Peter Jay Shippy



When She Found Out She Had Been Misusing the Word Connundrum her Whole Life, She Left her Cubicle and Went for a Walk


There are 12.9 miles of trails in the arboretum.

The Quaker School is closed today.

Star Way is off Star Street but Star Boulevard

which is more like a road or an avenue

is miles away. A boulevard is wide

and lined with trees. An avenue is a course,

an approach like biology or a secret door

behind the revolving bookcase taken

to access someone or something.

There is an islet in the large pond. I dream

of building a house on it. A very small house—

a chalet, a lean-to, a hut. The morning shadows

would diffuse the strangeness of waking.

I could plant strawberries and sell jam

at the bi-monthly farmer’s market

in the McKinley Elementary parking lot.

I’d travel to work and back each day

in rowboat I’d name Jehoshaphat! Except

in the deep winter, when I could skate.

I’ll paint the turtles’ shells. I’ll hoist a flag.

I’ll build a windmill to power my cabin.

Of course, this is a pipe dream. Perhaps

if I agreed to clean the hiking trails

and give nature lectures, my town would acquiesce?

I’m tired. It's Tuesday. It gets dark early

this time of year. I pass an old man whistling

“In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning.”

I turn around to follow, to see him home. 




From nine to six I watch airplanes descend

I collate, I make coffee, I staple 

It’s my job to walk from workspace to workspace

No one has ever mistaken me for a bird 

We ride an elevator to the roof to smoke  

Memos suggest that we delete wayward narratives

Keyboards rustle like Balinese mallets 

Much of the mass of the universe is toner

After fifty copies of my eyes I can finally see 

And what’s a mask but a sieve for numbers

I spend lunch with the insignia catalogue 

The Old Glory near the helipad is at half-mast  

The Brainteaser has troubles, too, I guess

We’re not dreaming; we just can’t work our lids 

Memos urge me to cease feeding mice

And then a fly exits the ointment, makes tracks 

Is someone famous dead or just history?  

After lunch I wrap my cape around my face

I stop at each station, point, smile, ask: your kid? 

Someone yells eggbeater! and we make haste 




The Coast of Kansas 


Scene 1 

(Walking through a corn maze) 


According to this pamphlet there’s some guy

in Greece who designs these mazes, this year’s theme:

Your mother’s lover—chaff or subsidized rye? 


According to the bathroom walls, our regime

needs some old-time comeuppance. And I’m just

the man for the job. What was that? A scream? 


Every puzzle has its constructive trust.

I think we’ll be fine if we take a left

at the scarecrow and shun the blister rust. 


Day after day we fixate on the theft

but let the thief run a thumb through Mom’s pie—

you don’t hear that growl? Sharp hooves? Something cleft? 

Scene 2 

(MINOTAUR’S lair—ORESTES and ELECTRA are chained to a wall) 


And so I says to her I says—if that’s

what passes for love in this mad world,

you can have it, sweetheart, this dog

has his bone into the padlock

of the laughing academy’s door

if you get my drift, and she says— 


Who says? 


Who says? Your Ma says, that’s who says. 

(Long pause—MINOTAUR flosses his teeth with the end from a ball of thread) 


‘if you get my drift, and she says—’ what? 




Finish your story. 


The! End! Satisfied? Happy, now?

Helsinki! That Finnish enough? 

(MINOTAUR’S cell phone rings—he answers) 

If you get my drift, and she says

I’m Clytemnestra, when I say

jump you say Van freaking Halen  

and I say hold a seconal

I says I got ears, eyes and tusks

that tune your frequency, plus

I nabbed your kids, just like you asked,

so let’s cold-cock these cynosures

I says and leave their corpses for gorp.   

(THESEUS and the rebel army break down the door and rescue the kids) 


A villain on a train—a fierce wolflet

with spyware—apple green sunlight—  

pods of tourists appear and reappear—

there is a blue gittern-player plucking

strings pulled by a melancholy bull—

a mother peels the pelt from her enemies 

like skin from a tomato—a rock, a pram,

a sharp pair of scissors which a princess  

uses to kill the poet who wrote his dreams—

there is a boarded up ghost town—good folks  

gather under a weak street lamp outside

the Palace Saloon as a platoon  

of dead buffalo soldiers march into

the western sky—a train growls—hooves cleft— 

scraps of verse float across our screen—red flags

lift and are kissed by the wind—the rebel cell 

advances—red-eyed—down a dark labyrinth

towards a padlocked door and boom-boom-boom— 

here we are, Robespierre. 


Scene 3 

(ELECTRA, ORESTES and the ghost of AGAMEMNON walk hand-in-hand along the beach on the coast of Kansas) 


Above her left eye was a lightning bolt 


shaped scar, the kind you lick for luck, the size 


of a microchip and silver as smolt. 


Her hair was yellow, her face was snake eyes, 


her breasts were weapons of mass seduction,


her white hands were always waving—good-bye. 


She rode the waves of self-destruction  


like a wahine surfing a blue volt. 


Hark! I hear the sounds of reproduction! 


(The MINOTAUR sits in the soundproof booth) 


Kalevala! Nokia! Aki Kaurismäki!