Deborah Keenan

Two Stones

Pick up one stone. You can carry it. You can carry it a long way.
Pick up the second stone. You can carry it.
These are the only two stones some people want you to carry.
There are the two stones some people pick up as children
and never put down.
If you only have to carry one stone, sometimes you can put it down,
move to the seashore, forget the stone.
If you only have to carry one or the other, you might be all right.
But some people want you to carry both.
And because of how you were raised, you are eager to please.
You seem to be a volunteer—yes, please let me carry both stones.
That is how they see you, that you are someone who wants to carry both.
It doesn’t matter that these two stones are killing you. That you know it.
You are pretty much always carrying one or the other.
They are heavier each passing year.
Imagining being old and alone with your two stones makes you weep,
though your crying doesn’t win any hearts for you.
So, there you go, with your two stones. You are not an allegory
or a sketch or even a narrative. And those who love metaphor
don’t want to hear this one.
You carry two stones, and you never put them down.


The bike leans against the north wall of the blue garage,
unharmed after my father drives the car into its east wall,
the wall unmoored, angled, the saws and hammers
jumping from their assigned places, the heavy clatter as
the engine revs and smokes and the mother, in her swirl
of bedclothes, cries out, wrenches the car door open.

Years go by and I see the circle of the steering wheel
holding him in place as the fresh air in the middle of the night
enters the garage. Oh, he’s deeply drunk and deeply asleep
and it is terrible to wake him, terrible to let him sleep.

It’s pointless to resist memory.
White bike, gleaming saw, a neighbor’s voice, an owl’s call.
A simple arrival into a north wall on a moonlit night
and how it took his whole life to sleep this way.

The Thief
He came into our home and found the ball of string
I used to tie up tall flowers and climbing beans and peas
in the summer. He created
an intricate web that crossed through the kitchen
into the dining room, and ended the web tied
to a nail hammered into the mantel where we hung our son’s
Christmas stocking. He chose from my bureau
slips, bras, panties, and the cream-colored nylons
that had been resting in their old-fashioned box,
waiting for the right occasion. He hung all these things
from the string and the forms made odd shadows in our home.
In the basement he went through all my photos
in the darkroom and chose his favorites (I think)
and clipped them to the string with my clothespins.
One was a picture of our son, in a gleaming white t-shirt,
in the photo just two years old, the same smile that breaks
and warms a heart now. He went through my poems and crossed out
the ones he hated with black magic marker.
He took our son’s second-favorite blanket,
two pillows from the couch, all the cans of soup,
the white and brown rice, the hammer
and the saw. He left a note saying I am telling you
how to live. Now live that way.

Deborah Keenan is the author of ten collections of poems, and a book of writing ideas, from tiger to prayer, published by broadcraft press. Her most recent book is so she had the world, published by Red Bird Chapbooks, in collaboration with Susa