Author: Keetje Kuipers

Keetje Kuipers is a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. In 2007 she was the Margery Davis Boyden Wilderness Writing Resident, and used her time there to complete her book, Beautiful in the Mouth, which won the 2009 A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize and was published by BOA Editions. Her poems have appeared in AGNI, Willow Springs, and West Branch, among others, and have been nominated five years in a row for the Pushcart Prize. She lives in San Francisco and Missoula, Montana with her dog, Bishop.

The Open Spaces & The Ocean & Drought & Dolores Park

The Open Spaces

She said it was a place that held nothing
but sadness for her. Still, I think I could
lie down in it forever, head resting
in the sagebrush flats. I told her I once had a man

who drove us past every chapel in Vegas
threatening to turn in. But I’m wedded
to the burlap hillsides and bearded drivers
of pickups, my dog’s face the shadow

in my rearview mirror. With all this light,
I don’t need water, don’t need the river’s
green lung. I can take up the sadnesses
that surround me, these small ones

of dust in the air, of weeds that climb
the ditches until yellow is the worst
color. Semis that make the dead
bird’s feathers fly again, the deer’s tail

leap from the gravel of the road. She
can go home to the farmer’s sunless chest
under his shirt. I’ll sleep beneath
mountains still choosing which name

they want to take. If I’ve learned anything
about myself, this is where I belong:
with the dead scattered where we hit them,
the engine ticking as it cools under my hand.

The Ocean

There are too many views of the ocean.
          A woman lays her body down anywhere
                                                    and it’s the ocean. She lives in a city
by the ocean, she drives her car on a road

fingering the ocean, she wakes up
          in the morning and the blue in her window
                                                    is the ocean. She is sick of the fucking ocean.
But where can she go?

The desert’s white-capped dunes are the ocean.
          The prairie grasses’ silty waves bent double
                                                    are the ocean. Even underground, the soil
filling her mouth is the salted taste of the ocean

breaking on her tongue. All her friends want to know
          what’s so bad about the ocean. But she can’t tell them:
                                                    She knows if she stops breathing,
she’ll become its silence, repetition, grey certitude.


The last days of dandelions—even the dog’s gone
to fluff. And those flowers that smell like semen,
like alcohol and sugar swirled under my nose. I’m so

thirsty I could cry. What’s the name for those bugs
that bat against any lit window? I stumble around
my dim furniture just to keep them away. I’m not sure

I could stand their need. Heat lightning is all I have
coming to me: its silence, its lie. Some nights
I go outside and pretend I can feel water on my face,

imagine it draining down to the aquifer, changing
the shape of the darkness that’s been sitting there
all along. I’ll shoot out the street light if I have to.

Dolores Park

In the flattening California dusk,
women gather under palms with their bags

of bottles and cans. The grass is feathered
with the trash of the day, paper napkins

blowing across the legs of those who still
drown on a patchwork of blankets. Shirtless

in the phosphorescent gloom of streetlamps,
they lie suspended. This is my one good

life—watching the exchange of embraces,
counting the faces assembled outside

the ice-cream shop, sweet tinge of urine by
the bridge above the tracks, broken bike lock

of the gay couple’s hands, desperate clapping
of dark pigeons—who will take it from me?