Keith Dunlap takes us from an eleven-year-old camping on a “primeval ledge” to the cosmos beyond and men walking on the moon. It’s almost dizzying to watch “burning flakes of ash” from the campfire drift up toward the stars in their “slow eddy.” And then time and space are conflated in his poem “Space,” so outer space is seemingly an hour away⎯ and we could drive there (at least in some planetarium perhaps) were it not for cosmic rays and meteor showers…

Keith Dunlap’s work has appeared in numerous publications, and Hip Pocket Press published a collection of his poems, Storyland, in June 2016. A chapbook, My Father’s Death My Brother’s Death My Own followed in 2019. He lives in Portland, Maine.

Betsy Sholl, MAJ Poetry Editor.


Sleep Away


We lie on our backs

on the half-submerged shoulder blade

of a massive boulder deposited at this spot

by the recession of a glacier

at the end of the last ice age.

Our counselor has determined

it is safe to build a fire.


The embers melt into our muscle memory

after an arduous but obedient day

of paddling wooden canoes

and humping over-stuffed canvas packs

through Adirondack forests

infested with black flies.


Our grumbling through the sweltering hours

strands us at last on this primeval ledge

where the burning flakes of ash

drift upward to the sky;

like stars stirred by a slow eddy;

like a fresh hatch swarming

as our canoe plashes by.


I will never be eleven again.

But the sensation of being strapped to the earth

and rocketed through quiet space and time,

a castaway, a stowaway, a stranger-guest

to the business of gods and men

will hallow me to this day.


“Men are walking on the moon,”

our counselor says—


the lifeless moon

towering above us

helpless to dominate

but seeming to nonetheless

while our insect anxieties

stare back into its face

with its saintly, condescending smile—


and we are suitably impressed.




Outer space is not very far.

We could drive there in an hour—

no time at all really—before we have shed

enough emotional gravity

to float around like ice cubes

or tourists on a weekend pass

hovering in front of a marbled glass

and wearing 3-D spectacles to see

what we could not see without them:

how this small planet looms before us,

and how free we might in fact be,

if not for the danger

of cosmic rays, meteor showers,

and prolonged isolation insanity.