Michael Gessner

Keening the Shades
It was the Celtic bards who
originally gave the lyrics
to the funeral caoinan and led
the lamentations of the chorus
to guide the souls of the dead
to the afterlife.


The dogs are keening again tonight.
They’ve come out from their domestic homes,
into their backyards on the ridge
over the wild valley to sympathize
with the coyotes, who are also keening,
as if in unison they will bring back
lost ancestors, a pack with greater power
than their own, a plaintive communal
longing, without evidence of a kill.


The ghosts of memory are in the wailings,
just as the moon-ghost pulls the tides out
and in, just as the hermit of history keens too
for the shapes that emerge from rain
and in the mists of rain, umbrae
from starlight, o the ghosts are dancing
tonight, ghosts of chance and excess,
compromise and reluctance, and when wind
and rain cease, they cease also.


The ghosts of history appear to reappear
in abandoned school hallways still polished
by song, in the shades of a blood-red moon,
and the ghosts of our longings drift
over sunsets and moonsets—
the gliding in and the gliding out—
in nominals, over the vascular tunics
of luminous eyes, over the rainbows
of the heart and through the heart in its rain.

after a visit to Tor House
Acrimony is a crow squawking
over an empty stone house,
circling & circling all day long,
& tho’ it’s been fed,
its body strong, & its flight
made easy by complaint thermals,
& by every account, it is complete,
it continues to circle & squawk
over an empty stone house.

Michael Gessner has authored eleven books of poetry and prose, most recently, Selected Poems (FutureCycle Press, 2016). His poems appear in The American Journal of Poetry, North American Review, (finalist for the James Hearst Poetry Award,) The French Literary Review, and Verse Daily. A voting member of the National Book Critics Circle, his reviews may be found in NAR, Jacket2, The Edgar Allan Poe Review, and The Kenyon Review.  For additional information: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/michael-gessner.



Current Issue
Contributors' Notes

Email this poem Printer friendly page

A CLOSER LOOK: Patricia Fargnoli

Indran Amirthanayagam

Bruce Bennett

Daniel Bourne

David Danoff

Gary Fincke

Michael Gessner

Will Greenway

Edison Jennings

Chris Llewellyn

Mary Lee

Hailey Leithauser

Herbert Woodward Martin

E.K. Steelwater

Tim Suermondt

Adam Tavel














Last Updated: Mar 10, 2021 - 2:35:35 PM

Copyright 2005 - 2021 Cook Communication.