First Acts

The woman is alone on the stage

"his eye would trouble me no more..."

What was in Poe's heart
that all his tales express the outward
murder or death of something—

old men, eyes, Ligeia, hearts, etc—
while the narrator goes quickly crazy himself,
embodied and disembodied, in the act?

"Meantime the hellish tattoo of the heart increased..."

And no one can tell if it's his
or the old man's, though it becomes clear—
nothing becomes clear.

In the 19th century,
people believed that emotions
came from the heart
but now we know
that they come from the brain—
emotions, and that helps us to—

Ahab and his whale,
Hawthorne and "The Birthmark"
and The Scarlet Letter,
all these signs signifying

The Red Badge of Courage

Every girl loves a coward

Kate swimming out to sea
at the end of The Awakening,
swimming away from possession,
swimming into the possession
of her own heart,
which drowns her

“Oh, I'm burning! I wish I were out of doors! I wish I were a girl again, half savage and hardy, and free; and laughing at injuries, not maddening under them! Why am I so changed?”
--Emile Bronte

Oh and dear sister, Jane Bowles,
loving Paul, loving her sisters,
laughing all the way to her grave:

“At this moment Mrs. Copperfield was..reminded of a dream that had recurred often during her life…she was being chased up a short hill by a dog. At the top of the hill there stood…a mannequin about eight feet high…She approached the mannequin and discovered her to be fashioned out of flesh, but without life…Mrs. Copperfield wrapped one of the mannequin’s tightly about her own waist…Then the mannequin began to sway backwards and forward…and together they fell off the top of the hill and continued rolling for quite a distance until they landed…where they remained locked in each others arms.”



Because I am going to die
I wonder at the models

Killing others to find
you've ended your own life

Swimming solo with your own heart
until you can't keep going anymore?

Emily Dickinson begs the question

As does Emile Bronte,
really all of the Bronte sisters

And Hawthorne's really large heart
in Hester Prynne, her loyalty
to an absent minister,
her devotion to invisibility,
her charity

Xenobia is Hester outed,
a visible model of progressive womanhood
and her submission to Hollingsworth’s
utopian ideals make her trivial,
as is anyone in search
of a group answer

The woman’s heart keeps rising
to something she can’t see


Act 2

She is standing alone on the stage
and the empty space conspires with her

Emptiness conspiring with the various
strains the violin threads through
--her heart?

“Now we are come to the cold time
when the ice and snow and the mud
and the birds’ beaks are mute
(for not one inclines to sing);
and the hedge branches are dry—
no leaf nor bud sprouts up,
nor cries the nightingale
whose song awakens me in May.”

She is looking out past you
She is seeing a woman
she thinks is herself
alone at a desk

She sees her often
sitting at a desk
sitting at a desk by a window
there are trees
it is dark

She wonders if she has ever
really seen her
The woman she thinks is herself
Sitting at a desk with windows and trees

If she cannot be sure she has seen her
the woman desk-window-trees
If she cannot be sure
this sight is sight
Then why should you want
her questionable picture?

The woman is a sound,
a movement towards a conclusion.
A present and visible memory
of a sound and a shape
that seems true to her.

Claudia Keelan's sixth book MISSING HER was published this year by New Issues Press.