiss today goodbye, and point me towards tomorrow.”
Cover my departing footprints with hankies in the sand.
And maybe the oars of life, dipping into the Liffey,
were only mother’s name for life’s adversities?
A change is as good as a rest, she used to moan,
but nothing ever changes bar the sailor boy’s birthstone.









Get Outta My Way (A Sestina)

As a party game, we used to ask, like Kylie Minogue: “What’s the worst thing, that could happen to you?”

I don’t play that game no mo.  I’m lucky I guess, but is there such a thing as occurrence without agency?  Inside the belly of the sestina,

I survived just like Elaine Stritch,
The life inside the sestina of Scotch,
Bringing those key words back again and Stritch,
At the close of the sestina, I’ll have a Scotch.

She sang about all the things she survived, did Elaine Stritch,
The ladies who lunch, J.  Edgar and Herbert Ho-oo-oover, and Scotch,
Plugged in my bowels a silicon of pewter, rub it, it will stritch,
What’s the worst thing that could happen to Scotch?
To be trapped inside this sestina with the Memphis blues a Stritch,

If so I could be the poster boy for Scotch

Now I’ve showed you what I’m made of, Stritch.

Now I’ve showed you what I’m made of, Scotch, Stritch.














Secret Lives

in a secret project space,

Chiacgo, tonight, your fate is on the wall.

I flew out of the west to greet you in this limited zone,

I brought cupcakes and pot from the Haight in the Mission.

Secret lives in a post-gay economy,

where I could marry you or you tomorrow,

and in the space of an hour could lose my female hormones

to a non-matriculating major of Penn,

as up on the Miracle Mile I gazed at the wall,

where all the great buildings and freaks of the world got kid-

napped to this site, on location, the Taj Mahal, the Eiffel Tower,

the Sphinx, so I thought of you, again grew depressed.

My tears won’t stop, you can put all the green ink in that

river thing.  In France they call what I’ve got the

secret de Polichinelle, the thing everyone’s got on

Matthew and Olivia, but I can’t say their names.

Another life has other lives to live.









Secret Lives II

—and the motor in your elbow says,

“Time to swerve, Serena Williams!”  He plays

like one who really enjoys his life, the uncanny

face of the tsunami

plucks the gray from your beard,

and one by one the weird

Uranus of your past fades from view, as

though none of them had bugged you, and all that jazz

they used to play in suede has flown to Deauville,

The personality of dissent has changed:

When they find out your mechanical bent,

the press will have a feel day, Howard,

that’ll make men’s pannetone seem like

a tsuanmi in Loveland.









Table of the Elements

It was the elements he got right,
The strangeness of the new land, its fuzzy things called “trees,”
          the spice in the air, the thick
          avocado paste of novelty,
and simultaneously a war to win.
Does it ever leave you, that feeling of having been taken
          hostage by the left, hostage by the right,

sworn to vassalage by your secret tutor, to the undying borders of
          the nation state?  Now dry off the elements of tin, mercury, iron,
          oxygen, gold.  I was sleeping on a country lawn,
eyes wet with dew, my trousers soaked, my thighs cold,

and a tall animal approacheth, licketh my face clean of soil.

It is the salt of tears for your country, said the wise Platonic antelope.

Down red clay track he raced like a son of a bitch.


Like Don Draper, like Anna Madrigal in Tales of the City, I dreamed of my youth, as an awkward teen raised up in a brothel,

my brother dead, the women I loved lying to me, their silk dresses,

their pale, pink, storebought slips, —but the elements they got right, in my dreams they slept and tossed, as up to the star-torn skies we
were winning a war against dads,

I played piano in the parlor to entertain my dad, as he cracked his knuckles against his muscles.

Did this happen, I cried, when I awoke?  Or was it but the historical materiality of the Cold War that impressed me like Play-Doh,

I’m sorry, Kevin, my father said, you mean Plato, do you not, the name of the Sal Mineo character in Rebel Without a Cause, who lied to you,

who wanted James Dean and Natalie Wood as his parents, the philosopher king with the shadows on the cave?  Fuck no I mean Play-Doh, dad,

that yellow gooey clay with salty scent that coats one’s nostrils like living, that just peels off, that you can put on newspaper and it mirrors the news,

crying the salt of tears for my country,

you could throw it and it would stick to the wall like when pasta is done, said my dad, as in dreams the dead come and animate your bones once again

Down raced the wise antelope, down the red track.  “Brother deer,” I cried, only to be told, that the antelope is not a deer, nor is she my brother.  Down she raced like a mad thing, lips afroth with delight.

I stood beside myself in my representation: there were two of me, like Plato’s concept of me and my shadow, and someday I’ll be a perfected version of that sorry-ass thing I see in the mirror,

speculating and gesticulating with bony fingers and my adam’s apple, swallowing up and down, the sign of the liar in panic, in the Platonic mix of flour, water, boric acid, mineral oil, and salt,

my birthright, my dreamright, my clay, yellow clay.










Not an element, according to the internet

but one of the jewels I knew as a little boy,

kids like to know these things, that there’s a blue jewel,

I know Mommy–sapphire—and a red jewel—

Ruby—some of these were the names of girls,

There was Pearl Bailey; Topaz, in I Capture the Castle,

the artist’s model, the earth mother, walking the moors naked

swallowing fog in her teeth, Topaz,

and Emerald Cunard, that’s the green jewel, and on

the covers of jazz LPs from the 50s emeralds winked everywhere

it was the color of the magic city that Dorothy and Toto saw,

something fierce about that city, the Wizard was scary,

And where I came from they called the Emerald Isle, as though “Isle” weren’t
                  already ridiculous

We lived on Long Island, not even the Irish among us called it “Long Isle.”

Maybe that would have made a difference as I grew,

And the mists swirled round my face on the Isle,

I got used to saying “I’ll,” a homonym,

Oh, I’ll suck your cock, Dr. Temple, oh, I’ll ace that exam,

Why even study, I’ll take that LSD three hundred times that year,

Around me the waves grew in pitch,

Soon it was just me and the emeralds in my pocket,

I came to America and threw them on the ground like Johnny Appleseed,

And from my progress to California came a race of strong robots,

Androids with green eyes, the color of Kermit, but vicious.

I’ll never forget them, they make me want to blow.

Shoes, tap three times, bring me back to the place

Where you and you and you were there—and Toto, too.







Kevin Killian

KEVIN KILLIAN, who lives in San Francisco, has written three novels, a book of memoirs, and three books of stories. He is the author of three collections of poetry, Argento Series (2001), Action Kylie (2008) and Tweaky Village (2014). Brand new: a chapbook from The Song Cave called Pink Narcissus Poems.


The Brooklyn Rail

APR 2015

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