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Keegan Lester

while shooting your rifle across the Ohio River once / to our side / to see what you could hit

For Writers Writing Stupid Elegies about Appalachia

The stranger writes happily ever after
                                                    after cancer gnaws
                            the body
            of my friends that dared drink water from their tap.
                                                                Tell me how my friends are capable of living
in the same elegy as strangers,
                                                                              how their water is biblical,
             a plague of cicada,
                            small, dormant, undetected, sleeping in the body
waiting for their time
                                                                                                           to sing
                                                       & rupture. Tell me how you remember
the word fatalistic
                                           sounding in the mouth of a dying child,
that it sounded different than the hired expert on the news,
                                                                                 than the ping of tin roof
you made
                                                                       while shooting your rifle across the Ohio River once
             to our side
                                                      to see what you could hit,
to see if a stranger’s roof would still shine
                                                                                              beneath the sun after.
It sounded different to me while visiting my grandmother in the hospital
                                                                                 staring into the cloud of her lake eyes
the first time
                                                               I thought of her body
             as finite, blue. I used my body to burn
                                                      until there wasn’t enough body left

to confront We the myth
                                                                   people need us to be. We the children
other children go to
                                                                   when lost. We the children that must suffer
to make the suffering of other children
                                                                                               more bearable.
                                                                                It’s not that the sugar maples are silent,
it’s just easier to take from them
                                                     when one doesn’t listen.

Keegan Lester's poems have appeared in The Boston Review, Poem a Day, Cutbank, Diode, The Adroit Journal and Sixth Finch, among others, and will be anthologized in Bettering American Poetry Vol. 3. His first collection, this shouldn't be beautiful but it was & it was all i had so i drew it, was selected by Mary Ruefle for the 2016 Slope Editions Book Prize.