Two poems by Jesse Lee Kercheval

Jesse Lee Kercheval

Jesse Lee Kercheval

Jesse Lee Kercheval's most recent books are Brazil (CSU Poetry Center, 2010), winner of the Ruthanne Wiley Memorial Novella Prize, and the poetry collection Cinema Muto (SIU Press, 2009), winner of a Crab Orchard Open Series Award. She is the author of 9 other books of fiction, poetry and nonfiction. Currently, she is the Sally Mead Hands Professor of English and the Director of the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing.

Memorial Day

I am standing on the beach
crying, Who am I? If you
would just arrive
in time to kiss me,
then we could put our suits on & swim
& swim.

I love you I love you I love you
I say, but I turn
& the window
that is your way in
is closing. Words close it.
Poems even, like roll
shades, like steel shop

That's funny, I said. There's blood
on my lips where
we've been kissing.

If love is sex
we were in love.
& if love outlasts
the body, then
I am you,
it is fair to say.

All day, I'm stuck
here. The sky
a bruise. The beach
a scar. Memorial Day
& I sit waiting, half
buried in the sand.




Learning to Lie

First, make a list—

1. Elvis Presley wrote me a poem
2. My brother in a bikini
3. I am white shoes

only one is
which one

Walt Whitman would know
Emily Dickinson would know in an instant
Allen Ginsburg wouldn't give a fuck

bring me questions
bring your concerns
How many days in the hospital?
Did you know where you were?

Fell off the ski lift
My boyfriend at the time

My aunt the Neil Diamond impersonator

Snow White kissed me on the cheek &
I didn't mind a bit

I kept a lobster as a pet

Next, use
dry facts as tinder
explode the moment

What country isn't
What history isn't

My Huguenot ancesters fled France
after the St. Bartholmew Day Massacre
Protestant blood in the streets

I imagine snow
but red

Was it as cold there

as it is here?


I imagine suitcases
though it was centuries before Samsonite

in the sky
a bloody red moon


silence rising from the ditches

in legends
in myth

History as a hinge

When offered the crown if he would convert,
Henry of Navarre said
Paris is well worth a mass

my ancestors refusing
or fled

they could have lied—
should have?

if they had converted—I would be French
& Catholic
in that lasting but inattentive way
the French are Catholic

Then, in Idaho, my widowed grandmother
married an Irish Catholic
& converted history
into the joke it already was

I realized this late

but then I learned many things late

that business about dying, for example

Rather tell the truth?
It's simple




Is it as cold there

as it is here?
I prefer a lie