Illinois

On December 11, 2003, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich named Kevin Stein the state’s fourth poet laureate, following Howard Austin, Carl Sandburg, and Gwendolyn Brooks. Stein has published eight poetry collections and chapbooks, three scholarly books, and two poetry anthologies.

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Easter Monday [excerpt]

Chicago Morning

To Philip Guston

Under a red face, black velvet shyness
Milking an emaciated gaffer. God lies down
Here. Rattling of a shot, heard
From the first row. The president of the United States
And the Director of the FBI stand over
a dead mule. "Yes, it is nice to hear the fountain
With the green trees around it, as well as
People who need me." Quote Lovers of speech unquote. It's
                                 a nice thought
& typical of a rat. And, it is far more elaborate
Than expected. And the thing is, we don't need
                                 that much money.
Sunday morning; blues, blacks, red & yellow wander
In the soup. Gray in the windows' frames. The angular
Explosion in the hips. A huge camel rests
                                 in a massive hand
Casts clouds a smoggish white out & up over the Loop, while
Two factories (bricks) & a fortress of an oven (kiln)
Rise, barely visible inside a grey metallic gust.
                                 "The Fop's Tunic."
She gets down, off of the table, breaking a few more plates.
Natives paint their insides crystal white here (rooms)
Outside is more bricks, off-white. Europe at Night.

Taking Down the Tree

"Give me some light!" cries Hamlet's
uncle midway through the murder
of Gonzago. "Light! Light!" cry scattering
courtesans. Here, as in Denmark,
it's dark at four, and even the moon
shines with only half a heart.

The ornaments go down into the box:
the silver spaniel, My Darling
on its collar, from Mother's childhood
in Illinois; the balsa jumping jack
my brother and I fought over,
pulling limb from limb. Mother
drew it together again with thread
while I watched, feeling depraved
at the age of ten.

With something more than caution
I handle them, and the lights, with their
tin star-shaped reflectors, brought along
from house to house, their pasteboard
toy suitcase increasingly flimsy.
Tick, tick, the desiccated needles drop.

By suppertime all that remains is the scent
of balsam fir. If it's darkness
we're having, let it be extravagant.

Tag at Pullman National Monument

 

The market is made of fire so nothing
Stands, or stands—even in the ideal
City of Pullman, I hear “nigga run,”
One child shouting to another in ruins,
Of ruin and so call out in paradise
To the live bloody skeleton hung softly
As summer in each other to escape
This year’s killing season, the pilgrimage
To flame and morgue and news and dust, local
Honey sold nationally, the market
Always-already wet with this black fame.
In an alley beyond their beware and boy-
Barking, a painting of a Maasai warrior
Lifting himself out of the frame with a leap,
His spear, nothing like fire but a fire
The leaping, the leaving of the coffin-
Pull of earth, his red garment about him
In clasped silence for which we understand
That we will not understand and so stare
At something else trying to escape
Paradise. Beauty has always belonged
To whomever could afford it. None of us
Can afford what we pay for beauty, but
We labor, we labor, our white rag wet
With formaldehyde, our knees deep in shag
Carpet pressing a stain as commanded
By a mastering manual kept in a slim slash
Pocket, our white charges sleeping their way
Across cud-chewing to Chicago
Dreaming of a man they watched burn this tree-side
Of heaven. “Run nigga,” the boys yell
As if hocking oranges in a burning market,
As if what they flee is not each other.