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John "Clem" Kilroy

John Kilroy works as a trade magazine editor in Southern California. 46. Married. Three children. 

He had his front teeth knocked out twice, broke four bones, had 12 stitches.  He's slept on the side of the road, watched the Monaco Grand Prix from a  yacht on the harbor, and went backstage at the Sex Pistols' last concert. He's been inside the Arctic Circle; drunk at the Oak Room and drunk at the  Whiskey; captain of the basketball team and in jail for a night. Kilroy's surfed River Jetty, driven a race car at Sears Point, and received two speeding tickets on the same day...twice. "The worst thing I did was pass a slow truck on a blind mountain curve. The best thing I did was quit smoking,"  said Kilroy.

To Kiss Outside Your Culture

1 (just shut up and listen)

It is no trick to finger the clay
into a bowl, an admirable bowl,
a bowl of some beauty and value.

But, bewitch and seduce, overcome,
command...humor against the genocide!
That's an Irishman's only vessel.

The whole point is to sit slouched
on the curb, drunk as villains, cooing,
"Come here, darlin'. Give us a kiss."

But, women, mean and knowledgeable,
demand proof, and so the street poet
rings words in tether to her stars.

And they kiss, against the easy violence,
in complex eco system, guttervision,
the love of fools, scorn of generals.

This bowl holds no water, no sense;
much too extravagant in the dreaming
to remain sealed up tight as skulls.

Our history, memory, wrecked with men
of criminal intent--ordinarily schooled--
leaves hearts magnetized to conjurers.

2 (the goods)

A vaulting hope in junkyard parts,
Chartres to come in wrecked cars,
Nomads, Camaros, Mustangs, Vettes,

as one man on his own, alone,
welds it up from all he can afford--
what clerks discard as worthless--

to witness once more the godspace
between the ceiling and the floor,
in door panels and radiator grills.

Stand in awe again at emptiness.
Worship fraudulently. Consoled
in the lie that nothing could be done,

we forgive ourselves our stillness.
In stone or old chrome, we carve
longing as the next best thing

to the impossibility of the world.
Infinity hangs in a howling mask.
A vibrant, buggy, zen voodoo

electrified particle zoom wall
where words slow, then end.
Beauty, warmth, poetry fall

in antique, little throw pillows
tossed onto a universe-sized couch.
The absolute cold of outer space

ignores our bravest matchsticks.
Let us surrender, then, and agree;
collapse back into our blood grace.

Grandma's hand-stitched flowers
are better, in the end, than knowing 
why stars collide. Not my nature,

but there it is. The end of the road,
and I'm romantic and sentimental,
despite by best efforts. To all

my friends and family, strangers
with gorgeously concealed gifts,
come praise the last of lonely.

To the poets and the fiddlers:
free drinks and food all around,
We'll mourn the age of wealth.

Infinity ends right here, right now,
as we grow riotously close together,
and I build a cathedral out of nothing.

3 (now, give us a kiss)

© John "Clem" Kilroy


Jook was slamming joanies at Billy's Underground,
deep in his roses, when a flame licked him up.
She was whizzer, man, trigger, a total ad.
Jook was gonk, and when he sonar'd,
her blue guns got him hard.
Now, seek it: the cave was blazing,
notes around, walls baking, bodies maple,
total checkbook, ATM, jungle change,
but Jook's coffinned because Chika
went movietime, like we all could prophet.
Everyone but jook, who was bone failure for her.
This night, he was all hearsed out
and the chase was clearly petals,
so he waves her over to his wheel
because he's ashes and he's raked
and he's not sure he can stand.
She jigs, "Would you like to dance?"
He slaps the wheel, runs his hand in his hair,
and flips low, "I want to talk to someone."
But the weapon's loud, and everything is stripping,
and the chase says, "I'd rather dance.'
I'm over by the caravan sam,
and I think he's going to rivet this night,
but I guess what he said was,
"You're the Jesus plaster, dolphin,
but I'm deep in the mountain
and I just can't climb tonight."
The chase zeroed,
Jook zagged out the door,
another night goes Dallas,
one man all shot up,
all the witnesses holed.

