Jeff Key

  • Bio
  • Writing
  • Art

    The Eyes of Babylon

    Jeff's Key's one-man show The Eyes of Babylon, dramatizes Key's deployment as a former Lance Corporal Marine during his two months in Iraq before he was med-evac'd home for surgery. While deployed in Iraq, Key kept his sanity by recording his experiences in a notebook protected in the cargo pocket of his uniform. Although initially an enthusiastic enlistee as a Marine reservist in 2000, he grew increasingly frustrated with revelations about the impetus of the U.S. invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq. He received an honorable discharge under the 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' policy when he admitted being gay."

  • Performance
  • Photos

A Jazz Requiem for the Male of the Species

(to be read aloud with Miles Davis’ “Shh, Peaceful”)

What you have offered me is bleak
And white
And sterile
And cold.
Marked only by the black scars of industry,
Slavery and greed.
What is offered now to me, the male of the species?

What have you presented to me
As my options,
As my life?
What lie have you believed
And passed on to me
As my possibility?

What have you led me,
A small child and trusting
To believe was my highest hope
And dignity?

What have you denied me in the way of acceptance
And community?
What bleak and barren, white sky, raped mountains and choking factory
What hopeless and hollow aspiration is mine to bear
Because I am man?

Is a man worth no more than his labor?
Is a man worth no more than his sweat?
Is a man worth no more than his blood?

My father’s boots lie discarded and work-worn
As his black-lung’d body.
My grandfather’s boots lie caked with dried blood and the
Soil of distant lands he lacked the education to know of before he went there,

Sent on the big grey and grim coffin afloat,

Draped in the American flag.
And his father before him
And his before him.

What will you now offer me as a man?
Am I not worth more than the blood and happiness I will shed in battle? For promised liberty then withheld?
For fake freedom and rumors of democracy?
Or more likely for those who withhold
From we who fight
The spoils of empire?
For the black oily secret
Best left buried
That now flows uninhibited
Into the warm gulf of Mother’s sweet emotion?

What will you offer a man like me?
A man who is willing to celebrate you,
A man who is more like you than you care to believe?

The fateful waiter
Stands at my table
With offers of callousness
And of putrid meat
When all I desire is Love.

What now have you afforded me,
A man born of a woman
And the injury done her by another man
Damaged, himself by same lack of understanding,
Of choices?
Real. Choices.

Why must you hate me because you’ve been hurt?
I am hurt too!
Why must you hate me because of my

Look at me, I beg you
Are you certain I am the monster you fear?
I share your desire of a man’s body!
I share your hunger for peace,
And I am more like you than you think.
I am more like you than you think.

Does that spoil your worldview?
I cannot,
Will not


Why because of some hateful heritage committed by those who preceded me, >/

Male and female Have you have robbed me of my greatest hope
And all the beauty of my unfulfilled potential?

Dragged from the warmth, comfort and anxiety of my mother’s body
I am thrust into an existence for which I am ill prepared.
The human male is alive outside the womb but seconds
Before the first blow comes,
And then the lifetime sentence,
“It’s a boy, it’s a boy, it’s a boy!”
I am thrust into a world of bright lights, frightening noises, antiseptic

Aggravation and isopropyl expectation.
(Even as I speak these words you withdraw from me any willingness you
might have had to adore me, to welcome and to listen.)
I did not hurt you.
I will not hurt you.
And I do not regret being a man.

In diapers at tender age I am confused to see the compassion my sisters are
Afforded whenever they fall.
Not to wish them deprived as I am but to partake in that delicious form of
Love myself.
“Boys don’t cry. Boys don’t cry.”
I cry.
To look with longing at pretty things
And sensitive colorful and comfortable
And soft
And warm
And happy.
(The acknowledgement of male oppression does not diminish the
acknowledgement of female oppression. It seeks to end it!)

So may I
But for this one time
Speak of the atrocity visited upon me
And upon my brothers
Without offending,
Without drawing fire?

On the white hash-marked and numbered field we are encouraged to “play”

To compete
To win
To “vanquish the enemy”
Poorly disguised versions of myself
On neat facsimiles of future battlefields

In preparation for war.

How long has it been true
That the greatest to which a man can aspire
Is to die in war?

In the somewhat happier tune
A man is worth his ability to work,
To bring home the bacon,
(Even if I do keep kosher and vegan, And love the beast

And love to run naked with the beast
In the woods beside him
Rather to than kill him.)

I am no killer.

Is this the life you offer me,
To squelch my Divinity?
And dare I say it, my
Take it then if you like,
If those are your terms
Give my body to the worms.

The greatest offense
A boy can do
Is to be considered “like a woman”
How then can you act surprised
When we do
What we do?

I went to war.
I put on the uniform
And went to do
What you told me would make me loved by you.
I stopped myself from loving (or tried)
I stopped my nurturing nature (or tried)
I sought to see the Iraqis as my enemies
As separate from me
But I could not.

