Poems and Texts

Primitive Biographies by Eric Keenaghan

She screams in her stain
less box as a drama

unfolds or floats
by … so you say,
sotto voce, I’m alive.
just like that: it turns,

the tide … even if such
susurration only
exposes jagged
deposits on brackish
seafloors, crop
circles burnt perfect
on grassy meadow
lands, even if such
obvious redundancies
as these just expose
corpses, our grubby
hands and their strangers’
fingers all riffling about
History’s compost.

The title’s all she wrote, Muriel I mean, on some scrap. Why archive this signal? I’d like to
imagine she was writing about herself, then hit the closet wall. Probably, though, had more to do
with chasing Boas’ ghost. She was always doing that, when she wasn’t claiming squatter’s rights
on his letters she sat on. When she finally broke open, she just vented in a Westbeth elevator,
Vietnamese jetsam and spunky jissom floating by, on top of Hudson filth. And this is her political
voice? Codeswitching between silence and shriek? Was this why she admired the quiet doctor’s
ASMR, the third way of the collaborationist who whispered affirmations to the Hitler-Jugend
about how living’s still possible between readings from Rilke’s prayers to the angel of history?

Eric Keenaghan

Eric Keenaghan is associate professor of English at the University at Albany, SUNY. His work focuses primarily on modernist and Cold War poets who have much to teach us about American political life and history, often with lessons directly related to our understandings of gender and sexuality. He is the author of Queering Cold War Poetry (Ohio State University Press). Since publishing that project, poet and activist Muriel Rukeyser has played a significant part in his work, His essays on her forgotten, often unpublished, texts have appeared in the Journal of Narrative Theory, Textual Practice, and Feminist Modernist Studies. As an accompaniment for his essay in that last journal, he also recovered Rukeyser’s suppressed feminist essay “Many Keys,” from 1957. For years, he has been working on recovering some of her other lost works—plays, essays, film scripts, autofiction and other stories. Alongside a constellation of other writers ranging from Walter Lowenfels and Kenneth Patchen to John Wieners and Diane di Prima, Rukeyser also has found her way into the two critical monographs he has been developing for a long while now—one called “The Impersonal Is Political,” on activist-poets who were influenced by modernism and associated with the New Left; and the other called “Life, Love, and War,” on anarchist pacifism, antifascism, and twentieth-century American poetry.