Self-Portrait with Friend

Donika Kelly

                                          Gasworks Park 2022

                                                        For V

What to make of the man

crouched beneath the nylon wing,

the wind strong enough

to fill the cherub’s cheek,

too weak to send the man

across the lake. I haven’t seen you

in years, though how to count

the time indoors, contracted,

each day elastic but scuttled

with panic like the man:

his squared jaw, his chalk teeth,

who tucks his knees, soles

nearly grazing the couple

necking in the grass. Where

are the geese, you wonder,

and when we finally wander

down the asphalt path laid into the hill,

there they are, I say, pointing

to the water’s edge, the flock

arranged as if pieces in a game,

as if each to a square, the adults

crisp in rest, the juveniles obscure,

blurry, trundling ashore, the sky

obscure, blurry, blue behind a net

of clouds scudding the sun. I am trying

to remember when I saw you last,

but my memory flutters as if under

a false wing, batted and buffeted,

trying to master with my strings,

my hard and soft plastics, the air.

I give up. There is before

and there is now. We are walking,

side by side, always it seems, uphill.

Donika Kelly is the author of The Renunciations and Bestiary. A Cave Canem graduate fellow and a founding member of the collective Poets at the End of the World, she is an Assistant Professor in the English Department at the University of Iowa.
Originally published:
June 12, 2023


Louise Glück’s Late Style

The fabular turn in the poet’s last three books
Teju Cole

The Critic as Friend

The challenge of reading generously
Merve Emre

Rachel Cusk

The novelist on the “feminine non-state of non-being”
Merve Emre

You Might Also Like

All Souls

Saskia Hamilton


New perspectives, enduring writing. Join a conversation 200 years in the making. Subscribe to our print journal and receive four beautiful issues per year.