My Native blood was too strong.
My compassionate heart too wise,
To believe anything
Other than the Truth.

I am like a woman too

If only in secret.

If crying for those who suffer,
Is being like a woman, let me be womanly.
Or more likely let me be like a man,
A man as he should be,
A man as Creation intended him to be.

My nature is to be an ally to womankind.
My nature is to champion her.
My nature is to lift her up when she falls
And walk beside her.
How many times in my life have I been met by contempt of a woman
Because she made dreadful assumptions about me?
When she could not see my two-spirited spirit,
When she mistook my form for my intention?

Yes, I have heard you.
Yes, my heart breaks with your suffering,
And yes, I too have been destroyed by the same sick system
Of sexism and misogyny,
Cruelty and ignorance.
Please Mother, welcome me home.

Take back the mask
My face is destroyed by it.
I have sacrificed my soul on the altar of American Masculinity.
Please Mother, welcome me home.

I have watched horrified
As men became boys,
Rattled and ruined
When the game
Became real
And the cost of defeat multiplied.
Please Mother, welcome us home.
Please Sister, welcome us home.

A speck to your eye
In the white blistered sky
Far above the ruins of my iniquity
And the rabble of industry
And the shame of slavery
And the life that you offered me,
I reach for That which created me,
Please Mother, welcome me home.

Passion’s Heart

"All that sadness just lingers.
It just hovers there."
He goes in first and is not afraid.
He's been here before but not me.
Some trees stand and some still fall.
The courtyard of this public garden is empty today
Save for us. 
And now only me since my brave has gone into the surgery place.
Now holds only coddling figs and abandoned art and me.
Standing in a mine field of botanical hearts
Strewn 'round about my wary feet
And I know not to move
And I do not move
But stare at a thousand Iraqi flies
Traveled all this way to feed on passion's hearts and realize my fears.
And I will not move from fear, for fear
And I do not want to see what I know I am about to see.
The flies black cloud rises as the marine welder surgeon
Emerges for the cave with the dead man in his arms
Or half of him
And I am even less prepared than I thought.
Deep inside my gut the echo rips through
Of that sixteen years old explosion
That took the life of the thing
And sucked the air from the air
And nothing yet has returned to grow.
Please don't make me look.
And God said, "Look at my beautiful child."
Now it's left to me to bring the rest
And I will
For love of the brave and for my own healing too
Or not.
The legs, permanently cocked and appropriately supine
But for these four minutes
Of paul baring these ball bearings
And four legs is not enough for running me far enough away
From where I've never been.
I've know the silent or at least quiet reverence appropriate to the dead
And I practice it now
No less than if metal were meat.
It is right that I should do so
And I do
Even though doing what is right is at the very bottom of my list right now
And yes, that is a lie
But if wishing it wasn't would make it true,
God and Satan's gospel it would be.
I'll sit for an impromptu eulogy
And let but not make feeling.
All is quiet
All is reverent
Mature sadness and not contrived.
We join the other congregants for daily procession into the sun
All come together at last where drivers are wanted.
Inside our rented hearse
We are three brothers.
One sings.
One cries.
One is silent.
Which does which I'll let you decide.

And Then I Saw It

Who is this boy who sits in the tree?
Cries for you.  Cries for me.
Take back your wish, you wished too hard.
In your blindness you stumbled
And found the right moment and now,
Now just look what you have done -
Now look what you have done.
She angry clucks
And the blade floats there.
It's coming for you too.
Take back your wish!
I can't feel my legs because I have no legs you stupid whore!
Insatiable fat and greasy gourd, wanting more.
Take that spike from the sky and throw it into the ocean.
It has all been a lie
And you run and you go and you do
And there is no where to run to.
I tried to tell you so-
I tried to tell you so.

