Author: Chris Shipman

Chris Shipman’s poems have been included in journals such as Cimarron Review, Exquisite Corpse, La Fovea, Pedestal, and Salt Hill, among others. His is the author of Human-Carrying Flight Technology (Blaze VOX Books) and co-author with DeWitt Brinson of Super Poems (Kattywompus Press). Shipman has been featured on Verse Daily and has been twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He is poetry editor for DIG Magazine of Baton Rouge and teaches English at Baton Rouge Community College.

The Apocrypha of Forgotten Photos Questionnaire & The Message & The Light in the Dark

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.

Chop Chop Chop & Death Writes Home

Chop Chop Chop

The big oak out back is walking in circles again,
looks more like my grandfather than before—
dead, bearded, fat in the belly, a shadowy gray.
It’s always late when this happens, the time of night
when a UFO lands and you’re the only one around
to see it. The way it lumbers about is like a UFO too;
if a tree was a dead grandfather that was a UFO,
it would lumber about in circles like that,
with its head low like a beam of light on a bad street,
the grass swaying beneath as if something alien
hovers above. Tonight he’s holding a giant ax
between five leafy hands, and looks especially fat
in the trunk, which makes him especially slow.
It’s kind of funny how he tries to chop himself up,
and kind of sad. Chop, chop, chop. One loose limb
falls. He never gives in. I’d holler at the tree to stop
acting like my grandfather as a tree-shaped UFO
but that always leads to piles of dead leaves
I have to hunch to clean up the next morning,
the tree standing over me just like my grandfather
used to when we raked the yard, his empty hands
saying the same thing over and over again:
You have to learn how to be a tree to be a man.
I close the curtains and turn on the television,
watch the last half of Space Odyssey, the volume
louder than a falling ax. I have learned nothing.

Death Writes Home

Dear mother, I have found a home
in the world and won’t be returning
to the darkness save holidays.

Tell Life she can have my room.
She always wanted it anyway.
She loves the bay window
that shows the big oak out back.

Father had promised to carve
a clubhouse into it with his big toe
it must be a thousand years ago.
Is he still making Life call him God?
God this God that goddamn it all.

Well, make sure God walks the dog
but that he keeps off Lucifer’s lawn.
You know how he hates dog shit
and gets all red and hot in the face
whenever he eyes that little mutt.

Resurrection says hi. She grew a heart
and breasts for me! We got hitched!
It was a bit strange being in Vegas
without tugging a dead hooker
out of some locked-up icebox.

I’m sure father mentioned it.
We wrote our own wedding vows
and I know how he hates that.
I wonder what he thought of me
dressed as a sequined velvet Elvis.

Well, that’s what I’m about now.
May be a good idea to have a baby
or start digging up skeletons, I guess,
to find a good place to put my past.

Growing a tongue felt like dying,
by the way, but when I lean in to kiss
my beautiful bride she’s full of light.



I come from a small town in a dry county. On a trip to the liquor store at the county line seven summers ago, I turned down the radio, rolled down my window, and heard a voice stagger through the pines. I’m still trying to listen. I used all the q-tips in the world and my ears fluffed full of cotton. I stuck my head in the river and fish swam through quick as silence. The only thing I could think about was that I didn’t know the names of the birds that sang outside my window! I still don’t. But I went back to town and got drunk and fell in love with the first girl I saw.