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THREE POEMS – Kelli Stevens Kane

on March 16 | in Poetry | by | with No Comments


     for Alex Honnold, 2011

You say finger locking feels very exposed.    I’ll never know how
my body feels relying on skill to live, or       do we all know how it feels
Alex? At any altitude the heart could stop,           lungs could collapse.
I don’t mean what you’re doing isn’t dangerous,   I just mean I understand
why you do it. Living in a van so you can climb    all the time is some kind of
cousin to riding 11 hours on a bus to read one     poem, then riding 11 hours
back home. I’m not even sure what home is   anymore. I don’t think it’s your
van that smells like socks and underarms or     the bus with its freezing
air climbing up the headboard of my dirty       window, a pair of pants
for my pillow. It’s not in front of the cameras   that follow you up Half Dome
or in the spotlight on the stage I read from.      It’s not your mother’s house,
where you leave most of your clothes, or my      house whose woodwork
made me cry when I first walked in. You and I       both know, some
things just have to be done. And whatever that is,     we call it home.
I take a pen, lock my fingers around it, and            it feels very exposed.
Sometimes every muscle aches from this         exposure and sometimes
I ache from failure to expose anything.         Either way, the poems
don’t give a damn about me, the rocks you       climb don’t care
about you either, and it doesn’t even matter.        I can’t stop writing
any more than you can stop climbing. They say     poets die first. One day
neither of us will be here. All that will matter is    that we did what we came
here to do, even if everything and everyone else in    our lives, including  ourselves,
came in second. Some say you’re selfish, others say     no, you’d be selfish if
you had a wife and kids. What would they say about      me? Filthy house, no
dinner on the table, I moved back here to be closer to     family and now I don’t even
visit them. No rope, this wife and mother’s version of free   solo. I’ve jammed
my whole life into these poems, so if I fall first, remind     them to bury
me in words. And if you fall first, we already know    in stone.

As if my body doesn’t know
my body. As if abnormal equals
illness. As if I could be sick
and not know. As if, as if,
as if the womb is not a heart,
as if the heart wouldn’t cry,
as if this should be a time of action
instead of reflection. As I begin
my fourth month of bleeding,
understand–we are
having our last conversation, we
have loved each other deeply. I
am healthy. This is healthy. You
will not scrape away a pure thing.

Irrelevant swelling. Ignore
ankle. Injury
is illusion. Resume movement.
Kelli Stevens Kane is a poet, playwright, and oral historian. She’s a Cave Canem Fellow and an August Wilson Center Fellow, and has received Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh grants from The Pittsburgh Foundation. She’s studied at VONA, Hurston/Wright, and Callaloo. She’s read her poetry and oral history, and performed her one woman show, BIG GEORGE, nationally. Her work is published in North American Review, Little Patuxent Review, Split This Rock, Under a Warm Green Linden, Painted Bride Quarterly, and African Voices. For more information, visit

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