Back when, I remember coming across this story all the time (most likely the same year I found The Smiths and quit the entire state of Mississippi [and all I knew there] and moved to Denver to work as a hospital orderly like my hero, Denis Johnson) in fiction anthologies, short story textbooks, etcetera, books bought for fifty cents or one dollar (at most) in cramped and musty bookstores (this was
Shiny things hung from the young man’s beltloops, most noticeably a silver tape measure, which he stretched between my doorways. I love these country homes, he said.
Walter laid the brick himself, I announced. Walter cared for the lawn all those years, too. Paid off the home just three months before he died. I said all of this to excuse the Christmas decorations bleached by the August sun, the
Every year about this time
I thumb through a Rolodex
of names—my names, all
the possible ones, everything
I’ve heard whispered or shouted
my way, in love or in panic,
in anger. There are nicknames,
like the one a kid gave me
in sixth grade: Birdlegs,
and really, yet today I’m shaped
like a ball of cookie dough
Daniel Berrigan tells a story about a conqueror who comes into our city. He is a huge, superhuman figure, and is preceded by rumors of invincibility. He has conquered everywhere and our city is next. We are afraid and there is nothing to be done except make peace with him; he is all prevailing. He comes closer and closer, and we begin to notice that he has no army; he is all alone. Yet we know that
Begin with a thing. Make it a sparrow. A sparrow clinging to the stem of an Easter Lily. Make the sparrow silent. We don’t want too many voices this early on. Let the lily speak for itself.
Now, enter. This is how things get going. You need a dog. This dog is red but the top of its head is blonde, bleached by the sun. The dog swims every day. Get that dog moving! Don’t forget about
Sometimes an urge takes hold of us and pulls us onto the dance floor
even though we only want to sip our drink and observe.
I don’t mean one of those sudden, fleeting urges
like peeing off the back of the boat
or kissing the girl you’ve been stammering before
under a porch light that is being pecked by moths,
but an urge that leads to a life no one saw coming;
like leaving your comfortable
On the day we flee town, we will want the neighborhood to know what happened. We will tell stories about our stepfather to the kind and not-so-kind men on our street, to the cops who size us up to see if we are underage, turning tricks, will turn a trick with them. We will run door-to-door and confess to the rumors circulating in town. We will bypass the churches, the mosque and synagogue, and the
The paratroopers fall and as they fall
They mow the lawn. –Wallace Stevens
Everyone was talking about a philosophy of life. It seemed important and the kind of thing that could stand one in good stead for years to come. Things were falling apart. The ex: money again. No news there. My best friend Flipper was freaking out on me again. Two kids in need of school clothes and new footwear. And I had
We all live poorly here. Use mail-in rebates at the hardwood store, get drunk at Sammy’s on Friday nights, and let our children run around in their underwear in our front yards. They wave flags, swords, and guns, practicing for the coming days when soldier is the only job that comes with benefits.
Late but not quite midnight. Marina Melba stands on the communal balcony of the flats. She pulls a cigarette with elegance from a packet. Lights it without looking, eyes fixed on the balustrade and foggy sky. 31st December is the date.
Tess on her way to meet friends stops by the elevator. Pops out to the balcony for a second,
The hotel key was ours. A rectangular piece of hard plastic with the words PLAY SLEEP REPEAT on the front. New York City. That humid summer day when it rained frogs and people shielded themselves with their umbrellas, only to be pelted anyway. Four concussions. One death. And us? We were snug in our suite. Plush pillows, silk sheets, turndown service. A mini bar we emptied. We filled that hotel
We’re together again, three old buds standing in a dark closet at our thirtieth high school reunion. We can hear the eighties music from the auditorium one floor below us. What are we doing? I’d let Larry tell you, but he’s worried he’s having a heart attack. And Justin, he thinks the police will barge in any second. He’s already preparing a legal defense.
We’re still best friends,
Her hair sometimes sailed on her. She was a point in the distance, as if the entire universe had poured from a convergence. She thought, It’s just as well.
Hardwick understood her, if he were also sometimes spartan in the extreme, bare pots stored in bare unpapered cabinets. Once again, he watched as she was absorbed, turned to vapor in some other sphere. Her hair, taken
Parades always made her tired, so it wasn’t surprising that the assassin fell asleep on the roof.
