Selected Poems

Selected Poems

A Poem by Kherry McKay

Here's a survey of my poetry, old and new.


      Copyright © 2009 by Kherry McKay





On the First Day

Little boy in the early

Gotta make! Gotta make!

The future unfurls, holds

the sky

and lets each day be a creation.

Gotta joy! Gotta joy!

Love the boy!

The boy is me

making the sky curl


and pull up

its waistcoat, cinch its cloudy belt—

I want to roll up

the air’s sleeves

and make nothing into something

like God

on the first day.



Reading My Poems Tipsy at Tsunamis

“Deliver me from Swedish furniture.”
                       - Chuck Palahniuk

One glass of merlot
has led to three,
and now it’s my turn.
Clearing my throat, I want to tell everyone.
How should I?
Imbibing language,
I complete the fermentation, spewing
simile’s juice
from a floating orb, my head.
They’ll understand, I pray.
They’ll understand.
Flurrst, I say and know the jig is up—
but everyone stares
and thinks I’ve invented a new word.
They believe me! Who am I
to tell them they’re wrong?
I’m their new Bachannal smithy,
Cupid of distilled metaphors!
I don’t think management likes me
much at Tsunami’s—not really.
Too much free wine.
Isn’t it strange, we hide
our sins and flaws in metal cages,
boxes built by birds—strange ones—

birds inside us,
those nestbuilders of guilt?
I drink more, and toast to the bookstore.
Besides the wine,
they douse my generosities
and my fear of simply writing.
Achieving one or the other
is forgetting, forgetting everything—
and that’s enough, enough for me.



On Looking at a Lost Sandal on the Beach



Lakeshore sandal

a little girl’s

lost last summer

Ten feet above the waterline,

clear plastic

transparent like an opaque God

sees through us. It came off

as she lunged into a boat,

her father’s arms, outstretched,

I like to think.


Now it’s muddy, forgotten

even by her—

as a birth memory or like a friend

we forgot to have over for dinner.

In a few months

the lake will reclaim it,

spread over it like moss-love,

like the contagious

praises of a father.


She will be dreaming then.

In that dream, the lake

shall become glass,

and she shall walk upon it.

She is cinderella who walks on water.

Her father comes,

He, of the Deep.

Will all the remnants of our lives

be found on some

God-crisscrossed beach?

I’m the little girl;

you are the sandal

or God traversing, or

maybe, for heaven’s sake,

the dreamer.



How to Attract a Woman


Things you’ll need
It will take fearlessness—
a fearlessness that faces and rejects
all past rejections as being about you.

It will take cunning—the cunning to see
yourself as less important
than you imagine.

It will take beams of light, nerves
of supple puddy, sensitivity
to see her dreams and know deep down,
you can’t help her fulfill half of them.

Charm: Isn’t charm just forgiving
yourself that you’re an idiot?
And persistence, the persistence
to be more and more the person she needs,
and less and less the critic you are.

And desire—which is really
just telling her with your eyes
you want her madly, even when she’s having
the worst body-image day of her life.

Forgetfulness, your forgetting your needs
are significant or more important than hers.
Spirituality—the phrase from your mouth
when you see her is “Thank
God!” Say it every time you see her,
to be holy.

You’ll need tenderness: the tenderness
to take out the trash
at her place in a snowstorm.

Lastly, intelligence: the brains
to know she’s smarter than you;
smart enough, even, to help you
discover this for yourself.

You can have it your way
and remain a lonely hermit like me,
or you can acquiesce and find love.
If you follow my approach, you’ll find
love has been around
all along.



Pomegranate Blossom


For J.


Something unknown, a cool-red
opal feeling on the tongue,
kernel of the flesh of daughters
growing up with love.
Mild, sweet. A fatal taste to 
Hades but not to hell—
she took me in
before I felt outside the Earth.

In Persephone’s shadow,
the flavor of sugar, dark molasses
and chocolate.
She wrapped her mouth around

My summer pod of cinnamon, of clove—
I was ensconced like spices, a pepper,
a fresh seed, juice; destiny.
My life was lived

Without much fruit until she planted
me, lancing me with memories of autumn,
of hard freezes; of the release
from her pomegranate blossom
to sing of the wind
and its germinating love.





