Rose Kelleher

Night School

Poets should have Experiences, you say,
your verse a bristle of ski poles, crampons, masts,
memories of hogslop at sunup and whatnot.

Sorry, I never had any farm chores
to be self-righteous about. Never rode the rails
(girls learn quick they can’t be Kerouac),
never slouched through Europe draped in stylish
faux poverty, smoking handrolled cigarettes.

Shall I regale you with my youthful forays
to work and school and home on bus and subway,
subway and bus, gripping straps and poles
in bank-appropriate rayon and sweaty L’eggs?
Eight years it took me. I have spent more time
waiting for buses and trains than you can possibly imagine.
What would Robert Penn Warren say to that?
Does someone like me have the right to write a poem?

I could tell him how at night, when you need them, coffee shops
blanket themselves in steel and go to sleep.
After hours, no one officially exists.
Social life is exchanging hellos with the janitor
or the off-duty cop with his tight-leashed German Shepherd
heaving past you on the school’s back stairs.
Atmosphere is exhaust fumes, urine stains,
the sidewalk’s grayscale collage of butts and gum.
Landscape is concrete wind tunnels
and ill-lit streets (no one walks who matters),
always against a black backdrop of rape.

I could write whole books about nothing, blank,
a mouth big and empty as the sky
with me inside, my footsteps echoing
as yet another Not My Train sighs by.
Did nothing swallow me, or I it?
No matter, I’m to blame. I came to nothing.

Rose Kelleher was born in the Year of the Dragon, on the Feast of the Holy Rosary, on the day of Mercury, ashes, W┼Źden, and woe.