Four poems by Keith Ekiss

Keith Ekiss

Keith Ekiss

Keith Ekiss is a former Wallace Stegner Fellow and Jones Lecturer in Poetry at Stanford University and the past recipient of scholarships and residencies from the Bread Loaf and Squaw Valley Writers Conferences, Santa Fe Art Institute, Millay Colony for the Arts, and the Petrified Forest National Park. His first book, Pima Road Notebook, is forthcoming from New Issues Poetry & Prose in 2010.

Danny Lane / Christine Coil

           -after Richard Avedon's, In the American West

Let's begin with the Coca-Cola 
     belt buckle: topless goddess in bronze, breasts 
exposed along his waist, symbolizing?
                                                                 Danny's hand
cradles Christine's face, there's a child
     I imagine between their likeness-
a nose that meets between his bulb and her button.
Necklace pendant, pewter heart.             
      Same blonde bangs,
knifeblade crease of skin around the eyes
                 predicting rougher weather, striking mines.




If Avedon Photographed My Father

One proud scar: hockey-pucked nose,
childhood cut never wholly healed. 
Cropped gray hair, gelatin-silvered.
One prop: briefcase weathered like skin.
Well-pressed dark blue business suit-
the one, he repeats, we'll bury him in. 
Yellow teeth, he quit the Dutch Masters, 
swapped cigars and gin for heart medicine. 
Eyes tired by years of negotiation. 
The look of self-made men: he's done it, 
survived, and he's waiting for his son                        
to join him.




Cabeza de Vaca at the Circle K

To the child, traffic seems angry-
strip mine, strip mall, strip club.
His mother stops at the Circle K 
to pick up matches and smokes. 
Static of rain clutters the windshield
like information. If there's no water 
in the river and the river is dammed, 
this is sickness. Spring rain ripens 
prickly pear they never learn to eat.
The child thumbs a picture book: 
The Great Explorers. He knows Spanish, 
translates Head of a Cow, funny name 
crowning a man so famous. Lost 
in the wilderness, he witnessed 
the terrible beauty of lightning-struck 
mesquite, took the natural fire as sign: 
Christ of the Blistering Tree,
whose ash rained over his upturned
palms. No seven cities of gold, no treasure 
buried beneath his bleeding feet.




Up and Down Picacho Peak

Hunter trail, I walk the path
            named for the Confederate Captain
who burned haystacks to starve Union horses. 
            Blue lupine guards the way, globe mallows
beneath my feet map the landscape's
            vastness: both sides were lost,
hadn't meant to skirmish. If they almost died 
            of thirst, there were too many reminders
of water: palo verde swim in yellow and bees, 
            the peak curls like a wave about to break.
An easy climb, straight up through granite cliffs,
            unlike this history. Slaves the territory 
sought as soldiers to flush out Apache,
            and keep the mines humming. I reach 
the summit quickly, scenery and scent: 
            ploughed cotton fields, dead volcanoes.
I turn my back on the freeway. The better idea 
            of the West, arroyos toward the Sawtooth 
range, no roads find it- beauty like stillness, 
            though it never lacks thorn and edge.
On the way down, I skip the marked trail, 
            drift along the ridge: the animal spine of it, 
the broken back of it. Switchbacking starling
            nearly spears my hair. I chimney lower,
careful for pincushion needles, thinking 
            as I lose my way slowly: hard to believe 
they fought for this, shins cut, shaken            
            into laughter, already full of the story.