Who is this boy who sits without a hand?
You should have never left the tree
And I tried to tell you so
Stop touching tender tears
They are not for you
They are for me!
Don't comfort me
I don't want you flag disease.
Don't cry to me with humble eyes and outstretched blood-
If I cannot hear, how can I sing?
I am broken.
I am numb.
Pain is no pain in the song unsung.
Take, eat, this is my body.
I don't want it any more
And I tried to tell you.
I tried to tell you.
Now will you listen, now that it's too late?
Breathe deep the toxic fumes of my annihilation
And I will take you with me.
I do not speak your language
Or care to understand.
I will stand and scream my own and fuck your eyes.
Beat, beat, beat.  There is nothing left to build.
Stop, I say, it is too late.
Sing your pretty song and dance stars on me
I do not want your help.
The black bleating heart sends waves of disgust from my
From your
To my
And I cannot hear.  I will not hear.
And how many days did you expect that I should stand there waiting?
Save your own fuck**g life
And take your hands blood off me I am not dead.
I am not dead.
I see you there laughing on the battlefield playground.
Where will the children go now that you have blacked them?
Who will want to eat where you have shat?
Who will cry for mother when all who loved her have gone?
Who will give bread to mother
Now that her brave oven holds devil's child?
How will you learn and marry and grow
And continue your ridiculous planning now that you hang there?
Who will  take my deeper thoughts and turn them to laughter
Now that you are gone?
The hands box is empty and you dare to come to me for mine?
I have no hands, or heart, or ears-
You have taken them with you
And all of me is gone.
How could you take the faggot child
Into your dark world of angry toys?
And how could you take his pretty light and grind it into the sand?
And how could you lead him by trusting hand and portend to teach
When you are the rightful pupil?
Now look what you have done!
Stop eyes saying
There is nothing to say.
Go or don't go
It doesn't matter anyway.
Cold creeping hands in foreign lands.
Stay home!  Stay home!  Stay home!
You can't call yourself a name
When the father is dead.
The father is dead and has taken his name!
His name and his potential
His better hope and rising.
You will die too and those after you.
I have killed us all.
I have been risen and I chose death.
Why come to me with blame and hunger?
I cannot feed you with empty bowl.
Young and stupid to trust me child.
It was a lie and I was pretending-
Scared and a child myself
I cannot grow from fear.
Go home and ask your mother
She is not there.
My brother f****d her and turned her to air.
Bush good!  Bush good! 
I take my blade.
Bush good!  Bush good!
I place it there.
Bush good!  Bush good!
And I push it in and save you from a life in Hell.

My hate of my king
And love of him too,
To hate your king
And I kill too
And enough and more 'til the killin's done.
And look at the bad guy
He's on the run
And he's runnin' to Hell to bring back some more
And you'll taste my rage and there's oh, so much more-
And I'll kill myself too
But not before you.

The sun has gone to chase the moon
And left us all in this cold empty room
Of no playgrounds or forests or deserts pristine.
The ferris wheel's been painted dull marine green.

And now I must leave you and run to the crowds
They're cheering and beating
Their palm's blood and loud-
And they're crying and laughing
And taste sweet relief
From their debt and their anguish and their bed wetting grief
And they blow me and hold me and call me their king
But the joke is on them, no hand means no ring
And no head means no crown
And my shame smile from their loving
Washed permanent frown.

Empty chains lonely, they all deserve tags
So we'll fill all the coffers, turn raiment to rags
And we'll drink all the oil
And hide all the gold
And we'll make you all niggers
You'll serve till you're old
And your children will leave you
And carry no pain
When they learn to dance in our poisonous rain.

Hear how they tinkle when the wind makes them sway.
September eleventh is just another day
And nothing makes sense when it all becomes clear
A minute's a month and a month is a year
And all
What?  You thought I would remember you?
I don't even know myself.
Someone take her away from me
Her filthy hands may soil my beautiful dress.

The boy has fallen from the tree.
The salt taste ants have gone
And the needle nose sucker too.
One Iraq fly, now gone too.
And there is nothing.

Passion’s Heart

Excerpt from The Eyes of Babylon

Maybe someday we'll all figure it out;
that we are all connected,
that there is really enough for everyone,
that violence only breeds violence
and that nobody wins a war.

Jeff Key

I'm a former US Marine and Iraq war veteran. I was an activated reservist and deployed to Eastern Iraq (the Iranian border) in March of 2003. Two months later I was medi-vac'd out and flew back to Camp Pendleton for surgery. Upon returning from Iraq, because of my growing concerns about the war, how it was not making my nation safer, how the Iraqis were suffering horribly for no reason, how my fellow service members were being injured and dying in a country that had nothing to do with September 11th, and because of my strong convictions that the invasion was part of a plan that had more to do with corporate gains than thwarting terrorists, I made the difficult decision to exit the military.

I did have a way out. I was (am) gay and I knew that all I had to do was to admit that publicly and, since this nation did not allow for openly gay men and women to serve in the military, until they changed that (archaic and inane) policy, they would have to discharge me. It was a way out but it was not an "easy" way out. I went on CNN as Paula Zahn's guest and came out of the closet to five million people. To go back in the closet now, I'd have to go to another planet. That day I explained to the world what I had learned in Iraq; that this so called "War on Terrorism" was nothing more than a front to fill the pockets of the rich on the blood of the poor. I announced the founding of a non-profit organization called The Mehadi Foundation to help returning veterans and support philanthropic efforts in Iraq. The best thing we can do at this point to make ourselves safer is to let the rest of the world know that all Americans do not want to kill them and in fact many want to help people be they American, Iraqi or any other nationality.

While I was in Iraq, I kept a journal which I shared with my fellow marines as a form of entertainment and fellowship. When I got home, I developed those journals into a one-man performance piece called The Eyes of Babylon. The Eyes of Babylon was presented by Semaphore Projects and the Mehadi Foundation as part of Americas Off Broadway at 59E59 Theaters in NYC as well as other venures.

The Showtime Network made a documentary about my story. It includes parts of my play and interviews with my family, friends and fellow Marines, Semper Fi: One Marine's Journey.