DJB writes . . .
Michael Shepler is wonderfully prolific. His first published poems date from 1965, the year he began to study with Henri Coulette at Cal State L.A., just as Coulette’s book The War of the Secret Agents was named by the Academy of American Poets winner of the award formerly known as The Lamont Poetry Selection which honored a poet’s first book. The list of past winners forms a tidy who’s who in post-war/pre-millennium American poetry: Ai, X. J. Kennedy, Carolyn Forché, the two Donalds – Hall & Justice, Mary Jo Salter, Garrett Hongo, Sharon Olds, Tony Hoagland, Gerald Stern, and others.

Michael Shepler’s stay at Cal State was a heady time for the college. Along with Coulette, among those who walked the hallways were novelists John Weston, Christopher Isherwood, and Hemingway pal Wirt Williams. While I’ve never known Michael personally, my relationship with his poetry is personal and has been ongoing since the late ’70s when I was editor for Statement, the lit mag of Cal State L.A. For me, Michael’s poetry is ongoing. The previous poem remains faintly present, resonating, until I read the next Shepler poem which compels me again to find something in me that is rarely found, or, rarely in me. Each encounter with Michael’s poems is like resuming a lifelong conversation with a friend. However long I stay in the room with the poem the richer the experience.

Click here for reviews of Angel’s Flight.

Today, Shepler writes a new poem every few days. Many poems speak immediately and directly to our times, others speak from memory, and each new poem appears to have been carefully aged years in oak casks. I’m hardly alone in my admiration of Michael’s work, and I join the many celebrated poets and scholars (though far too few) who have expressed their praise, including Coulette, Allen Ginsberg, Kenneth Fields, Lauri Scheyer, and Louis Simpson. It is my honor to proudly offer to you this relatively small sample of m. shepler’s stupendous body of poetry.


Poetry of Michael Shepler

The Low Hanging Fruit Of Doom

Strange how the wind’s remarks
Affect our mood, shouldn’t we be
Taking wing, as it were
Rising, dizzily above all
Perhaps not

The low hanging fruit of doom
Shadows the summer
Clouding the gazebo
Haunting the aged schoolyards
Supplying sedatives to the daisies

Bugs with broken headlights
Dive & zoom, losing themselves
In the glazed noon heat

Evening brings its usual promenade of shadows
Leaning into the breeze they spread their wings

m. shepler 8/20/22


Day’s Passage

Seeking shelter from the world’s noise
I arrived at this nameless place
Outlines of the mountain stain the deepening sky
Day closes softly as turning a page
When the air cools etched birds come to life
Their wings stretch toward home & nest
Fallen sunlight dances on the tip of a fisherman’s hat
A hand in the sky lights the evening’s candles
The night breeze eases me into myself
Would you like directions to this place I describe?
I haven’t the words

m. shepler 8/18/22


The Old Hugo Place

Sprawled on the edge of the plains
Its wooden bones picked clean
Vacant as a forgotten mind
Save for the cobwebbed clutter–
Ruins the attic can’t forget
Or let go of

The grumbling bear of a father
The Bride of Frankenstein
Disarticulated in the corner there

This high in the house, heat’s oppressive
A scent of suicide rises from the parlor
Spiders dangle, mummified
Speech dribbles unintelligibly
Like rain or static
From an ancient Crosley

m. shepler 8/12/22


Lost Foundling’s Song

I’d always wanted to come here
Now I don’t know what it means
They’ve grown stingy about the light here
The writing’s all in Chinese
In the trees beyond the window
There’s a flutter of broken wings
I’d hoped I might find clarification
But the locks have been warped by the keys
Yet these are the tools that I came with
The ashes & rags I left home with
Nights are so long & cold here

m. shepler 8/9/22


On Larkin’s ‘Coming’

The unspoken sense of happiness
Birds express, or infants.
Evening light
Dances in the trees,
A dappled distraction.
A mind released from care,
The world breathes.
Wind spreads like music
Across green blankets
Of drowsy autumn fields.

m. shepler 8/3/22


Never Alone

Never pity the hermit
Each night, the courtesan moon
Peers through his window
Settles in his bed

m. shepler 8/3/22


Language

The first drop of ink stains the page like rain
An expanding blackness which explodes
Or curls senseless into ashes

