Claudia Keelan
Everybody's Autobiography

At the end, the only thing left in my parents’ house was the piano
and an oversized portrait of them on their wedding day.
At the end, he died in my house, in Las Vegas, and I called I love you, Dad

through moments struck open, a lid on a truck that was our life together,
struck open, in his dying. At the end, the firemen and paramedics,
the coroner from Chicago smoking on the porch, and the captain saying

would you like to pray? At the end we did, struck open, the bed
that was his tomb still in the guest room, and yet no angel telling me
of the risen Lord. At the end, I kept returning to the room

to look at my father. In the end, they placed him in a bag, I heard
the zipping and though I didn’t watch, I heard the effort they made lifting,
and he was gone, no sirens, before my son woke.

In the beginning, in 1924, Lenin died, and Stalin ruled for 29 years.
Calvin Coolidge was president and there was no vice-president.
Clarence Darrow, a man who unlike my father, believed in law,
helped Leopold and Loeb escape the death penalty for the murder
of their 14 year old cousin.

In the beginning, Ruth Malcomson from Pennsylvania was named
Miss America, and George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue debuted in Paris.

On April 3rd, 1924, my father Edward Thomas Keelan Jr., was born
in Compton, California to Marguerite Keelan née Kearns and Edward
Thomas Keelan Sr., the boy between two girls, Peggy 2 and Patricia,
the baby. This is the autobiography of everyone

because all lives and books
begin and end. This is the autobiography of everyone
and is for all of us still alive in the broken middleness, mouthing our stories.



 My father fell into this world from a woman’s body.
And yours?
This is the autobiography of everyone
because it was my father who taught me to distrust
distinctions that separated the simple subject
from the compound subject, particularly, and to begin with
the subject I. I’m hungry, I told my father.

The world is rumbling, he said, and placed a piece of bread in my mouth.
I’m thirsty, I repeated and he pointed towards
the split in the dream and handed me a hollow stick.

Of death, Gertrude Stein writes in The Geographical History of America:



 Now the relation of human nature is this.
Human nature does not know this.
Human nature cannot know this …
Human nature does not know that if everyone did not die
There would be no room for those who live now.

This is true. Almost everything Stein said is true.
I know because I’ve felt it happen, human nature.
Human nature is interested in itself.
One day, human nature finds a place
where human nature loses, in a flash, first distinction,
and finds itself suddenly something other,
one’s whole understanding of a glorious singularity disappeared in an instant.

How large the world has become in your loss!
You have understood the purpose of death.
Having done so, you understand the purpose of life.
You must give your self away. Then you can sleep.

Stein: "This is the way human nature can sleep,
it can sleep by not knowing this.
The human mind can sleep by knowing this."
I have spent my life asleep,
standing by the window year after year with my mother,
waiting for my father to come home safely.
This is the autobiography of everyone asleep in one room or the other.
Natural mind, have you seen my father?

In the beginning, Walt Disney created his first cartoon and another invention,
The Teapot Dome Scandal, debuted in Wyoming, and Elk Hills, California,
not far from where my father worked the oil wells years later.

Harry F. Sinclair of Sinclair Oil Company was sentenced to prison for contempt
of the senate and for hiring detectives to shadow members of the jury in his


I liked the dinosaur in the Sinclair oil sign, just as I found the oil wells
themselves, perpetually making love to the edges of Interstate 5,
oddly comforting, though a little sad.

In the years before my father was born, the Southern Pacific Railroad
monopolized California. William Hood was the chief assistant engineer who saw
that tunnels were the only clear route through the sometimes impenetrable
mountains. He envisaged eighteen tunnels in twenty-eight miles of track

climbing down the Tehachapi Mountain to the San Joaquin Valley below.
The Southern Pacific Railroad was as merciless as it was inventive.
When a town denied access to the company, it simply built another town.

The farmers, too, felt the brunt of the railroad’s power. Allowed to settle on
isolated land, in Tehachapi, in Boron, and many desert regions of the state,
many had cultivated the barren land into lush fields.

In 1878, the Southern Pacific Railroad took titles to the land and appraised
it at twenty-five to fifty dollars, instead of the two dollars and fifty cents
initially quoted the farmers.

