Issue 5: Peter Shippy

Shine on; the death of a frog prince

After he croaks

I skin him

And soak his body

In saki

For a week. Then

I dust him

In salt, pepper,

And the very same

Breadcrumbs left

On the forest floor

By Hansel slash

Gretel. Poor kids,

Now they’ll never

Find their way home,

Grow up, fall

In love and have

Their little hearts

Pricked. I start

The fire and slide

A skewer through

His yellow belly.

Splash. Elide. Splash.

Pink bells, tattered skies

For a time, I drove the short bus, the yellow

Blush, the djinn taxi. I collected articles, nouns,

And a few sturdy verbs and learned to build

Small talk. “No stun guns in the stupa,”

Was my mantra. It was tongue-in-cheek but

It dequalmed the kids. One of my charges

Was a sea goddess from Bath. Her benthic beauty

Was discomfiting to her peers. They found her

Lime skin, suckers, blubber and seaweed bouffant

Alluring yet unappetizing. They’re at that age,

I thought. Bodies seething with hormones, weed,

And Keats – your chief epiphany triggers.

But my heart went out to the teen deity. Sometimes

A cross word or a taunt would drive her to cause

A tempest or three – but mostly she bottled up

Her anger and scribbled away in a diary

With a Care Bears cover. Then she vanished?

Migrated? I’d pull the bus into the parking lot

At the cove and beep, beep the air horn. At first

We thought she was sick – swine flu was on the wing.

But after a month I stopped stopping and kept droving.

One evening, as I was cleaning the bus I found

Her notebook stuffed between seat cushions.

I could smell violets and brine. In red ink I read:

the moon causes tides, not my breath

my tears keep drowners afloat

my boyfriend is not a sperm whale –

I wish

pink bells, tattered skies

I’ve been on earth for more than 200 million years

and can live almost twelve months without

eating all of you – almost

I did not put her scarlet pages in the lost

And found box. I topped the gas tank with starfish

And sand and climbed up onto the roof of the bus

And waited for the moonlight to empty my bay.

Fauna and flora

Near my childhood home was a deep quarry filled with menace. We were warned to steer clear of the pit’s stamp. Nana explained that children who disobeyed and swam in its black Vaseline were liable to be ravished by tentacles and drowned. My best friend’s grandmother told her that electric eels patrolled the shore. Another pal knew for a fact that the quarry was bottomless and filled with a clan of mutant plesiosaurs who had a soft spot for the bones of young humans.

All our grandmothers agreed – a dead child’s only recourse to free their souls from the abyss was to lure a substitute to take their place.

When I passed by this quarry – and I went out of my way to pass by this quarry – I was deliciously frightened. I especially enjoyed parking my dirt bike near the escarpment and pissing into the gulf.

Once I heard my name rise from the quarry like a bubble. Once I threw my bicycle at a log that I mistook for a green sucker. One time I saw a black bowler floating, moving toward me. I thought it was the ghost of a disobedient child and I ran like hell.

Now I know why our grandmothers told us those stories.

Perhaps this is why I have become a plumber?

And, of course, now I know, that the bowler belonged to a fish, a semi-formal fish.

Peter Shippy is the author of Thieves’ Latin (Univ. of Iowa Press), Alphaville (BlazeVOX Books) and a novella-in-verse, How to Build the Ghost in Your Attic (Rose Metal Press). He teaches literature at Emerson College in Boston