Julie Kane







I Don’t Speak Lithuanian


To move to another country and not speak the language,

Unable to tell where words start and end

In that river of speech sounds, except when your name

Is spoken, or cake, or some number one to ten,

Is to be reborn as a one-year-old child

Or a dog in the corner, its paws on its snout,

An astronaut drifting through galaxy static,

Or young Helen Keller, her hand in the spout.

Like that day in your childhood when millions of ladybugs

Covered your swing-set, the sides of your house,

Events appear to be conjured by magic

When you don’t have the language to ask why or how,

So that you almost dread the day some chatter

Locks, like a virus, to ports in gray matter.



Published in an earlier version in Jazz Funeral, by Julie Kane (Story Line Press, 2009)




The Johns


It’s true that my Grandma Agnes named three children John.


Living children, not dead: all bearing the name of John.


You might assume she was crazy about her husband, John.


But the truth is, following childbirth, she truly hated John.


Torn and bleeding, worn out, she’d put the blame on John.


When the nurse came around with the form, there’d be no sign of John.


Agnes would hiss at the nurse, “Oh, Christ! Just put down John.”


Once she got home with the child, she’d grow attached to “John.”


Then she’d begin to call him some name other than John.


But it caused some mix-ups at school that they were all named John.


And the draft board wasn’t amused that they were all named John.


My Uncle Jim was the only son who was not named John.


He was named for Agnes’s father, who was a James, not John.


James Glynn died on a mental ward tied down among John Does.


Jim Kane was always a good boy, unlike the three bad Johns.






They wanted to

wallpaper the burn

with strips of thigh.

Leave it alone, you said:

this is the flower

I am bringing to the dead.


Men want you. You can’t

get used to it. They can’t

get used to the scar

no sequined G-string

can hide. They touch it

jealously: a pressed corsage

from your last lover.


You age around it.

Year by year, new veins

nudge and surface

for air. Rose and code,

text of petals, this rosetta

will teach you how to live

with your shame. When

men do not want you, when

rain comes to matter, it

will warn you of rain.



From Body and Soul, by Julie Kane (Pirogue, 1987).










Julie Kane, a former Louisiana State Poet Laureate, is Professor Emeritus of English at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana. She is currently teaching in the low-residency MFA program at Western State Colorado University. Her fifth collection of poems, Mothers of Ireland, is forthcoming from LSU Press in the Fall of 2020. With Grace Bauer, she is the co-editor of Nasty Women Poets: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse (2017).


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