2017-2018 FINALIST, COG POETRY AWARDS

The oil executive

Julia Shipley

                                                           

remembered drifting on the boat with no life preservers, how the passing tug’s captain repaired the engine for a ransom: every wedding ring.

 

He was young then, and saw fellow passengers twist and yank 

their bands,  dropping them into the captain’s hairy hand—a glinting hill,

 

till there were too many, and a ribbon was submitted to thread the residual

of promises couples made far away from the sound of clinking, yellow zeros—

 

minuscule compared with the width of a spouse’s life,

a mouth's unspoken vow to breath.

 

The teen absorbed the scene: tug captain de-boarding with his fee—the gleaming

lei laurelling his shoulders, the engine failing three days later, how those bands made land,

 

unlike the 700 passengers that sank with the M.V. Struma.

Why he alone survived, floating amid their final cries—and lived to see

 

his clean extremity haloed in matrimony—the world is silent.

 

The Annunciations

Julia Shipley

                                             

 

In Connecticut in 1807: the sky booms.

New stones are strewn throughout town,

 

meteorites, weighing the same 

as what a woman gains, carrying a child. 

 

One fells a cow in Brazil, one bludgeons

a horse in Ohio; In Wisconsin in 1911, 

 

heaven's messenger punches the roof 

and continues through floorboards into clay.

 

Some sprinkle the Philippines,

scarcely the size of rice grains.

 

By 1938, separate falling rocks

smash: a Pontiac, motel room, mailbox.

 

Then, in 1954, one pummels the left hip of voluptuous

Ms. Hodges as she reclines on a couch in Alabama.

 

Doctor Moody Jacobs pulls up her nighty

(discreetly) to reveal what's been delivered. 

 

Pictured here: They stare at the fetus-

sized bruise as if to deduce: what kind of Messiah?

The Observable Edge of the Known Universe

Julia Shipley

                                                            

Driving King Farm Road, I see our thug,

Orion spangling in the sky,

and beneath his belt and spear,

across the valley, another line of light—

Fairview Dairy’s ellipses…the barn’s fluorescents;

as well, my house’s lone glow: my stellar man

is home. As I steer under the canopy

I remember the story he told me of helping

a mob widow tow her sofa. When she bumped

and toppled a lamp, its base broke open, scattering diamonds.

Even tonight they still glitter

against the dark matter of Who paid?

 
 

Battle | Hymn

Julia Shipley

 

Lincoln, age 30, was exasperated unto suicidal—or at least that's what Doris Kearns Goodwin told the auditorium. Feeling he had done nothing to commend him to eternity,

concerned friends hid his scissors and knives.

 

An orchestra owes its holdings to scissors and knives, well: saw-blades and dynamite, timber and ore, and more. Then voilà: viola and oboe. Wafting from the pit, music seduces

war; multiplies desire; even the soprano screech of a reed

 

is delivered by a man with manicured hands and a nice tuxedo. Then everyone goes home

to default on loans, maraud, covet, whore. Or is music an inducement? Wherein twice-destroyed Palmyra first sheltered musicians, then assassins.

 

Nevertheless the buckled columns still hum. Let's imagine ghosts retaking the stage, observing complete obedience to their conductor. At the slash of a baton, phantom

elbows jump, and twenty spectral palms hold their bows a hair's breadth

 

from the instrument’s neck. On command: they're drawn—like the slice

of an executioner's knife—the result is anything but agony.

Our good man Lincoln, he secured his legacy, didn't he? Ordering a war in which men unhid

 

their scissors and knives, well: sabers and dynamite, and used them on each other till

the fields became a theatre of stilled men.

Some centuries later, my father and I saunter through Gettysburg, and overhear trills

 

and warbles of an orchestral melody. Remember that, Dad? How we came upon 

an amphitheater hidden in a patch of woods which grew up through the massacre...

violinists dutifully tuning their strings. 

The Broadcast

Julia Shipley

 

Colin Renfew wrote, "It is perfectly acceptable to view the coming of farming to Europe as a single process, albeit one with many phases. For if we were to take the wheat sown in Orkney in the Neolithic about 3000 BC and ask where each year's seed corn has itself been reaped, we would trace a line across a map of Europe that would inevitably lead us back to the Greek early neolithic, and from there back to Western Anatolia."

 

I picture grain moving like a weather front, a flock of robins, plague of locusts, droplets, seeds: first here, then west of here, then very west of here.

 

Spring travels 1.5 miles per hour. Humans travel twice that rate on foot. And grain? How long does a wheat seed take to leave Western Anatolia and arrive in Witchita, Kansas?

 

And how long for the top-soil blown out of Witchita to find someone's eye in Iowa? 

 

The first grain fields were in places like Iraq and Iran. Later Saskatchewan. Look: after chaff and hulls: oil wells. After the grain thresher, a wildcat gusher. 

 

How long does it take oil to travel the pipeline? Faster than springtime, slower than the birds fly. Primordial ooze oozing through Central time. So I can drive to buy my bread.

The thing about the pig

Julia Shipley

 

is that after it lived, it persisted even though its whole body was broken into bath pearls, lollipops, x-ray films, sand papers, train brakes, pork steaks, log pies, salami, pet foods, chewing gums, tattoos, safety gloves, whipped cream, shampoos, bio diesel, mink feed, nougats, cigarettes, tambourines, bullets and crayons. 

The thing about the pig is that after it lived, it still lived. Or its valve did, for the instant it was implanted, it began conducting the man’s blood.

But the thing about the man is that after he resumed his life taking baths and licking candy and getting x-rays and sanding his railing and riding the subway and buying dinner and feeding his dog and chomping on gum and inking a new tattoo and wearing gloves and ordering a sundae and taking showers and fueling his car and purchasing furs and chocolates and smokes and making music and firing a gun and coloring with his son—he had no sense of the ubiquitous pig—he could not conceive it might be something religious, like Jesus.

 
 

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