Redefining north.

Two Poems by Ashley Keyser

Two Poems by Ashley Keyser


Spoken-word poetry editor Jacqueline Boucher on today's bonus poems: The word "evocative" was invented for Ashley Keyser. The arsenal Keyser uses to conjure an image is so varied, from precise turns of phrase to a razor-sharp narrowing of focus on a carefully constructed hairstyle or the nape of a neck. Every line in both "The Hoggetowne Medieval Faire" and "Land of Flowers" begs to be excised, to be tucked behind your ear and read later. Or, in the case of "beefy carnie," the words become the thing you're dying to say out loud the first chance you get.

The Hoggetowne Medieval Faire

would smell like shit.
Its source, an elephant trundling the yard, is historically

to say nothing of ye olde corndogs and Subway,
but the odor
is right out of a scatologically slapstick story

by Chaucer.
He’s smelled it all day, the beefy carnie in the next lot,
sweating in leather

while he pushes a dragon-swing of baby-knights and their hot
seasick mom.
He grunts, his sunburned brow deep-knit,

as his belly gleams
beneath his open vest. In princess gear, the mom is a vision
of biz-cas S&M:

her ample bosom corseted; her hair, in a decorous bun,
tendriling little whips.
Across the park, tiaras glitter on crop-topped women,

coins at the hip
jangling a holiday exoticism. They hoot for the acrobats’ 
sword-juggling flips

or for their muscles stripped to gold shorty-shorts.
A fubsy girl screams,
“I’m bored!” Beneath this infanta, so is the elephant—

drained of color, she seems—
but she lowers ashy eyelashes, lurching poker-faced
as an ancient queen.


Land of Flowers

All the dads they have ever met
haunt their wardrobes, these scrubbed young men,
five abreast on the sidewalk. Five pastel polos,
each a different shade, like candy buttons,
or like the brassy condos flaunting their newness
on Clearwater Beach, where the sand irked you
(“too disorganized”) but you took off your shirt,
even though you didn’t want to be seen.
As the orange-tinted boys’ boat-shoes
slap vigorously toward us, we give way
to let their handsome health pass by.
We linger, like old news, in the gutter.

“It’s not that I’m shallow. It’s just
his lazy eye is so distracting.” The girls
in the next booth can’t stop agreeing,
their bowl-sized glasses tinkling. “Honey,
I know. You’re so not shallow.” Cocktails here
have names like Blowjob and Fuzzy Dick,
so we order our drinks neat. You’re purple
in harsh light, like a Toulouse-Lautrec painting
sunk in bathwater. “The real lazy thing,
if you ask me, is he doesn’t fix that eye.
All this modern medicine.” A few blocks down,
the tide writhes at the earth’s feet, a sound
drowned out by the game on plasma-screens.

3. August, when we “take a break,” flakes off
in piles of termite wings, what the fuckers shed
before banqueting on my house. Florida,
like its cockroaches, eats everything, yawning
sinkhole-mouths—under some guy’s bed,
even, while he slept! I sleep alone,
your salt and aftershave scenting the pillow.
Vines thread the shingles, as if no one
ever lived here. When I open Anna Karenina,
two termites breed in the cover, wriggling
and flightless, a smudged ex-libris.

4. The vasectomy surgeon’s missing-link brow
jabs at us from its billboard (1-800-VAS-TIME)
as you in the driver’s seat grab my wrist
and stuff my whole hand into your mouth.
I’d like to buy you something you don’t need:
fifteen boxes of berries from a roadside stand,
or the gas station’s basket of toy kittens
plastered in unnervingly realistic fur.
In answer to another billboard’s challenge,
“If you die tonight—HEAVEN or HELL?!”
you call the hotline: “I hope you aren’t bored
or lonely.” All the way home, I can’t stop
touching the silky down on your nape.

Ashley Keyser is from Chicago and lives in Gainesville, Florida. Her work has appeared in Nashville Review and is forthcoming in Pleiades.

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