© John "Clem" Kilroy

Daddy's Restless

Daddy eyes Vegas like a TV preacher,
all jumpy for the cameras, sweaty
on a stage of timid cripples, "Let's drive
500 miles and burn the town down."
Amen. And when the weekend comes,
sure as the dead at work get drunk,
if Vegas lives, let's do it all again.
They'll grind it naked on your lap
at the Palomino Club, bring free
drinks all around, and the cops
will mostly let you go unless
you want to fight. Wives lose
their sleepy husbands, and you get 'em
maybe for a fraction of a night.
That's alright. One hour at a time
is more than most, longer even
than the old Ed Sullivan shows,
which started awkward and slow
with Jack Carter, then stroked
you soft with Topo Gigio, left you
screaming for a bold new age--
all propulsion and wild hair--
with the Beatles. Let us pray
for such an hour in Caesar's
brand new tower, hot tub
here, 4-jet shower there,
25 hours of porno for ten bucks,
mirrors to multiply ourselves.
Hell, Mom wouldn't mind
a night out with the girls: two-step
the devil's hours on Kentucky lemonade,
which holds the local truckers ransom
until they're cowboys--chiseled, tan,
and airy. There is a restless nation
of city people, eyes all on cement,
because strangers can't be touched,
writing new laws where they climax.
Marriage is OK, side by side
in graveyards, but God made decades
to see what all instinct could cook up
(and we're damn good looking still!)
The professors sort of got it wrong,
in quiet shoes, subtle nods, and drama
written mostly in their wavy signatures
on blackboards at the start of school.
They can't protect their turf in words,
when Daddy's making up a business trip
and Mom's passing notes to grocery checkers.
I mean there are people here happy as dogs,
until they meet up with all the closet nuns.
There's a violence and a lust to things...
and poetry ought to have big, shiny bumpers.
You write it all best with a welding stick.
Ain't that right, Lurlene? Baby lets go
her Jack, and slurs, "You get 'em, Clem!
Tell 'em about the time long before
power steering at the Daytona 500
when the winning driver took the trophy
with both his hands bleeding...."
I will, Lurlene, I will.

© John "Clem" Kilroy

Lazarus Moon

You get tired as 
a gambler's checkbook,
the days stacked
in avoidance, unpaid
bills in the cigar box.
I don't know why
you can't be drunk
all day
to stagger down
this same walk
and talk the same talk--
rote life, piston-like--
the kids' lives burrowed
in your hollow tree.
Asleep each night
in empty highways,
asphalt to alarm clock,
your death out there,
a rooftop sniper.
No town dances,
no tribe,
no natural sense
of faith...
just a melancholy
coronet blowing
mean and low
from your blood.
And you obey
the freight trains
in your veins
until the dark falls
hard as concrete,
and you're the lumber
bending the bed,
loose fetal shape to
the blue floral print,
dead friends and relatives
seem close enough to gossip
over a backyard fence.
Then, the moon decides:
your room. A lawless
ray reaches in,
lifts one hand,
puts it on her hip,
and she rolls your way
in brief moonlife,
charismatic night.

© John "Clem" Kilroy


Ah, man, it's like playing poker with my brothers.
They lie, and cough, and their eyes get watery
just to throw you off, because we know every tic,
every sudden inhalation, every tap against the cards,
every riff of the chips, so our very breathing
becomes controlled for purpose, and the game
grows so fine and practiced that it disappears,
and all that's left are the finest efforts
in pointlessness, because nothing was believed
any more. Then, my brother Tim was diagnosed
with a brain tumor, and they went in, and cut
a muscle of his eye, so it never lifted
while the other arched, and leapt like salmon.
It left Tim always looking sly. Finally,
we took to watching only his one eye,
but there was lots of information lost to us
from this advance in medicine. It wasn't right.
A while after Tim died, my brother Mike
got married and we played poker once again
all night, but without zest or insight,
because Tim's cards were still somewhere
in the deck. How do you bet when loss
runs your hand, death deals junk, and
you find the game was never about chance?

© John "Clem" Kilroy

Living In The Time Of Theft

Bill's trick of levitation's done
on the creak and thudding whack
of the back porch door, the gritty
crunching of a truck backing out
a gravel driveway, not an hour
after Laurie's chicken and potatoes.
She'd yell again like she used to,
but a beast lumbers through the house,
and when it's cut, five people bleed
five different ways, so she stopped.
This time, it'll be the pewter mugs
with the pistol handles, a wedding gift
from Dexter and Jimmy, who couldn't 
bring themselves to just buy a wok.
She'll steal them off the bookshelf,
throw them in the trashcan way out back,
where she's emptying his house.
His favorite fly, his left-handed wrench,
the pocket knife with the 20 blades,
the first Playboy he ever bought,
his Disney World commemorative coin,
the last of his kahlua, his baseball glove.
when the time comes--and Laurie is past
tears for this- Bill will find everything
of value gone, not just a wife and kids.
Laurie laughs to think how each thing
revealed an intimate piece of skin, and
brought her closer once again to him.
"I wish he'd start stealing from me,"
she thought this crazy thought,
walking between the kids and the TV,
the dishwasher grinding water into bits,
"because it's theft that leads to love."

