David Kirschenbaum

Aaron Kiely
My Money
Shifting Units Press, 29 Graves Avenue, #1, Northampton, MA 01060, $5

"Maybe it's because every other word you say these days starts with H and ends with Holly," said a character on Party of Five last week. It was like that in August as Aaron Kiely fell in love and we communicated via answering machines and emails. Aaron kept talking about Holly and how all he was doing was working, writing, and seeing Holly.

He kept up his usual writing pace, fast, furious, nightly. His writing is something he doesn't talk about or share or want edited, instead preferring to publish his chapbook length poems under his own imprint, Shifting Units Press. In 1998 it was Breaks Other, a rhythmic blast of words, which the St. Mark's Poetry Project Web site said was filled with "popping, snapping poems." One year later, it's My Money, a narrative exploring his new love, appearances, self, and the effect of the almighty dollar.

The chap opens with two epigraphs from Madonna that convey the forthcoming dichotomy. Where the quote from "Vogue" talks about trying "everything you can to escape/the pain of life that you loathe," the words from "Holiday" don't ask for much of a respite, "just one day out of life" to celebrate, that "would be so nice."

Inside, Kiely delivers short, linked, quick word-bursts. It's a start-stop beat, with alternating phrases, and it takes you right into the work as if you stepped inside of it.

you find out
you show me
because I live here
in the name of
I wish you would show me
I wish you would find out
because I live here
in the name of
I wish I lived here with you

And then a few lines further this love gets even more real.

and these aren't my eyes
because you won't look into them

It's this defining one's self through the other that is a constant in My Money. It is as though the narrator is having trouble knowing his value without the other informing him of it. This love finds itself put into this context as well, as the world looks in upon it, and Kiely unfurls it through his hypnotic repetition.

you were made for this
it's true to be made for her

it's true to be beautiful
and made for someone
to be made to feel special
it's true to pay attention
it's beautiful to be found
beautiful for her
in your time
this is how I was meant to be understood
I know the whole world has seen me
living once
by example
in her arms

And sometimes it's okay for the narrator to be the observer, not the observed, to stay back with his love and just be. To "sit on our porches/to watch the world spin/with our children…let's sit on our porches/to watch the world spin/and nothing more." But soon after he's seeking reinforcement again, wondering "did they hear about our love?" and "everyone should know about this romance." It's this shout it from the rooftops sensibility that comes through My Money most of all, this wanting to share this great love with all, not out of some braggadocio but just to let people see how happy he is, they are, and you can be, too, with the right someone. As he says it, "shouldn't everyone feel this romance."

And no matter how sweeping Kiely makes it he brings it back home with simple expressions of love such as "I remember you without photographs," that have the reader closing their eyes to see if they can similarly recall their great love.

At the same time this love is flowering, the issues of money are occupying a large part of the narrator's head. He wonders why his lover isn't sleeping with her money, wants her to adjust to the idea of having money being o.k.

you don't even want to touch your money
you don't even want to touch your money

But she's even having trouble adjusting to her own skin. She's wearing

clothes that show her body,
but they don't show you're in your body

time to get in
show your faith.

This contrasts sharply with the narrator who, in his home listening to music, says

it's seven o'clock
I love this song
and I need to look good right now

He tells us his face is "the vanguard of beauty today," and because he says so it is. He's in the moment and not afraid to do whatever he wants. "I don't have any desires I don't live," and because he says so it is. It's something he tries conveying to his lover, who can't grasp her own beauty. It's here where the narrator becomes the other for his lover, telling her

you don't have to be afraid of beauty
you have your body
and it never goes away

It's this love of self that comes part and parcel with this love of her, as though without self-love their love could never follow. But soon enough he's telling his love to pull back, to not "love anything/ever…[to not] love as hard as you can." And moments later he tells her not to "risk a life of paying rent…[not to] risk "your life" in a world/you're not able to live in/to try to make a world/you're finally able to live in." It's here where love and frustration crash, where the idea of stasis is confronted and embraced, where even this great love is thrown away for a moment.

But soon it's o.k. to love again and he's

talking hips
to the walls
understand it
living
I can live
standing in sex
let's talk
hips to the walls

And soon he's delivering lines that make you want to be in this love.

what would you say to me
if I wasn't orbiting you?

But still, the conflict of love, self, and money returns. The narrator still wants recognition, to be celebrated and told "something about me/is as necessary/as a dollar." It's something he needs to be told although he understands it is already a given.

someone speak for the world and tell me
I was made more important than money
someone tell me it's not over
and it's more important to meet me
because you can still see me
and I was made more important than money.

And soon enough he's not caring about the exterior, about how others view him, be they people or commercial entities like Nissan and L.L. Bean. Only "whatever's left in you/that can still see me matters/and nothing else."

He's forgetting about "the machine of money and ownership," wanting to live for freedom and love, not money. Listen to freedom and don't respect the machine. It's a simple lesson, one every artist confronts daily, and here Kiely takes it on with simple, harsh, philosophy.

if you live for the machine
you're not connected to anything
you're in the shadow
you've stopped
you're not part of the universe anymore
you're opposite

And this is where he takes the narrator, on a destination of love and life over money, on a trip toward fighting against this and that other being the something worth fighting for.

I'm not here to be king
I'm not here for money
I'll say it again
I'm not here for money
I don't want a piece of land
I don't want a nice coat
I'm dead tomorrow
and I don't want a nice coat…
so hard to fight
but keep it alive
no matter what

And that's what Kiely does here, more than anything--allow his narrator to persevere in the daily struggle that is an artist's life. My Money is a deep breath from the bottom of the gut right through the heart, more life than work, more a snapshot of a life's work, frozen in this moment.

[Back to Readme]