Beachcomber on an empty beach
His solitary eyes are drawn to strands of kelp
Snarled & twisted into clumps of letters

Driven by the risen storm
He shelters in a cave

Where a voice inside roars all night
In garbled glossolalia
Deafening untranslatable preachments

m. shepler 7/26/22


Night Bell

A bell sounds in the night
Pulling me from the depths of sleep
Enhanced by consciousness refreshed
The bell rings clearer, deep
I hear the first note & the last
Reverberate off windows, walls
As though the bell were in the room
Floating, just above the bed
Time stretches out, unclocked
Muffling the bell’s retreat
I listen for the final note
Growing lost in death or sleep

m. shepler 7/19/22


In The Manner of Wang Yu Ch’en

All morning, anchored here
Sequestered, reciting poems
Gold trickles of afternoon light
Bleed through drenched reeds
An audience of tall birds
Each balanced on one leg
Peering through the window
Of my little boat
Why even contemplate crossing the river?

m. shepler 7/16/22


The Unreflected Life

The mirror from which he steps is empty
His mind, which held together the reflected room
Rises, unfettered, toward the ceiling
Addled dust of exhausted thought drifts down
All he sees below is the green oceanic carpet

Spreading ruined wings, he calls an absent muse
Who doses, drugged, in an easy chair
In a distant, still unconjured room
An elaborate construct unreflected here

m. shepler 7/15/22


The Edges

The edges of the frame ached
From holding what they contained
A child’s rattle, a box of snakes
A volume of Victorian porn, each page cut
Snapshots from a ruined underworld
A sin palace turned rest home, unnamed
Grown too weary to be evil
Sputtering yellow matches, pale
Faces flash their paltry expressions
Expressions covens of tourists assumed
Too dilute to qualify as hate or love or interest
Other figures, their features removed
Shuffled shadows, like stagehands striking a set

m. shepler 7/14/22


Voyager

Driving deep into the abandoned precincts
Hypnotized by swirls of mist swaddling the lamps
Tall lamps, dark cloaked, circumspect
Iron fathers, cold with fog & sweat
Doling out their piteous shares of light
Shadows splash across the cobbles
Saddled with obsolete maps, memory grows hobbled
A few strays prowl the bewildered street
The last man closes a deal with someone I can’t see
A wild dog tears at night with his teeth

m. shepler 7/10/22


The Snow Globe

It’s winter. Another century.
People behaved differently.
If you look, you can see
Smoke pouring from the chimney;
& hear the shriek of hawks,
& voices, muted, behind
A convex bulwark,
Where a boy, a speck of darkness,
Guards his sled;
Head cocked toward sounds
We can’t hear.
Released, still warm from a dying hand,
The lost world rolls across the rug.
Forget! The storm inside demands.

m. shepler 7/2/22


Independence Day

“Start at the edges,” the Foundlings said
“Gnawing your way hungrily toward the Vital Center”
(Sweet spot no one speaks of anymore)
Where, whence, one reached the safe harbor
Of Consensus
As the world churns, pages yellow
Time passes, Hope grows rancid, the montage tells us
Difficult to avoid, becoming an accomplice
Certainly the guilt is there
An intricate weave in Schlesinger’s suspenders
A murdered contestant in a beauty contest
Her bright banner marks her, Miss Solopsis
A missed conception torn from context
Sometime, shortly before the Fall

m. shepler 7/2/22


Return Of The Leopard Man

The Leopard Man’s lapel pin
Glittered in the street
Where it had fallen
Having become dislodged
During his spasmodic
Transformation
Once a humble zoologist
From a jerkwater college
Show business always
Fascinated him

How good it felt
Having quenched
His thirst for blood
Racing naked
Through the disheveled park
Cool air on new skin

