“Way-Tamer” and other poems by Kathryn Keane

Driving Lesson

All I have in this breath is
This brain in this tin shell
In this endless second
My grip choking the wheel –

This brain in this tin shell
Rattles and stutters and jerks
My grip choking the wheel
So letting go is the only thing

That rattles and stutters and jerks
Will let past the steering wheel.
So letting go is the only thing
Left now I’ve learned to fly:

Past the steering wheel
My wringing out of skill has
Left now I’ve learned to fly
Like a cloth uncurling
Like a fishing line unspooling –
This tin shell flies, and flies, and flies.



at eight i saw it.

the smell of earth
thick and foreboding
in the air;
unearthed by accident,
its sickly white
a shock
against the dark.

i teetered on my toes
and held its hands;
powdery, dust-dry,
like old cheese,
its fingers were brittle.
its grip was strong.

and i welcomed it,
when the vertebrae floated
in my glass of milk,
when the ribs curved up
between the bars
of the xylophone:

and i played house
with the gaping skull.



I earned that name.
Through eons of the giant stirring
beneath the broiling earth,
Through his waking, and the first breaking
of the land into its parts,
Through the sea’s first fury
when it was split in two,
I still wandered.

I stood alone on the first beach,
on the first rock
battered into dust,
and watched the formless churning
at the end of every world,
and I still wandered.

I saw the first hanged man
jerk and splutter upon his rope,
and saw that the one who watched
like a hungry dog
would die on the gallows too,
and I still wandered.

Even when I warm my feet
in front of my own fire
and the quickest of the dances
pushes the gales away,
the road-song beats within my mind
like the cawing of a crow.

For when I first began to seek
the familiar and the strange,
all those things I thought I sought
but ended just the same
as each useless, petty, little thing
I thought I’d left behind,

I found the tree – that gnarled old beast –
from which I had yet to swing
and as I stared at the looming branch
where I’d soon taste nine days’ death,
I pushed a gnarled old hand against the bark
and spat upon its roots.
For, I was not dead yet.



do i glimpse a brute in you,
when we sleep flesh to flesh,
when your moist breath
clings to my face
as it rasps
past teeth and tongue,

or, in your forehead softened,
and your lips come slowly loose,
do you release each thought and word
that hides each of your hurts?

do i catch you unfiltered
and raw as morning breath?
within our sleeping, flesh to flesh
is there room left to hide?

is there room to scour ourselves
as we scour dirt from our teeth?
or can you see the brute in me
and its every snarling hurt?


My Boyfriend’s Beard

I asked him, once,
as between my fingers
each riotous strand sprang up,
‘What would happen if
you straightened it?’
And laughing, he said
it would go on fire.

I hope he never does.
For when the world dizzies me
with its anarchy,
and I burn myself
fumbling for order,
his beard between my fingers
wild and weird
as any of my spinning thoughts
makes a straightener seem a straitjacket
and turns the whirling of the world
into a waltz.

Way-Tamer and other poems are © Kathryn Keane

Kathryn Keane writes poetry and short fiction. Her work can also be found in Culture Matters, Silver Apples Magazine and Bitterzoet Magazine, among others. She has previously been a guest reader and performer at Mary Immaculate College’s Fem Fest, Stanzas: An Evening of Words, Thoor Ballylee’s Tower Poetry Slam, the Intervarsity Poetry Slam and On the Nail.

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