6 poems by Robert Kelly
from: Not this Island Music


The dogwood is no answer
it is opulent wax
the moon finally in our hands
and this is what the moon
smells like in our atmosphere
this night of ours
that needs so many flowers


the gypsies I remember were dirty
too clever to be dangerous
too languid to dance beneath
the moon really belonged to them
who else could own
so costly a thing, sellable,
undeliverable, the dreams
of unwed mothers


the houses that we had had iron
gates or hedges so thick
you couldnt see a girl through
though she wore a bright red jacket
and her iceskates jangled in her hand
and you could see her breath above the knotted branches


it is what comes down the street that makes us


the street the street the ice
alarming autumn catches yellow
elm leaves in, Batchelder
south to Avenue U, in those days
not very far from the sea.


Quiet and the shell
a sound out
beneath any sea
we may have happened
to hear -
far, itself, no land
in sight, not
all this island music.


It doesnt matter what we see there
(the mouth is full of sense
no taste in listening
no sense to hear
what twists in the shallow water below the tongue)

(and if he says Listen! say
Drink the hearing with
your own ears, a word
is not to hear)

Language? To use language for the sake of communication is like using a forest of ancient trees to make paper towels and cardboard boxes from all those years the wind and crows danced in the up of its slow.

A word is not to hear
and not to say -
what is a word?

The Catechism begins:
Who made you?
Language made me.
Why did It make you?
It made me to confuse the branch with the wind.
Why that?
To hide the root.
Where is the root?
It lies beneath the tongue.
Speak it.
It lies beneath the speech.
Is it a word?
A word is the shadow of a body passing.
Whose body is that?
The shadow's own.


Learn the new way
whatever it is at all
the beginning and what will you do
the end and what is done

learn the green mistakes
your father fell
and when you young
are beautifully wrong

when they teach you
loving say No
say Yes in the middle of No
be kind in emptiness

no one knows anything
so believe them all
a style is seduction
and worth a kiss

but dont get married
learn ships and wind
and all ways to go
when the tongue leaves the mouth

and the sky is not just money
and the sea is mostly wet
and Anywhere Anywhere
your lovesong your anthem

and Everywhere Everywhere
should be your mother
ask nothing but to give
and never remember

what you'll never forget
a bright road running
when you want nothing
and there is no different from here.


Never having done anything ever but watch
and never having actually watched anything,

never having attended to anything but cloud
and never having touched one or learned

its numbers or colors or rightful names
(except once on the slopes above Darjeeling

I wore out into the morning and breathed you in,
mother of atmosphere, green air,

eternity, vagrant, the monsoon
had brought you and I took you entirely in)

I call you cloud and call myself yours.


Wherever you are,
in any season,
I will come to you
from the flowers

she says, and always
call me
by your native language
lest men
think I am strange

or a woman known
only in books,
I am steady as sky
and no further away,

see me in your own
color, my lips
shape the same myths
you live inside,

whenever you do this
I am with you,
to kiss you often to sleep
or wake you
sudden or gentle,
a mouth
in the middle of things.