Kerry Keys, Night Flight, Presa Press, Rockford, MI, ISBN 9780983125136, $15.95, 2012.
In his long career as a poet, Kerry Keys has been an intriguing and protean figure, often changing his voice from collection to collection so that the voice employed fit each poem or theme. In his latest book, Night Flight, the best of his many guises appear. Here the poet turns his attention to questions of mortality, art and love, and in doing so explores what will be lost and what will remain after his demise.
At times these poems are driven by Keys’ obsession with sound. He weaves melodious lines that build a hypnotic force as in these lines from the first poem in the collection The Ache:
an old woman no more than a synonym for snow
tunes her stone bow
to death’s dark song
as it quickens
the quarter moon grins over lush leaves and listens
to the frog peep
the decoys dive
the carp dreams
This voice is especially powerful in the poem Vladimir Tarasov. Tarasov is a Russia born drummer who lives in Vilnius, and often performs with Keys. In the most compelling lines of the poem Keys writes:
Christ in the wilderness turns to Satan
and asks for one last dance, dervishes
swirling into sand and raindrops.
Silence itself is music until an angel drops a pin
and a hurricane begins a confetti of white noise.
Keys is also a natural story teller and put this talent to work in narratives such as the poem Elegy for Kathy Leonard. Here Keys acquaints the reader with a teenage girl who was a friend in the poet’s youth. The poem recalls her murder at the hands of her step father “with the back of an axe.” The poet confesses that “I knew Kathy Leonard in the nightsoiled, chiseled guilt/of my adolescent dreams” and concludes while imagining her as she is now, “Now she consumes the travel of time under 6 feet of turf…”
Keys is capable of a lighter touch. He has often exhibited a penchant for an impish sense of humor. In From Celsus A Few Words, Keys assumes the voice of the 2nd century Greek philosopher, a vociferous opponent to Christianity.
In the poem Celsus argues to the Jews that their religion is superior to the new split off movement and questions the veracity of any faith:
I mean, who really has possession of divine truth.
It’s mostly just a mishnah and mishmash
of circumstantial evidence.
One wonders if the poet is not describing himself when Celsus states
I’m/ neither a hedonist nor stoic, atheist nor believer,
nor a master of parable or satire.
Perhaps I’m more a rabble-rouser…
But this poem is more than an anarchist’s prank pulled off to gain attention. Celsus is capable of more than just causing trouble; he is wise and counsels us to “remember…that the Gods live on in each of us and in each other,/ every animal and insect, minister or beggar or star.”
In Night Flight Keys shows his softer side by penning a number of wonderful love poems to his wife and children. There is a wizened sweetness to these poems especially in The Furnace where he writes “…returning to our shared nest again,/ we drown them ( a phalanx of busybodied bees ) in the honey of our dreams.” In By the Blue House, he writes to his children “…I do want to remember and consecrate/ the tough give and take of the then flawless bliss.”
In Night Flight, Kerry Keys orchestrates his many voices and skills as a poet into a masterful performance in which he reminds us that we all seek “ a miraculous exorcism from the human condition (Dybbukim).” Ihighly recommend this collection.
Reviewed by Alan Berecka