Rumors of Buildings to Live In

Keith Shein

2002 • 69 pp. • $12.00
ISBN: 9781882022465

Purchase from Small Press Distribution

“In this time when terror from without spectacles the terror in the heart of hegemonic power, this series of poems opens into a scape of what outlives and inhabits that void. The inheritors of a world in ruin, these spectral yet strangely tender and embodied survivors stitch together, through the gestures of life, a new if tenuous order.”
—Sarah Menefee

“These compellingly compassionate and troubling snapshots anatomize a later, if not culminant stage in the social and psychic degradation that Williams predicted for “the pure products of America.”
—Ted Pearson

“I read Keith’s work because it haunts, and because there are beings inside each of whom sees in a clear and solitary way. It puts me in odd and disquieting places, and heads. The landscape is like nothing else I know in poetry—a shifting geometry full of other, non-declamatory minds.
There are living eyes everywhere in ‘Rumors of Buildings to Live In,’ and none of them care at all about Keith or the reader. There are dogs on their own, almost enterable, and I don’t know how he does that.
It’s also a passionate look at the children we hate, in our own sweet ways, and condemn to hell every day in exchange for a little money, and some notion of having risen above.”
—Larry Kearney

“‘Someone wrote Inhuman Rules” by which we/people are animate, the real motions rendered by Shein as startling 3-D:
‘At dusk, which smokes, the men walk by each other
staring at a distance.
The near is abandoned…’
The people and the location are turned in on each other. Abandoned as being what’s real. This is a cross between poetry and a minimal, futuristic novel.”
—Leslie Scalapino


On the treeless hillside sits a shack, leaning in a fold.
At most angles only the roof shows or a plume of smoke,
the man himself, squatting.
The boy says that he’s been to the shack
but no one believes him.
Show us, they say, bring something back of the man.
The boy brings the man.
he seems to be smoking.
Steam rises off his hatted head, his crooked shoulders.
He wears no glasses. His eyes are blank
but gaze, resting on each boy in turn.
The boys run. The man is old but they run.
When the man walks back up the hill, he leans.

Banners scale the telephone poles, the walls.
Whispers everywhere, a strange face on TV,
changing colors, shapes, saying, Stand, just that.
A man who owns a grocery is talking to a man who wants to eat.
There’s a suitcase full of shoes, pamphlets handed out.
The old man gives a feather with each slice.
Fly, he says, it’s faster.
They cannot.
But gangs of girls appear, bird skulls for earrings.
They stop, urging the street to put itself on the map.
Over the base at night searchlights play.
Guards patrol the perimeter.
In the morning the trucks are tagged.

Now the sky is blue but you wouldn’t call it weather.
Blue slips in among the buildings and the crazed limbs of trees,
people on the street, milling, standing.
In the storefronts the face appears, interrupting programming.
No one can tell the sex but everyone guesses,
standing, talking side-by-side.
Music must fall.
A kind of drumming carries, echoed or amplified across the street.
It may be they are dancing.
They gather in the clothes they have, and move, dancing.
A siren cuts across and the TV goes blank.
Some stop, some keep moving.

Decay is what we build, from the tall buildings,
spread like a shadow.
They can see it at the city’s edge, in the ruined houses,
streets, starting from the top of what still stands.
On the shoulders of the single man, another,
then another, and because each fears for himself,
he holds on, though he doesn’t know the man above or below,
and winces with the weight.
The shadow darkens the topmost man but eats the bottom first.
When the city begins to topple, more to shore it up;
there is always more at the bottom, while the top’s unchanged.
Soon the ones below understand they can’t be ones,
they must be united. So says the guide.

The boy feels himself grow though he’s small as a drop.
As soon as he feels himself small,
he’s the size of a pond, a lake, and he’s streaming.
He feels himself fall, then he’s floating in a bowl.
Then he that’s falling comes to rest,
and the floating one tumbles, racing over rocks.
Or the hillside is his back, the stones and dirt of it,
and the water is his belly reflecting the sky and its crow.
Leaves fall, land and float on him.
There are quiet moments.
The boy tries to gather himself, he is so streaming.