I pull off my guise sometimes to see you.
Not my real guise, which is more a baby

I replace myself with another of
our many disguises. I put on instead

For instance, that timeworn old
get up with a catcher
s glove that is

Leathery, has soft crinkles and stains.
You never ask me to. Sometimes, you don

Like its worn cowhide, the castor oil smell,
the feeling of a pitch coming straight at us

At ninety miles an hour. You refer to that part
of us as
Ol Mitt Rawlings, and your slender

Hand, fitting nicely within the leather pocket,
nonetheless asks for another façade, maybe

My Zorro, or erect Batman saving Gotham,
or David getting his last close shave

From Michelangelo
s careful chisel.
But later, you
ll ask me to put on again

The catcher
s gear and kiss you hard with
something to slow down the velocity of our

Love. You like it when I love you as
if I could catch any curve ball you threw

When my masculinity serves us both

me not understanding, not wanting to control it,

You, accustomed to the screaming missiles,
loving good pitching nine innings a day.




A Betrayal



When my daughter was four,
I took her to the park by the railyard.
It was warm, and I told her I was
leaving for a while and would write her
from wherever I went.

“Like a vacation,” I said. “Only
you stay gone.”

I said I loved her,
and tears streamed
down our faces, tears she didn’t
and wiped from my eyes like dewdrops
smeared off a tree trunk.

It seemed to her
the thing to do for a daddy leaving.

I can still see moisture on her fingers
as the trains flowed on. She wiped my eyes
like she was dressing a wound.
And the memory
of her hands coming over my eyes
became, in fact, a wound remembered.

I went back to her in a dream—
I went back to her in a body.

Now, she thinks she sees
a bending tree trunk
a father,
when she sees dewdrops,
or thinks of betrayal
or longs for a fatherly dream.





It could be the freckled kid in eighth grade
who borrowed the homeroom key
and never brought it back.
Like not doing something for a long time,
then gathering it up like a child, a list.
Similar to calling old loves,
playing the piano again.
It’s what I am when I’m around romance—
not talking about it, but doing it.

It could be a nail or a hinge
or the sixth lumbosacral vertebrae
after a ten-hour day.
Oxide squeak, something forces its way
into the friction: like forgiveness,
like hoping for reconciliation in autumn
as yesterday’s leaves
dark red blossoms today.




A Chimney of Stars

“A cone-shaped superbubble,
 the W-4 Chimney was
 probably created by a
 cluster of massive stars.”
Scientific American Magazine

A sun, the invisible sun: we
saw the gaslight languish, holding back
warmth as if depressed.
The dance of unfolded time
without a wistful pirouette, as if
a star could curtsy in a gemmed galaxy

its skirt, the gems!

God hardly there, nothing
to indicate meaning, just worlds
like rubies chasing yellow-diamond brothers
going here, returning there,
arriving at coal darkness like children
weary of a trip.

You aren’t there; neither am I
We’re disabled, anthracite dust,
the stuff of unborn planets.
Suns to souls
to dust, it’s been like this forever
and shows no sign of changing
even when we aren’t
circling a star with a name.
Shadowy pile of syllables,
every once in a stellar while,
a world emerges from all this inky drift.
Before long, it’s a cone like W-4,
then an ice cream cone
then the little girl holding it

rocky-road-triple-fudge dripping from chin,
her face content

then a laugh expelled
then a billion years
then, another cloud
of uncontrolled syllables
and depressed gases waiting to pirouette
that’s us.



In the Harrisburg Bus Terminal,
Four Days after Saying Goodbye

for M.

A Vietnamese man sits where she had, smiling,
pilfering a magazine. Above, the Super Friendly Fares
sign looms with its ambivalent, eager bisexual man
trying to decide on Edgar or Mom’s cooking.
(I’d pointed this out to her and she
d laughed!)
An old stairway, its 30
s curve seen through a doorway,
the railings she worked as she explained how her balance
often didn’t. The terminal, silent, ominous: lonely
without her
as if the depot were for moving people
from city to city and not for romance, for her
mouth speaking of accidents and her changed destiny.

Our man walks over to the tiled wall and comes back,
smiling in wide Asian vowels. Does he detect my
languor without her? Her curled up spirit spoke to
every molecule inside me; all of them still bray. How
to let it be known without seeming foolish?

