David Keplinger



After a line by Rilke


The trees in their bad penmanship

scratch at the windows of my room,

and I have aged for nothing, afraid

again. So I think of the hallway clock

to which my father kept the key.


Face to face with the clock

and its floating black hands, he wound

it up one night. My mother set a glass

of milk on the table. The clock stood

unflinching like a punished child.


As in a ritual for which I was no

initiate, the clock began to tick.

It was my mother’s birthday. The milk

as still as marble. My father sat down

at his place, very quietly. 




For the English, E of the silent variety.

For the French, the E of diacritical stress,

the small beret it wears to the left angle

sometimes to the right.


For the Spanish it became about consistency,

a middle sound, half opened mouth.

For the German the sudden unkinking 

in the hose of the throat.


For one walks away with more appreciation

of the E, one considers how the body

is translated in particular by it, the

uninterrupted flat line only broken up


by consonants. There was the man 

whose mother was set fire to in Poland

and who, to keep himself from wailing, went on

to write a novel that forbade the letter E.


Is there a thread that holds the story

if the story is cruel, or if the story

is a woof of separate stories? What is the story

of E? Chess of being, no end game.



Night of the Death of Seeger,

Trades Union Hall,  Melbourne


As blows the cloods heelster gowdie ow’r the bay,

we sing, so like the infant’s sounds,

who tries to sing with us. He sits and mouths

atop his mother’s skirt and she sings to the boy,

his father drunk, the “Freedom Come All Ye,” 


the man’s song only spit and ululation.

As blows the cloods heelster gowdie ow’r the bay,

she sings, about bad weather, one bad season

and the little baby, small Osiris,

rides in the canoe the skirt makes of her thighs,


As blows the cloods heelster gowdie ow’r the bay,

where he floats through the world’s great glen,

not knowing his own life, aware of no crisis,

his song the gurgle sound of G—G—G,

first sound on earth, all spit and ululation.

David Keplinger's five collections include Another City (Milkweed, 2018) and The Most Natural Thing (New Issues, 2013). The recipient of two fellowships from the NEA, the Colorado Prize, the T.S. Eliot Prize, and the Cavafy Prize, Keplinger teaches at American University in Washington DC. 



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