Outraged, they went to court where they lost every case; by the end, eight
farmers died and two hundred families were evicted from their farms.

Earlier, in 1881, the Southern Pacific joined the Atchison, Topeka and Santa
Fe Railroad at Deming in New Mexico territory to become the second
transcontinental railroad.

My parents sang the song as we drove along, and so did we, along with
I’ve Been Working on the Railroad, Give me a Ticket for an Airplane, wanting,
I suppose now that I think of it, to be anywhere but the car.

For all their invention and cruelty, the founders of the railroad obviously
had a vision of shared beauty built into their machine. The dining cars
of the early railroad were elegant meeting places where travelers

met over fine china, eating roast pheasant, exotic relishes, and drinking
California wine as they gamboled together towards different destinations.
The gilded age of the railroad ended in 1910 when Hiram Johnson was elected

governor of California and methodically broke the political hold
of the Southern Pacific Railroad. A United States senator from 1917-1945,
Johnson was the Progressive party’s nominee for Vice-President in 1912.

As a senator, he was an isolationist, opposing membership to the League of
Nations and the United Nations. A large state on the edge of the Pacific,
California itself is contained, isolated, and like all things in isolation, it has no

concept of boundaries. Apotheosis of the "bedroom community," the suburbs
of Southern California are predicted in the next century to reach Las Vegas.
The golden state, El Dorado, California was the destination dream spot

of millions of immigrants from the 1800’s when pioneers traveled the

Oregon trail, to the present day when Mexican émigrés are smuggled across
the border, camouflaged as part of the car’s seat.

It can be no mistake that in the years during Johnson’s political career,
the oil companies laid the foundation for the state’s eventual enslavement
to the gasoline combustion engine. With the downfall of the Southern Pacific

Railroad, the oil barons took, and continue to hold, the transportation realities
of the millions of Californians who now inhabit El Dorado, alone, or commuting,
and mostly in traffic jams, in automobiles along the state’s freeways.

1889: Standard Oil (Indiana) founded as subsidiary of Standard Trust Oil
1910: Standard Oil of Indiana founded with the dissolution of Standard Oil
1911: Standard Oil of Indiana purchases Pan American Petroleum
1932: Standard Oil of Indiana sells Venezuela operation to Jersey
1954: Pan American and Standard of Indiana merge. New company is called 
American Oil Company (Amoco)
1957: Amoco begins joint venture with Iran Independent of Iranian Oil Consortium
1959: Jersey strikes oil in Libya
1979: Jersey changes name to Exxon
1972: Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait and Qatar acquire 25% interest in 
Exxon’s production operations (in country), with right to increase stake 
to 51% by 1982
1981: Exxon sells Standard Libya to Libyan government
1990-present: Amoco, Getty, Exxon, Ashland Oil, Chevron, Conoco and 
many others continue to operate in the Gulf Region

"But there is no remembering in the human mind." —Stein

My father died on July 21st, 2001, and on September 11th, 2001, fourteen
boys in airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a
Pennsylvania field, killing themselves and thousands of people.

This has something to do with my father, with oil, with me.
My government and with you.

Since my father’s death, I’ve slowly begun waking to my childhood.
It’s mostly full of other people’s words, as is time in general, the specific
a rare event, relying as it does upon an individual member being awake.

I’m waking to my childhood in my own child’s life, the driving he loves
in video games, a version of the driving I loved, asleep in the backseat.
May all his crashing be virtual.

In remembering is re-membering.
Heart and mind, body and soul, time and space, father and daughter,
we are separate; we are attached.

The mind knows this when the heart pulses freely,
dependent upon its muscle.
The soul itself is a muscle, both housed
and independent of its own body.

I’m aware of its contraction now, in the arc it’s making outside me as it follows
the automobile’s whine, which is a pulse, too, that surrounds each moment

of modern life. Time is eternal in space. Trapped radio waves prove it,
as does my dead father’s DNA wound through me.

Heaven then spirals in a dragon fly’s hovering, look, just now,
and in its vanishing.

Found In Volume 36, No. 01
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  • keelan
Claudia Keelan
About the Author

Claudia Keelan is the author of several books of poetry, including Utopic and Missing Her. She teaches at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where she edits Interim.