© John "Clem" Kilroy

The Drowning Bag

A man grows into silences untaught.
He sends words out and brings them back
because men live in hallways, a scenery
of consequences around distant corners.
The promotion goes to the meek sometimes,
sometimes to the liar, or the cop decides
right then to haul you in, or the woman
discovers all there is to know & it's not much.
Or she starts screaming at you once again
for the infrequency or purpose of your touch.
Or worse yet, all the words hook thoughts
in tow, and there's the press of ice again:
a man cannot roam, cannot hunt, cannot rip
the heart purely out of anything, or tell
the stories, or fabricate the events
that order his life into something someone
remembers--if people would ever talk again
of people. We own a heaven built by darting
rodents, who calculated the great imagined
into dark and rainy, starving fiefdoms.
But a man seeks only legend, the only life
alive after our blunt singularity of death.
My father never told me this out loud,
but it's safer, quicker to just shut up.
Talking is how things go wildly wrong
and wrong and wrong until you're nothing
but quiet and drunk and your shoulders
ache and you can't think of a single thing
you'd like to do if you ever had the time
and money to sneak some freedom in.
I shouldn't even talk about this,
but it's useless to tell you about the cats
without explaining how it starts
with silence in the face of everything--
each falling minute that isn't right.
No one wanted the kittens, and I
couldn't just set them loose, and
the agency asked for $15 to kill
each cat. And I don't talk, because
I can't explain the electric bill is high
this month from the air conditioner and
the phone bill's high from my sister's
husband's cancer operation, and
we have no savings because my wife
shops for clothes whenever she's sad
or lonely or worried she might start
to eat again. And there are two
of my kids' birthdays this month,
and they're good kids, and they both need
big new gadgets, and I could talk and
talk, but what's the use? When I die,
there will be no stories about store
managers and men in garages or strong
and still on a ballfield, men brutalized
by paper, all the need, innuendo, agreement.
So I took the burlap sack I use in fishing
dropped each kitten in, and drove off
to Highway 47, where it slides along
the slow drift of Seminole Creek.

© John "Clem" Kilroy

I Ate The F-16

Spent one summer squaring grass,
sweated out a winter slapping meat
off dirty grills to twitchy customers,
then had Corey drive me to Midland County

Navy, "How much you want for that F-16
out back behind the gunships and copters?"
"$1 billion four." "How about $800 cash
under your front porch mat, and we leave

it to shrinkage?" "Hell, it ain't my store."
Oh, man, one hand on a wet Pepsi can,
the stick tight between my knees,

and when Jimi's done, I yank him out,
pop the Isley Brothers Greatest Hits
in a Kenwood 8-track built to military specs.
The cops are pissed. Nothing in the books

about supersonic rollovers overhead,
laws written for the grey and grounded.
My parents would only ask me once,
where I was, after I said, "30,000 feet."

Children no longer have a language for me
but I can see it in their eyes: Yes! Fly!
And when I'm lonely, sad, teenage ugly,
I take her straight up inside a noonday sky

thinking the sun and I should maybe meet.
A newspaper route ends right quick,
fired hours after I carpet-bombed
my town with 500 pounds of blues.

The boss said I was sure spectacular,
but Sunday papers tore through roofs,
and I missed most of our subscribers,
so they have a company policy now

against kids capable of 500 mph.
For the big game one Friday, I offered
to strafe the enemy high school gym!
But, they said, "No, we always steal

their mascot; they paint our statue.
For 60 years, that's how it's done"
What shocked me most: girls scared
at the sight of an open jet cockpit,

as if faster-higher was better left idea,
than skinny, brown-haired kid,
all their beauty and power wasted
to make us one much like another.

A lonely boy lands a Falcon Jet,
amid Camaros, Z-28s, mini-trucks,
and he's only lonelier, sadder yet.
Sameness: the straight oxygen

of this community, the not wanting
enough. Greatness sure is exile.
But Judy took a ride. More than friends
or lovers, we flew proud as proof

of some other place--bravelands, maybe.
One night, I pulled her on my lap to drive.
"Keep both hands on the wheel." Unbuttoned
her blouse, unhooked her bra, unzipped her pants.

"Let's see you run her by the courthouse
with my hands on your tits." So she did. 
And the way she laughed just then
should be written in our history books,

though they never record much
of the epic fun people like us had.
(Judy calls it, "Doom Lit. 101").
That's the way it was. Me & my F-16

widening every sky, until the second year
of college, when I met Ellen, and chose
to settle down. We got married,
moved into a one-bedroom apartment,

made plans to raise a family--no jet
fighter need; things were moving fast;
my life couldn't take one more shove.
But, I couldn't leave my past to rust--

the energy, speed, fury to airless heights.
Maybe I could keep it all inside, decades
stored for some different kind of flight.
And so, come a starkly moonlit night,

I ate the F-16.
I ate the F-16.
I ate the F-16.
I ate the F-16.

© John "Clem" Kilroy