092.1: Chris Shipman:: The Apocrypha of Forgotten Photos Questionnaire & The Message & The Light in the Dark 092

This is the second time we’ve run a collection of Chris Shipman’s poetry. Here, like the first batch, Shipman examines things we take for granted in their sentimentality and nostalgia: childhood, love affairs, and the like. And, again, he turns our eye toward the darker elements hidden beneath: it ain’t all Coco Puffs and rainbows. Shipman's poems reexamine the mundane, always able to find the sadness, humor, and—most importantly—the magic within that mundaneness. A cloud becomes a broken man, birthday girls cry most of the time, and sometimes it’s just not worth getting out of bed. Nik De Dominic

The Apocrypha of Forgotten Photos Questionnaire

In your pretty pictures of childhood joys
where is the memory of a boy burning like a bag of leaves?

Which house hides the kid who slept through winter?

How cold is the image of your grandmother’s teeth
resting among crumbs of bread on the coffee table?

Who is that pulling the lamp’s string?

In what locked closet hangs someone’s skin?
Whose sleeping face like raked-over dirt?

Why is the birthday girl cowering in the corner,

feeding hunks of cheese to that lost mouse?
How far away are the fields you flew above, high enough

to smile, but not to break when you fell?

What mask is the monster in the dark street selling?
Where is your mother wandering off to?

The Message

A cloud showed up at our front door today.

He was a mess—leftovers of a stormy sky,
all slumped over and trying to pray
in some fluffy language that made us sad,

and it was still drizzling like a failing memory,

so we invited him inside to tell us his problems.
He shook off the gray cold of the gray streets

in our doorway, then ran to the fireplace.

He stood there shivering, his back to us.
The rain slanted in through the opened door
until wind slapped it shut.

At the smack of wood against the frame
he turned to whimper in English,

I cannot remember—

cumulus or stratus— I cannot remember
what kind of cloud I am supposed to be.

We tried to judge by the size of his torso,
the blue tint of his eyes, and what kinds of images
we could make from the shape of him—

maybe a pirate ship, a seagull, a small sperm whale,
something in some way nautical.

He shrugged off our attempt as pointless.

I’ve been to heaven and back

and all I know now is that I am to find hell
and deliver this message— you are a coward
and I’m going to get you.

Your house just happened to be the first

I saw when I fell.

The cloud thanked us for our hospitality,
and made his way back to the rain.

We thought it strange that god
would entrust a cloud who confuses
fireplaces for pits of hell.

The Light in the Dark

Last Sunday we woke to what we thought to be the early morning pre-dawn darkness and the screeching sounds of the neighborhood hawk poking its bloody beak into some smaller, half-dead bird. So, we went to our pillowcases with American dreams of brunch at the bistro.

After three hours our late-sleeper bones shook us awake. When we opened the blinds whole families were walking down the street out front, looking up. My cell phone said noon but the day was black as an imagined dark at the end of a tragic novel. And there were no birds at all— just children rubbing sleep from their eyes, blinded by the absence of birds.

It was on every channel. The news showed clips of New York City, London, Dubai, etc. The only light in the dark was riot fires in front of every cameraman. The sun was simply gone.

A few days ago the fires finally died down. Now all the blind children run around naked, bats nest in the grocery stores, shriveling houseplants hide in the corner. No one knows when it’s going to rain, or when to have a lazy day, or what kind of music to listen to, or what to do with the family of wolves on the back steps, with shadows, with all the sweaty dreams of sunlight.

It’s Sunday again. This morning we woke to what we thought to be the puppy whimpering beside the bed, needing to pee. I reached to grab him and burned my hand on something. Fearing a fire I hunched by the bed to see a tiny sun cowering in the corner of the baseboards, like some lost orphan, burning black rings in the floor as he tried to roll away.

We’ve discussed keeping him as our own son. I’m not sure how to raise him, feed him, or teach him. What kind of clothes does the sun wear? I don’t know why he chose us, but I’m so happy I don’t think about all those blind kids out there.