Now he’s running
Past rows of street lamps
Moons unnamed, yellow globes
Orbiting an endless night
Moths orbiting the moons

m. shepler 6/27/22


Testing The Waters of Sleep, He Decides
To Float Awhile On The Surface

A Dragon raft with golden head
Drunk in bed, I can be anything
A Mandarin duck afloat on a lake
Unholy terror of the Yangtze

m. shepler 6/16/22


After Yu Yuang-ji

Rain is soft
Leaves fall, one by one
A single guitar
A clear voice alone
Push regret aside
Though friends vanish
Cast off sadness, be strong
Eternity’s carriage waits by the door
Pile your books up, a bulwark
Enter in rags the green passage
We’re here & gone
Rain is soft

m. shepler 6/16/22


Stairs Leading To An Empty Room

Your sleepwalker feet have delivered you here
A narrow street in deepest night
A nondescript building
With narrow stairs
Spotlit by moonlight
How inviting they appear
As if you’re expected
You climb to the top
Your hand turns the knob
Of an unlocked door
You step into a windowless room
Where Nothing’s brewing
A fresh pot of tea

m. shepler 6/16/22


Hermetic

Hobbling down the rutted road
Barely recognizable in unstable light
Clutching his works, an index of first lines
Once charmer of birds from the trees
Conjurer of snakes out of utter darkness
Dragging a briefcase, shield of defeat
Filled with needful various things
Gems, talismans, fond ruins
Survivor of his own blind vision
Drifter through night’s desolate precincts

m. shepler 6/14/22


Evening On The Island

Evenings last forever on the island
Trees are thick with birds
Singing in a language meant to summon ghosts
The sky is ripe with watchful eyes
Timelessness spreads its silvered nets
Allowing us to thread the shadow of a flame
Now & then a rain of sparrows
Wings drizzling light, arises
Illuminating a flock of sheep
Loosened from the herder’s hand

m. shepler 6/9/22


Catullus 46
Henri Coulette

How often, from this unobtrusive bar
Did we access the famous Asian cities
Frequent flyers, we lit up the equinoctial sky
Letting four winds fill our cloaks
The world’s grown old, monotonous
Fewer avenues offer fewer exits
A chorus of ghosts, we echo Eartha’s lyrics
Before last call lets pay respects
Raising glasses to the absent dead–
Colleagues, comrades, guests of Dis
Winter pushes its heavy broom
Come out of the cold, friend, come in!

m. shepler 6/1/22
-for Henri Coulette

Read more poetry by Henri Coulette: https://mypoeticside.com/poets/henri-coulette-poems

Kafka Drizzle
Kafka Statue, Prague

Prague, 1920
Soft rain falls on the ancient city
Staining the streets with invisible music
Stones which speak a tangled language
Each pedestrian fit for analysis
The drizzle dampens hovels & palaces
What monsters lurk in our dreams!
What tricks we use to keep them there
The drizzle continues, fogging the street
Morbid thoughts become habits, chronic
Take Herr K for instance–
Walking to work, or his doom, shivering
Now he stops on the bridge, as though frozen
Morose, Slovakian–Soaked to his skin
He’s got an umbrella, why won’t he use it?

m. shepler 5/28/22


Over The Barriers

Claw sharp roofs. Tombs. Trees.
Each is an emblem. Each breathes.

I refuse to depart. Cannot leave.
The street’s empty. We’re quits.
If I were to abandon this,
Allowing it to relax into its pre-ordained desolation,
Where would I be?

Night unpacks its bags.
The moon’s dead face fills the window.
Dust studies pages of an unread book,
Settling on the arms of an empty chair.

What is this fear? Why am I scared?
My ten fingers acknowledge insomnia’s strict braille.
Resigned to this interminable waiting,
I ache for sleep’s thick ether.

Moonstruck, the ivory chess pieces stand.
Luminous sentries awaiting the game.
Playing all night, my opponent, the night.
Pawn, Knight, Queen, a game of losing.

Choked by sleeplessness stale breath,
I fling open the window.
A nightingale cries. I’ve made my last move.
Morning shows its exhausted face.

-after Boris Pasternak

m. shepler 5/27/22


Apollinaire In California

On the first day of the last war
I left the city in a blue car
Alongside another, the silent driver
We embarked upon our uncertain future

All day we traveled the abyssal highway
Past ghost remnants of ruined armies
Paralleling the coast, the moon-silvered ocean
In her bountiful oblivion, she gave up her corpses

Rain had become the way of night
The Present was an ill-used rag
A soiled mask to cover our eyes
Night had lost its way

