Ely Shipley, “Night a ladder we climb to reach”

For our first Poetry Spotlight of 2012, three poems by Ely Shipley.

Friends. A small mountain town.

______My loneliness is the same as yours.–Aleš Debeljak

Friends. A small mountain town. You
wanted the sea : fog horn, a blast of salt
air. We swore over the pillow we shared. Source of
feathers. Now, autumn & an old woman
gathers leaves into a bag with a flimsy rake
A bird flits tree-to-tree to
Moist earth. Body of the worm snipped
by a beak becomes two. One’s devoured. The other
escapes to where? Dig, blind into all:
earth, flesh, bone. A dark feast. A forest. No
candlelight but stars. That constellation our
chandelier. Not dead, though sometimes I feel
I’m not alive either. But song. Yawn of a cello
bow across a chord. A breaking. The tension of two
touching. Then, separate again. Sometimes
we touch. We make a sound. Sometimes I believe feathers are
wings. Our hair tousled. Over the pillow
we shiver.

Post-Inversion Vision

We chase each other over
wood planked rooftops
when the one boy with Down syndrome
lifts his shirt to show us
a raven perched
in his chest, one claw carrying
his berry-like nipple. C lifts her
black dress overhead, flashing
an umbrella away & across her
torso a canvas between hip & rib, a red
sky clouds & shadows
there. A single spiral angles
down, tornado white.
On the wall, a woman’s black face,
created from projected light,
bares teeth, then breasts.
Embedded in one are two
pearls or eggs. It could be my mother’s
cancer or she is an oyster.
I can’t explain
the poem I am
reading this morning
at our wooden breakfast
table that hovers over my thighs
& bare feet. Yesterday,
C said they were haloed
from sun streaming in
from a window overhead. I felt
I could fly
when C turned
my body over hers.

Night a ladder we climb to reach

clouds. Away the stars but city lights
glitter in water below. Sharp
wind against our teeth. The boy with the dread
locks and curled nails holds out
his stalk, red
bulb. We eat the bitter
mushroom from his claw. The rooftop
fortress and sky. Along
the ledge we perch. Gargoyles. Cars
beneath us, heavy stones rolling
over stone, bat squeals
from caves of alleys. The rising sun has never been
more silent. We raise our arms. Laundry
bows between bright windows.


ELY SHIPLEY’s first book, Boy with Flowers, won the 2007 Barrow Street Press book prize judged by Carl Phillips, the 2009 Thom Gunn Award, and was a Lambda Literary finalist. His poems and lyric essays appear in the Western Humanities Review, Prairie Schooner, Fugue, Gulf Coast, Phoebe, Greensboro Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Diagram, Barrow Street, Third Coast, and elsewhere. He holds a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Utah and currently teaches literature and writing at Baruch College-CUNY.

“Friends. A small mountain town.” first appeared in Iron Horse Literary Review; “Post-Inversion Vision” and “Night a ladder we climb to reach” in Lo-Ball Magazine. They appear here with permission.

Photo by Selena Simmons-Duffin.