The sound of a crash far away, the screeching of tires.
Large gaps must be allotted for,
spaces for lost memory.
Jungians, Sunday’s crosswords. Are people put off
by unambiguous thoughts or does fog help? Love’s
all around
even for my Vietnamese gentleman,
who loves what he’s reading. He grins, marking it in blue.
I wish I could have given her something to do
on that bad evening. Anything but to roll away. . . .

The coaches call. Buses, they’re like elephants and we’re
the Hindu riders. Marble floors, ennui. The wreck and
the coma; a hemorrhaging the hospital could’t stop. But she
got to me, that counts. It was years later, but she made it.
And don’t we appreciate life best during the times
when we’re forced to wait? Carefully, she conjures me.
I’m smoke beneath her door. She feels my heat
but not enough yet to yell “Fire!”




Some Advice



The Road Less Traveled was a U-Turn onto the Boulevard of the Allies, over and under and across bridges and through dark old mountains, up steep slopes to another U-turn, getting lost in Greentree, becoming exasperated and hearing “I’m going to break up with you if you don’t get us un-lost!” and going further, tentatively and with contrition, and then laughing and realizing being a lousy navigator isn’t so bad, and going to Youngstown and State College, getting cocky, running out of gas, having to hitchhike and beg for money, work for food, becoming hungry, going home to my father to tell him I love him, telling him I love him even though he doesn’t want to hear it, getting back in my car and ending up in Pittsburgh, no longer lost but simply eager and grateful for the next road. But a piece of advice—don’t take the Boulevard of the Allies.




I will Marry You, Jennifer Lopez


I will marry you, Jennifer Lopez. But you’ll have to
follow me, sometimes. You’ll have to realize
just a person, no more important than anyone else.
You’ll have to turn the cell phone off in the evenings.
You’ll have to come to my poetry readings.

When we make love, it won’t be the world wanting you,
just a clumsy grateful man. (Sometimes, I won’t want
you. Sometimes, I’ll despise you, and you’ll despise
me.) Friends will ask, “Why did you marry Kherry?”

“I haven’t a clue,” you’ll say, but you will have. For
I rub your feet. When I cook soup, it’s better
than if a famous chef made it for you. Our tender
animal moments are all we truly seek.

I will marry you, Jennifer Lopez, if you’ll hold to that
cavernous part of the heart, the part that retains
commitment. Look now. Do you see it? You will
when you’re ready, and it won’t matter the man, then,
only the meter. Love is knowing how and when to
come home and turn off the lights.


Advice to Poets on Poems


Try to write from a place of I want to
write a poem
—not from I have a poem to write.
Poetry is about how everyone and everything are one.
If it’s about anything else, it’s a bad poem,
or worse, it’s prose.
Fall in love with nouns; nouns are like hummingbirds
seeking the gods’ sub-lingual nectar, things of
concrete beauty and poignancy.
Enrapture yourself with ontologies like garbanzo beans,
yoga, stethoscopes, and djembes.  They all
have something in common.  That’s what your poem
is about.

Nouns have a greater weight than adjectives, which,
by the way, are the playful shadows children
give to things so they can tell us
if they like them. Verbs mix in
as invisible carobs
in a good cakemix—unnoticed but tasty, nonetheless.
Adverbs are, for the most part, the sworn enemy,
especially adverbs like “especially”—
but every rule is made to be broken,
especially rules about things to avoid.
Throw words together like ping-pong balls
into a large, clear plastic lottery container
of the heart, not the mind.
Turn the airstream on high.
See everything spinning around. “Yoga”
becomes the careful way a doctor uses her stethoscope;
“garbonza bean,” the name that can be given
to a kid with a little drum,
or to drums children might use
while their parents practice kundalini.
A last piece of advice:
forget every piece of advice I,
or anyone, especially a writer, has ever put forth.
Forge anew. Thrillingly—adverbially—go where
no phrase has glided before.
Laugh, like garbonza beans do
when they wake up and find themselves coupled
or making tiny popping noises; or
cough syllables into the air, your gutteral yoga,
so no one needs a stethoscope
to hear the poetry coming from within.






 Take a look at more of Kherry McKay's writing in the Cafe!









© 2009 Kherry McKay

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Added on February 21, 2009
Last Updated on February 23, 2009