When we reached, at last, this sketch of a town
The only face we knew emerged
A death’s head blooming out of the mist
Arrived to comfort us, with brandy & blankets

m. shepler 5/26/22


Topiary

Late sun reaches
part of the garden
no one visits
touching lightly
trees & flowers
the huddled shrub
shaped like a green cat
shivers
arches its back

m. shepler 5/24/22


Rivers Were Highways

Light as clouds we voyage all day
Amused by the antics of monkeys
On both sides of the riverbank
Puzzled, they return our attention
As if questioning our journey’s purpose

m. shepler 5/23/22


The Others

Rain’s threaded mask descends
Smothering afternoon’s upturned face
Gray thick bitter drops
Each a liquid voice
A speech unuttered

When the others died part of us died with them
Our steps now reach the edges of the garden
Alert as knives in an open drawer
We await the last adventure

m. shepler 5/22/22


In A Gallery

I move through rooms of scattered dreams
The way a patron might browse a gallery
Exploring corridors of painted light
Alcoves guarded by restless shadows

The chambers are many, quiet, various
Seldom crowded at this late hour
I’m always surprised at those I meet
Much the same as they were in life

I never thought to see you here
Your eyes are loaded with empty streets
Brushing ashes from your hair
You gesture, but do not speak

m. shepler 5/14/22


Intimations of Storm

A capricious wind tumbled across the tall grass
Invisible harbinger of winter’s first snowfall
Its voice, razor-thin, an assassin of petals
Its lascivious fingers reached windows of houses
Those open & prone to the prairie’s exposure
Cloud rafts sank beneath the turbid horizon
Their masts engulfed in eruptions of lightning

m. shepler 5/3/22


Owl In The Rain

An owl is belling in the rain
The sound of wings gathering in
We slept, or did we only dream
Detectives solving crimes they can’t imagine

Shadows, we raise our hands
Unstrung marionettes, we bask
Awash in echoes, voices of the past
Distant as calliope music on summer nights

Cradling broken loaves of dust
I can almost touch what I mean
Time’s arrangements settle over us
In my father’s body, I move toward the door

m. shepler 4/27/22


In Dreams Confusion

He wasn’t certain
If he was a man
Dreaming he was a butterfly
Or a butterfly
Dreaming it was a man
No matter
He walked a while
& flew unfettered
Stealing kisses
From girls & flowers
Only wakened
By a thrumming bee
Refreshing to mingle
With other beings

m. shepler 4/16/22


Post War

Volatile as rapid cycling maniacs,
The thriving clouds come on,
Obscuring tops of trees.
Oak, evergreen, thin widows
Wringing their hands
In pantomime of leafless grief.

Sheets of rain & wind
Obscure the sun, darkening the hills.
Below which rows of quiet houses lie;
Lit by lanterns.

Time-blurred houses, forgetful.
In one, an electric replica
Of the Reichstag blaze,
Plastic, with cord & plug,
Brightens the cold fireplace.

m. shepler 4/14/22


Sparse Shadows

A jade jewel lights on a branch
Nesting a night beside sleeping flowers
A guest at my window
Gleaming like a goddess
One come back from time’s wasteland
Guided by a moon encircled in green
Landing briefly here beside me

In the legend the maiden slept
Only to be wakened by a fallen flower
Don’t be tricked by Spring wind pleasure
Consider more substantial arrangements
Or risk Autumn banishment

In future evenings I’ll be patient
Alert to your song & scent
Waiting for you to wing through my open window
Assuming your place in this dream I’ve painted

m. shepler 4/9/22

-after Jiang Kui (1155-1221)


Rrose Selavy

for Robert Desnos

Robert Desnos

Cut throat rose
Your blood thorns spike pale skin
Four smirched words
Your illegible testament
Scrawled in dirt in crimson
Your petals spent
Strewn across the ragged road
Your crepuscular light
Taints the exiled moon
Wounded, bestial
You prowl the restless park
Reanimate the stone dancer
Bid her step
Unbroken from her pedestal

m. shepler 4/5/22


Twenty-First Century

The little raft is swept nearer
To the edge of the Falls
Riding slightly high above the foam
Which resembles the slather
Of a rabid god
A god of water

Your mind is trapped inside the maiden
She’s hysterical as a chipmunk
Terrified of drowning
Of being found washed up
Skirt raked back
A bride of mud

The steerings gone, the rudder
Wood beams groan, the ship’s a splinter
Useless as unconnected thought
Teetering on the edge
Of undiscovered country

