Excerpts > Summer 2005
J. Ely Shipley

(PDF Version)


When I was four, a man
selling flowers on an island in the center
of a city street, leaned into my father’s
car window and placed one in
my hair. More than petals, I remember

the dirt beneath his nails
as if he’d just pulled those flowers
from a garden, and for me only. My father
drove forward, his eyes
flashing quickly

in the rear view mirror. Pale
seeds, or tiny eggs left blind
in an abandoned nest. Tonight
the scent of burning sage

blossoms over the boulevard
and lip of shore. A man bundles
the dried leaves with colored thread: blue,
red, gold. His hands

are quick and open. And the smoke
touches me, brushes
through my hair its grey wing.


Testosterone, strange that you’d let me
give birth
to my own body

even though I know I’ve always been
a boy, moving
toward what? Manhood? A constant

puberty? I could replace my menses
with a thick needle
filled with your fluid, thrust every

two weeks the rest of my life
into my thigh. And I think
of the six days of creation before

god rested, because I too am tired
and because my voice, would it suddenly be
god-like to me, thundering,

waking in a deep vibrato as if from atop
a mountain, maybe Olympus, maybe
a lightning bolt shot sharp

through my heart because I am
startled, scared, delighted? Testosterone,
you are the Magnetic

Fields, Elvis, and molasses, the first time
I heard Nina Simone sing, unsure of her
and my own sex at age 13. You are

an eighteen-wheeler ripping through
a hail storm, the umpire breathing
over the catcher’s shoulder until

the ball burns into the mitt
and there is the deep growl
ascending, Strike one!

And I am struck
hard by the beauty of you. I am
again an eight-year-old boy, simply

admiring a tree in the school-yard, my only
friend, who lifts me
and lifts me so that I can pick

its single spring
flower, the lowest one, maybe
for my mother, maybe my father –

but end up placing it inside
my first and only dictionary, a gift
from my father on the ?rst day

of that school year. And later
when it has dried, wilted, I
remove it. Only a stain left, small

shadow, the handprint
of a child quieting the words
it covers, tucks into his

memory, already knows by heart,
and keeps there, where they wait for him
until he is ready.

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