Two Poems by Kerry Downey

An object by any other name

I spent my day shopping for hooks then hanging them
and daydreaming my tongue into your ass
the straps / the latches / the eyelets / the poke holes
embarrass me with their fussings
I can turn red just like that
The handle / the pillow / the notched / the lumpy / the striated.
Of course there would be flannel
There would be a framed picture with indiscreet
shapes of color and scalding
sun through the skylight,
all that which exceeds us
and yet we are so slow the kind of slow that makes me seek
the table’s edge / the door knob
my hook to hang your hat on
the object / the herald / the participle / the conjunction
all the things we will touch must touch
make touch
they will tell us what we cannot
know our limits of sense
It’s been a long
long time

The flag and the shore

There were long and sad descriptions of a landscape, vastness, run-on sentences. There was fringe and foam, sweat and rocks, the on-again off-again movement of air, tired wandering until they came upon the waving flag in the mud. They tried to near the thing, only finding its flap; the flag said: “I am the surface the sounds of the surface.”

It was that pressure of bearing between care and carelessness, accident and pulp; they seals, they horses, they antelope, wanting their wet return.  Onwards, to the place where the water meets the air, to the bottom of the ocean, with those sinking satellites. They looked down looked out looked back looked in.

This is a reenactment but this time it will be different. This is the pressure of bearing between moving closer while further away. Great gum of shore, more or less shore, all the ways they swat the flies while they dig the holes. They can’t belong when they refuse a feeling its belonging. They seals, they horses, they antelope. They breath: hum and lean-to. The fishes are coming, they hold the jaw open wide.

They said to the ocean “tell me about the time when we were not violent, give me instead, hold me by the skin of my nape and I will turn effort into hinge.” With blunt confidence, the flag slapped their face, they fell in love with the fuchsia, their ears filled with salt.

After a great while of coming and going of the back and forth and the up and down, they realized there were multiple points of entry and one way out. Dense heat and rim, they slipped off their film, became the brink, took on the fever, the spread. Imaging was often required, the curve of collaborative facts only the women could translate.

With a great deal of trying to reconnect the eye to its hand, the water to the shore, there was a long and sad pause between the flag’s speaking and their hearing. They the moss, the fungus, the coral. They creep white the whiteness of death. They the smog, the fire, the flood.

“You are not to know me at all,” said the flag, while chewing on the light, perched on the highest point in the vastest landscape in the widest ocean in the belly of the strangest fish in the center of their song which was a mouth eating itself, like a word does to its thought. “I’m just going to read you the news today because now you are ethics, listen good, nothing but net.”

And they read: “once upon a long list of obviously, bodies are selling off their restlessness, on this date at this time they wrote the story of their flag and I am writing the refusal for a life not to be lost in vain.” The narrator was earnest but the tone was flippant and dear listener wiggled like a tiny little worm repeating back the words “I am the surface the sounds of the surface.”


Kerry Downey (born Fort Lauderdale, 1979) is an interdisciplinary artist, writer, and teacher. Downey’s work explores how we interact with each other physically, psychologically, and socio-politically. Encompassing video, works on paper, writing, and performance, their work reimagines the possibilities and limitations of language, gender and intimacy. Their work has recently been exhibited at the Queens Museum, Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College, the Drawing Center, and Taylor Macklin. In 2015, Downey was awarded the Joan Mitchell Foundation Emerging Artist Grant. They hold a BA from Bard College and an MFA from Hunter College.

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