Shine on; the death of a frog prince
After he croaks
I skin him
And soak his body
For a week. Then
I dust him
In salt, pepper,
And the very same
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 –
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.]
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