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Deborah Keenan: Two Poems
Hands in the Garden | Garlic  Trees  Incest

Hands in the Garden

The hands were weary. The living hands of the woman who worked
Alone, yes, she kept trying to invent beauty, didn't realize she was
Ahistorical, just tried to believe in beauty one more spring, and the other
Hands, too, all the gardeners who planted, murderers who murdered, then
Moved on to other plots, weary, too, and hands of children, who played past
Exhaustion in the garden, in the garden that stayed garden, or stayed a place
Of death, they were tired, past happiness, far past, and ghost hands, too,
Long dead, all lost in agreement about what to do with the garden,
And from their fury, their deadly arguments about what beauty really was,
Really meant, grew certain flowers. The living hands of the woman
Coaxed, in a limited way, trillium, poppies, wild roses, yellow violets
Into the space of her garden, but all the desiring, angry hands of the dead,
The murderers, the murdered, the children, the ghosts were finally too much
For her. She might be leaving the garden now, she might seek another kind of
Beauty, less entangled with all these hands thrusting upwards, and we might
Go with her, take her hands and wash them for her. She did not ask for our
Company, but we love her, and though she might start out for the ocean,
The desert, we know she belongs in the garden. We will guide her back.

Garlic  Trees  Incest

In all the cultures of the world
Three and only three nouns,
And the meanings of those nouns,
Are held in common.

Take moonlight. Somewhere a group
Of humans, apparently, do not believe
In Moonlight.
Take children.
Take road.
Take willow.
Take spark.
Take leopard. Leopard, famous around the world—
That's what we thought.
But we were wrong. Somewhere leopard
Does not exist, perhaps in a culture that only sees
Stripes, or animals of a single color.
Take ocean. Take sorrow.
Take mother, take baby.
Take your cherished list of nouns—
They belong to you, but not to the world.

The world gets: garlic for health,
Antibiotic from the gods who say in booming,
Genderless voices: if you can't be healed
With garlic stop your prayers.

The world gets: trees, for holiness, for beauty,
For the idea of a forest, for poems written
With desperate longing to escape the self.
All over the world the third word babies say
Is tree.

And then incest: as in taboo,
One noun of the three signifies wickedness—
Two nouns for protection, and one noun
That tree and garlic cannot guard, cannot cure,
One noun not strong enough to stop
The meaning of itself from happening
In every culture of our world.

Poet's Biography:

Photo credit: ©Tim Francisco
Deborah Keenan is the author of five collections of poetry, from New Rivers Press, Milkweed Editions Press, Midnight Paper Sales Press (limited edition) and CoffeeHouse Press, which published her latest book,Happiness, almost sold out of its second edition. With Poet Roseann Lloyd she co-edited Looking for Home: Women Writing About Exile, which won the American Book Award in 1991 for multi-cultural literature. She's received two Bush Foundation Fellowships, an NEA fellowship, the Loft-McKnight Poet of Distinction Fellowship, and other grants and awards. She is a full-time Associate Professor in the Master of Fine Arts and the Master of Liberal Studies Graduate Programs at Hamline University, St. Paul. She is married and the mother of four children, and at work on a novel and her next book of poetry, Good Heart.

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