Issue 20 – Spring 2010 – Claudia Keelan

Claudia Keelan


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.