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Tina Kelley

New Music for the Crescent Moon

Predicting the Kiss

The Twelve Best Thing About Being Engaged

Free Day for Sell

An Adoration of Stenches

Cento: The Greater Strength of Bad was Apparent Nearly Everywhere

New Music for the Crescent Moon

            (Perhaps translations
                        of pictogram, rune, word)

celestial eyelash
the moon in her increase

first eighth
creature of clear evenings

the quiet of waxing crescents
new glass

you are still fertile
you are still growing

bright believable joy
a returning of verve

a grown child’s homecoming
briefly aching precision

the heft of invisible bulk
her sea of sheer silence

her sea of jasmine tea
the highest breakers

strengthen us in all goodness
the motion of a hand turning the page of a shared book

delight of the second after a permanent thought
fleeting, seen by sunset:


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Predicting the Kiss

Will it be dark or light
if dark, there must be wind
if light, there must be green nearby.

If music, andante
if touch, yours smoothing the hair above my ear.
If words, no words

just that sigh and groan like they do
at the end of poetry readings,
air let out.

Eyes open? No,
and briefly yes,
and no.

It will be pulled apart by
my smile
but not entirely.

Will it be inside or out?
If out, dark and bracing
if in, in the kitchen,

with sun just out from under clouds,
late Sunday afternoon.
Vertical? Horizontal? Yes, then, yes.

Will it last on my mouth
past dinner?
Will it last through ten rings of the phone?

Will it last past two smiles pulling it apart entirely?
Yes, then, yes, then

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The Twelve Best Things About Being Engaged

The air smelled like snow tastes,
when we decided to live and die together.
I had been a flame in search of a wick,
now I am a bend-at-the-waist laugh.

When else will I tell everyone good news
about myself—see my ring, my ring alone,
for brief months before there are two.
Shield those in joy, oh lord. Keep us.

I will be your thousand and one way
ticket, you will be my rock and roll
of the future. We will dream of extra
rooms in homes, and dream of towns

full of people dreaming, and know
their dreams. We will improvise,
the way we would learn to swim
if we had never seen anyone floating.

You are my 12-year-old single malt whiskey,
your finish is restrained, long and gently warming.
Perhaps you were conceived under northern lights.
I love you in my sleep. I miss you at lunchtime.

We rely on each other like jib and main.
The champagne bubbles rise, the snow falls.
If a diamond had a scent, it would be like your breath,
warm and clean and full of the mist of your center.

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Free Day for Sale

If I bought one, I'd hop on a bike
with the little one strapped in the back,
he who doesn't talk too much, and ride
on my favorite roads from high school,
too many towns away.

I would bask in that feeling of writerly enthusiasm,
like back when, in letters, I would narrate my life
while I lived it for "you." I'd regain that delight
in being semi-sweet on someone.

By noon my wee widgeon would have that smell in his hair,
fresher than fresh air, and I would put him down for his nap,
take a nap in the grass, because perfect weather can best be
honored by wasting a bit, by sleeping through. It's happy sleep.

When I wake up, everything is tinged green.
At home, I deadhead the garden, how satisfying that is,
erasing the bad, no need to posit the good, no compulsion
to create, just remove what distracts, crowds out, and clutters.

Oh I have been eating the candy hearts without reading them lately.
I have been flustered when every step forward requires three others.
Wash the cutting board, no, the sink is full of dirty dishes,
no the dishwasher is full of clean ones. Not today. Today is free.

My older child rains poetry down on my head, inspirations, lines
two an hour: "I want to be a toy because I would never die."
"God is just a planet." Even my spam box cooperates,
with the title of this one!

Later, in the dark alive, when you have put
the little ones to bed, angina is a powerful word,
but it is close to the love I feel for you.
And when I have tired you out, sweet husband,
I watch you sleep and wish I could paint,
the fleetingness, the depth, the impossibility
of the preserving I try to do on days like this.

I would call it
Still life with ice sculpture.
Still life with candles.

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An Adoration of Stenches

Come closer, breath of elderly dog, exactly
the road-killed possum from a hot week ago.

Impale my nostrils with your stink,
vomit of hankies Nanny embroidered,

left in a bag in the attic too long,
a searing, high smell lacking words.

Enter me, o mudwater of cemetery
bouquet, a month after Angelina left.

Skank of unwashed fleece, you lingered
during sad weeks, single with shingles.

Later, when I was with child, opening the fridge
punctured my calm with metallic toxin. And then!

Poo of nursing baby, pretzels hot from a food cart rack,
his later baby scent, white vinegar. Sick baby scent: rolled
in Roquefort. Heavy hair oil and something else of babysitter,
vile husk of soccer jersey pried from the bottom of the bag,
American deception of air freshener in nursing home.

The morning sweat of menopause
compares with nothing olfactory,
familiar, though, and brown and ugly.
Think of a bat face, a soggy toadstool.

No fresh paint and toast of childhood,
no delicious laundry of the family of eight
in the white painted brick house.

No high school sweetheart who smelled
of his basement, scented by silver polish.
No black Lab behind the ear, after a rainforest hike.

Where’s a word for the fust of daisies and dried peaches,
or, after the divorce, a term for the previous week’s fish bones --
it had never been my job to take out the trash --
or for day-old-crotch air let out of a bike tire?

Somehow Dad’s cigar smelled delightful,
always lit after expensive dinners away. Not
stronger than New Orleans streets -- that breath
of an aunt who drinks herself sick, talks too close.

Thank you, beloved reekers, for always startling
the oldest part of my brain, for reminding
me of existence, with every breath.

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Cento: The Greater Strength of Bad was Apparent Nearly Everywhere

                   "Bad Is Stronger Than Good," Review of General Psychology, 2001

To be categorized good, one has to be good all of the time.
To be categorized bad, a few bad acts are sufficient.

A survey of psychology textbooks found twice
as many chapters devoted to unpleasant
as to pleasant emotions.

No one has ever been able to write a successful novel about a happy marriage.

Many kinds of traumas
produce severe and lasting effects,
but there is no corresponding concept
of a positive event with similarly
strong and lasting effects.

It is difficult to calibrate
how many food pellets
are equivalent to
how many shocks.

There is no indication that any
good sexual experience,
no matter how good,
can produce benefits
comparable to the harm
caused by victimization.

A person who ignores the possibility of a positive outcome
may later experience significant regret.
A person who ignores the possibility of a bad outcome
even once may end up maimed or dead.

The punishment of incorrect responses was more effective
than the reward of correct responses.

The motivation to avoid losing something is greater than
the motivation of gaining something.

Living near one another
increased the likelihood
that two people would become enemies
even more strongly than it predicted
the likelihood that they would become friends.

Bad news sells papers.

But. A wealth of data suggest that life is good and people are largely happy.

Life as a whole has more good than bad events,
such that bad events will inevitably stand out.

Negative events cause people to engage in greater search for meaning.

It may be highly adaptive for human beings to respond more strongly to bad than to good.

The greater power of bad
may itself
be a good thing.

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Tina Kelley’s  fourth poetry collection, Rise Wildly, came out in November from CavanKerry Press, which also published her third poetry collection, Abloom & Awry, in 2017. It joined Precise (Word Press), and The Gospel of Galore, winner of a 2003 Washington State Book Award. She co-authored Almost Home: Helping Kids Move from Homelessness to Hope, and reported for The New York Times for ten years, sharing in a staff Pulitzer for 9/11 coverage. Her writing has appeared in Poetry East, Southwest Review, Prairie Schooner, and The Best American Poetry 2009. She won the 2014 New Jersey Poets Prize, and lives in New Jersey with her husband and two children.

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