Vital Signs

Emily Van Kley

Of many hometowns, this is the bleakest: main street
gap-toothed with abandoned buildings, three restaurants,
two gas stations, hockey rink, bakery, lakeside foodstore
where there may or may not be potatoesat the end of a dust-scarved shelf. There are those of us
who drink ourselves to death and those who take a lighter hand,
but even teenagers know betterthan to believe in immortality. The evidence is everywhere:
field by the church named for Johnny Mazes, whose snow machine
defected in the close woods, whose helmet splitdown the middle where there was no seam. Anne Fear,
whose young body pin-balled the cab of a flipped van
and who woke with a cheesecloth memory. Softball
tournament named for the beautiful Ahonen twinwhose twenty-year-old heart fell away in the shower, halved shell
on the shore of an inland sea. For the misanthrope, there are
Superior’s silt-blasted wrecks, water so cold even wood won’t rot
decently. Flooded mine buildings thrusting their acidy tonguesdown and down. Too many deer make for a starving winter,
which means you, clutching your rifle in thin fall snow,
are an instrument of some vital love.

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Emily  Van Kley

Emily Van Kley grew up on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and received her MFA in creative writing from Eastern Washington University. Her poems have appeared in journals such as Georgia Review, Mississippi Review, and Prairie Schooner, and in editions of Best American Poetry and Best New Poets. She currently lives in Olympia, Washington, where she teaches and performs aerial aerobics. (Author photo by Allison Eby)

“This book is hard hitting-hitting: it is, says, and knows well the hard-hit. If there’s a poetry of power and music to be found amid powerlessness and silence, it’s here.”
—Brenda Shaughnessy

“With exquisite, insistent skill, reminiscent of her Lake Superior’s gales shaping shore pines, snowdrifts, and lives, Emily Van Kley crafts stark and graceful phrases you don’t see coming until they move over you with the inevitability and truth of winter’s first, sudden flurry.”
—Jonathan Johnson

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