Poet Ray Keifetz imagines a vivid world into being in his second collection.
This new poetry collection begins with images of violence and loss, of “blood prints / on the wall.” It tells of a world where “All that can be lost / has been lost.” That would seem to make for a grim undertaking, except it’s not quite true, for there remains memory, and imagination, and Ray Keifetz has imagined a vivid world into being – perhaps our world, or what it was, or what it will be – strange but recognizable, and strangely beautiful even when he ventures into dark places. His title poem calls to mind natural history dioramas depicting exotic animals in their lost habitats, “A meadow / in memory of meadows. / A sea / in memory of seas.” His poems serve a similar function, each a compelling vignette capturing a moment of life, in memory of life. Keifetz is a clear-eyed realist about our world – “Whoever praised the shore / lied about the tide” – and he knows how porous the boundary is separating human and beast: “How long did we hold / our two-leggedness, / our man and woman-ness, / before we dropped to our knees / and feasted?” But ultimately he is hopeful – “How long can it rain / until the rainbow” – and he shows a way forward in the simplest of acts, for in planting “even a seed — / you dig // the opposite / of a grave.”
“Ray Keifetz’s MUSEUM BEASTS reads like Cormac McCarthy in free verse. It’s post-apocalyptic, terrible in its beauty. Animals are dead, people are dead and dying in a wasteland. Somehow, we think, the people speaking these dark poems will find a way to transcend the barren world they live in, but they don’t. The collection’s final poem is as close to hopeful as the poet allows—to an apple tree encircled by woods and hemlock a voice says 'Those who planted you / are in the earth. But deer / have long memories. / You will not be alone / in the dark.' The world of MUSEUM BEASTS is not yet lost. Someone remembers what it’s like to bear fruit.”
“What is the human beast? For Ray Keifetz we are 'children of the ax,' defilers of the land, custodians of the raw emptiness that we create in an obsessional desire to seize the goblet of wealth and power. There are no grails in Keifetz’s poetry, no quests for the soul’s redemption. We look through a long lens backwards into incomprehension, reaching towards an empathy of survival in a world where species and cultures slip into extinction. His poems are the tender voice of fury that knows that beauty survives in contradiction and memory. The title poem ends with the haunting image of 'All these eyes / of glass / in memory of light.' Keifetz’s poetry brings us to this light and lets us comprehend that we, too, have 'eyes of glass' in a museum with transparent walls.”
“Ray Keifetz’s new poetic myths are a mash-up of Oz, del Toro, and trippy end of the world nightmare vibes. Come down these barbed wire boulevards filled with graves, ghosts, and revenge. To riff on Pogo—We have met the monsters and they are us.”
“The poems in MUSEUM BEASTS are places. Leaving us alone in each of them to discover what worlds his words create, Keifetz offers us a singular experience. There’s no imagining these places or having them described for us. Rather, we’re given full access to what at first may seem unfamiliar until, led by his careful language’s guidance, we begin to see what has previously been unseen.”
—Paul B. Roth
Ray Keifetz is the author of two poetry collections: NIGHT FARMING IN BOSNIA (Bitter Oleander Press, 2018), winner of Bitter Oleander's Library of Poetry award; and MUSEUM BEASTS (Broadstone Books, 2024). His stories and poems have appeared in the Ashland Creek Press, Gargoyle, Kestrel, Osiris, Phantom Drift, RHINO, and others, and have received three Pushcart Prize nominations. He lives and writes in rural New Hampshire.