As she napped, the roof became quite crowded.
A family of six had a picnic, fried chicken and potato salad. Their baby gummed lime gelato.
The super pretended to repair the cooling duct. His toolbox was full of ale.
An octogenarian who had learned to swim in the Baltic Sea leaped into the wooden water tower for her daily laps.
A boy wearing an aviator’s hat fed his pigeons. One of the birds, Charles, was worried about Amelia, his mate. She hadn’t returned from their afternoon flight. The boy understood, so he stroked Charles’ head and whistled, “Volière.”
The octogenarian climbed out of the tower only to discover that she had forgotten her towel. The family cleared their picnic and after apologizing for the crumbs and green stains, wrapped her in their plaid blanket. She invited the family, the boy, and Charles to her apartment for chocolate covered prunes.
The Super emptied his last bottle, closed his toolbox, walked toward the railing to take in the view and almost stepped on the assassin. He noticed her rifle. Italian. A Marinetti. He picked it up and looked through the scope. There was an old hen circling the building. The sky was melting like a Creamsicle. He clicked off the gun’s safety and tucked it under the assassin’s arm.
The assassin dreamed that she was a girl in her bedroom having a pillow fight with her sister.
Feathers fell through the air, ticking their cheeks.
My doctor recommended that I rent one of those birds trained to whistle lullabies.
I was dubious, but desperate.
On the drive from the rental place, Polly performed a beautiful rendition of “Scenes from Childhood” followed by Satie.
I was hopeful.
Once home, I broke her neck, plucked, cut, brined, basted and a few hours later: Perroquet au Vin! Lovely.
And you know what—it worked! I slept like the dead.
Of course, the rental place charged me a late fee.
Que sera, sera.
An Eel Soup Digression
Because the navigator didn’t understand that the crease in the map depicted a crease in the sea, the ship had to weigh anchor. The captain forced the navigator to row a dinghy through the line, to reckon its effects.
Meanwhile, in the galley, the cook was creating a bouillabaisse—conger eel, sea robins, fennel, cod bones, bouquet garni, saffron, mussels, olive oil, garlic, white wine, smoke of the afterlife, French bread, cayenne pepper, little neck clams, tomato paste, and Thibault, the very lobster that was conducted through the streets of Paris by Gérard de Nerval.
Concurrently, the navigator was remembering a poem about a boy who thought the crescent moon was a broken moon and the stars were its pieces. He could smell the soup. At least, he thought, as the water began to churn, I’ll have something good to eat tonight.
Peter Jay Shippy is the author of Thieves’ Latin, Alphaville, How to Build the Ghost in Your Attic, and A Spell of Songs. His 5th book, Kaputniks, will be published by Saturnalia Books in 2021. About A Spell of Songs, John Yau wrote: “One day, not long ago, Meret Oppenheim walked past Edward Hopper in Paris, and an electric current passed between, and from that current was born Peter Jay Shippy.…” Shippy has received fellowships in drama and poetry from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2002 he won the Iowa Poetry Prize and in 2005 he received a Gertrude Stein award for innovative poetry. In 2009 Shippy received the Governor’s Citation for Outstanding Artistic Achievement. He has published widely, including The American Poetry Review, The Boston Globe, Iowa Review and Ploughshares. Shippy teaches literature and writing at Emerson College in Boston.
My mom just called from the nursing home. She survived another painful heart episode. She asked me how the people liked the Italian songs I sang in church. She has asked me this before. I have sung no Italian songs, in church or anywhere else. Then she sang a little bit over the phone. It was lovely, though her light soprano voice is now low and hoarse. I asked her to sing some more. I thought, I need to learn some good Italian songs and sing them in church.
I’ve been reading Berrigan’s autobiography, as some of you know, the derring do of the radical Catholic priest who loved America enough to speak the terrible truth about America’s addiction to violence, racism, and war. And again and again, Berrigan tells of his mother, who steadfastly stood by him. “With her, a thousand difficulties did not create a single doubt.”
After his brother Philip was arrested for throwing human blood on draft files in Baltimore, while he himself was arrested in Washington during a protest against the war, Daniel called home. His mother’s calm on the phone touched him. He explained things, as best he could. “You mean,” his mother responded, “that you are out of jail and your brother is in?”