By Keetje Kuipers

Sometimes the baby can’t reconcile
the self with the self: too hungry
to eat, too tired to sleep. I know

the feeling. O, America, on those nights
when you are too beautiful for me
to continue to forgive you any longer—

for allowing us to kill each other
with your graceless bullets, or exile
our neighbors across your fictitious

border, or argue over the ownership
of each young girl’s body as if its freedom
is a lie she must stop telling herself—

I go out into your radiant embrace.
The baby and I drive through your streets,
over the bridge and its light-chipped

waters, under a moon so big, so full
of itself that though I know it belongs
to the world, it can’t be anything but

American. I hang my arm out the window
and skim the air like touching skin.
I breathe you in, and the baby sleeps.

Today’s poem was originally published in Blackbird and appears here today with permission from the poet.

Keetje Kuipers has been the Margery Davis Boyden Wilderness Writing Resident, a Stegner Fellow at Stanford, and the Emerging Writer Lecturer at Gettysburg College. A recipient of the Pushcart Prize, her poems, essays, and fiction have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, including Best American Poetry. Her first book of poetry, Beautiful in the Mouth, won the 2009 A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize and was published by BOA Editions. Her second collection, The Keys to the Jail, was published by BOA in 2014. Keetje is an Assistant Professor at Auburn University where she is Editor of Southern Humanities Review.

Editor’s Note: Today’s poem absolutely blows me away. It is too powerful to contain, and yet it is perfectly wrought as if chiseled from marble. It is metaphor and life, politic and country, as near as a closely-held infant and as far as the moon. It is the American affliction: needless gun violence, our backs turned and hearts hardened against immigrants and refugees, our deep seated fear of women’s sexuality, freedom, independence. “O, America, on those nights… you are too beautiful for me / to continue to forgive you any longer.” Absolutely stunning. Heartbreaking. An outcry in the form of a quiet, contemplative drive, cruising America in an attempt to get the baby to sleep.

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By Keetje Kuipers:


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.


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?

(“The Open Spaces” and “Dolores Park” were originally published in The Offending Adam. Both poems are reprinted here today with permission from the poet.)

Keetje Kuipers is a native of the Northwest. She earned her B.A. at Swarthmore College and her M.F.A. at the University of Oregon. She has been the recipient of fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center, Squaw Valley Community of Writers, Oregon Literary Arts, and Soapstone. In 2007 she completed her tenure as the Margery Davis Boyden Wilderness Writing Resident, which provided her with seven months of solitude in Oregon’s Rogue River Valley. She used her time there to complete work on her book, Beautiful in the Mouth, which was awarded the 2009 A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize and was published in March 2010 by BOA Editions. It contains poems previously published in Prairie Schooner, West Branch, Willow Springs, and AGNI, among others. You can also listen to her read her work—which has been nominated five years in a row for the Pushcart Prize—at the online audio archive From the Fishouse. Keetje has taught writing at the University of Montana and is currently a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. In the 2011-2012 academic year, Keetje will serve as the Emerging Writer Lecturer at Gettsyburg College. At the moment, she divides her time between San Francisco and Missoula, Montana, where she lives with her dog, Bishop, and does her best to catch a few fish.

Editor’s Note: Well, this is embarrassing, but I’m determined to make lemonade out of lemons and take this opportunity to open up our discussion about poetry from today’s little mishap. You see, when I went to prepare today’s post, featuring a poet I had secured reprint permission from a couple of weeks ago, I discovered that my co-editor, who edits the weekly Friday Poetry Series here on As It Ought To Be, had shared the work of Keetje Kuipers on her series yesterday. At the time I made the discovery it was too late to secure permission from another poet, and so here we are, looking at the work of Keetje Kuipers for a second day in a row. This little blunder, however, gives us a chance to think about what draws us to poetry.

While my co-editor and I both read The Offending Adam, from whence today’s poems came. But the poem my co-editor shared yesterday actually came from a different journal altogether. Somehow both of us found today’s poet in the poetry world at large and were both drawn enough to her skill with words that we each wanted to share her work with you.

Are these poems that everyone would like? Is there such a thing? What is it about today’s poet that we both found so captivating? My co-editor and I both like Walt Whitman and Federico Garcia Lorca. Is there such a thing as a poet who is so universal in their way with words that everyone who reads them is drawn to their work? Poetry, like any form of art, is subjective. And yet, there are some who are so adept that most people agree on an appreciation of their work. Keetje Kuipers, apparently, is among the next generation of such artists.

As for me and my co-editor, it is fitting that our friendship came about as a result of our involvement with this site, and that we became friends in San Francisco, the city that houses the Dolores Park written of above. We have both left San Francisco, and yet, when it comes to poetry, our hearts and minds clearly still reside in the same place. Much love, Lezlie. Great minds clearly think alike!

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Keetje Kuipers Official Website