I believed the linguist

On the radio who said words are most interesting

When they indicate something not there,

Something not inherently in or of themselves.

Freud thought of writing as the voice of an absent person.

I miss my father, and though I see signs,

I’ve begun to forget the sound of his voice.

So the roads come after, not before, which puzzled

The Japanese tourists on the architectural tour

In Harvard Square. Mercy, therefore, is made.

A Baedeker to follow, in any missing language.

A little embarrassing after all that no, there’s nobody here

And her form too is continual instruction.

The new poem is the old master’s painting.

Manifest suffering in every time zone

While father, as he must, goes elsewhere.

The old poem…There are no old poems,

Only new textbooks directing

The unprepared student to the painting

Behind the poem. I believed the phonetist,

Waking one day at last lost in the vowels

Of her dreaming.

Sleep me there.

The new poem is the sound

In the old master’s painting.

We’ll be tortured there,

Along with the animals

Whose suffering is mute

Or written in our missing language.

Father. Inconsequential me.

The feathers in our death.

Falling into yours.

“About Suffering They Were” from Missing Her by Claudia Keelan. Copyright © 2009 by Claudia Keelan. Reprinted with permission from Claudia Keelan.

Claudia Keelan is the author of six collections of poetry including Refinery, The Secularist, Utopic, and The Devotion Field. Her awards include the Jerome Shestack Award from the American Poetry Review, the Beatrice Hawley Award from Alice James Books, the Robert D. Richardson Award from the Denver Quarterly and the Silver Pen Award from the State of Nevada. Her poetry has been anthologized in The Body Electric (Norton), American Hybrid (Norton), Lyric Postmodernisms (Counterpath), and The Book of Irish American Poetry (University of Notre Dame Press). She lives in Las Vegas with her husband, the poet Donald Revell, and their children Ben and Lucie.


  1. This poem is interesting in that it takes the reader on a journey, with twists and turns and winding roads between thoughts, images, and ideas. Of course, I am most drawn to those moments that are more concrete in their landings and emotional positions in the life of the poet. I particularly like those moments that tug at the heart and speak to universal experiences such as “I miss my father, and though I see signs, I’ve begun to forget the sound of his voice” and “Father. Inconsequential me. The feathers in our death. Falling into yours.” Killer ending, which we all know I’m a sucker for.


    • I feel the connection between her and her father in almost every line of the poem. Just as “words are most interesting /When they indicate something not there, /Something not inherently in or of themselves,” the poet’s presence must intrinsically point to something that is not there – her father.


  2. Loved this poem. Though Keelan seems to be highly lauded, I had not read her work, and so it was nice to feel like I was making a discovery. Thanks for posting.


    • I love this poem too, but is it bad that I can’t see the title of it without hearing the voice of Yoda? If you ever get a chance to hear her read her work, take it, she’s got an amazing voice.


Leave a Reply to lezliemayers Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s