You know you’re going over
Know you’ll survive
Stunned, amphibian
Crawling from the water
Dragging cumbersome flesh
Across sand toward distant threat
Open mouthed, screaming

m. shepler 3/31/22


Twenty-First Century

The little raft is swept nearer
To the edge of the Falls
Riding slightly high above the foam
Which resembles the slather
Of a rabid god
A god of water

Your mind is trapped inside the maiden
She’s hysterical as a chipmunk
Terrified of drowning
Of being found washed up
Skirt raked back
A bride of mud

The steerings gone, the rudder
Wood beams groan, the ship’s a splinter
Useless as unconnected thought
Teetering on the edge
Of undiscovered country

You know you’re going over
Know you’ll survive
Stunned, amphibian
Crawling from the water
Dragging cumbersome flesh
Across sand toward distant threat
Open mouthed, screaming

m. shepler 3/31/22


Streets Of Strange Cities

Frivolities collapsed in summer torpor
Autumn rain wrote its little tears
On mirrored lights of passing windows
I swallowed the animal tranquilizer
& started down the hill to grab a burger
Listening to the Talking Heads on my Walkman
When the burger arrived I ate it in a corner
Waiting to see what was going to happen
When nothing did I caught the last movie
The ticket taker’s hand was icy cold
Threading through the lobby I could only shudder
The auditorium was hollow, empty
I was the Underworld’s only customer
Rain drew sharp knives from drawers of sleep
Through a closing gap between death & dreaming
Solitude’s erasures spread their glistening wings

m. shepler 3/25/22


The Children Listen

Sleepless, the children listen
To the sound a closed book makes
Breathing softly in the shuttered library

The rustle of pages emptying
A distant confusion, an indistinct music
Flooding the room with dull resonance
The muffled footsteps of the nameless

m. shepler 3/19/22


Mirror In The Street

An anesthesia of dust blankets the city
Buildings stand empty in afternoon sun
A scent of stale liquor pours from tavern doors
Gusts of wind disturb hanging banners
Carefully arranged to advertise tomorrow

Fallen unbroken from a peddler’s wagon
A mirror offers visions of a distant past
A world distorted by the viewer’s memory

In the mirrors center a red diamond glitters
A man transfixed clutches his head
Attempting to dislodge an unpleasant thought

m. shepler 3/10/22


New Strategies

Break glass in case of emergency
Use fewer words
Rely on gesture, if you get my meaning
Breathe life into dead phones
Beautiful how neon bleeds
Drizzling rivulets across cold snow
Fields pocked with impressions of hunted feet
Running fast toward distant mountains
Secretly, you love this life
Pursed lips blow across a cup of grief
Nothing is sweet, a carnivorous rose
Lethe’s water tastes of tin

m. shepler 2/25/22


Pavese’s Last Letter To Constance Dowling, In Blood, Unfinished

“Death will come and she will have your eyes” – Pavese

3 a.m.
Hour of the razor & the knife
Pale light from the bedroom yellows anciently
Her telegram lies crumpled on the table
An origami of pain

He remembers her blue eyes & bad Italian
He remembers each day they spent
Reloading them like bullets
In the chambers of his mind
Those smooth cocoons of love & madness

It’s so late it’s early
Night’s blood bleeds away
If he were to lift the shade he’d see first light
Catch the edges of clouds
Like the beginning of a consuming fever
If he were to throw open the window he could
Lean out, mouth open
Letting the cool blue air flood his lungs
As a wind soft as nowhere whispers
Hush Hush’

He turns back to the room
The room that possesses its own music
Of confusion & beguilement
Its voices, its own memories
The unmade bed, the silk dressing gown
Clothes strewn like bodies
Thrown clear from accidents
Lipstick, hairpins
The flutter of a clandestine whisper
A room she’d left in haste & disarray
One she’d never come back to
A room with walls so close they’d
Grown suffocating
A room she’d had to abandon or die

Once again, he’s rescued by habit
He lights a cigarette, fills his pen, begins to write
It occurs to him how much he’s remained
A village child, grimy faced, with skinned knees

Once again, it’s the season of funerals
Once again, the slow cortege passes before his closed eyes
A summer of pistol shots
Of youthful suicides, & the seed planted
Stubborn tumor, quiet voice
Three times its called his name, twice he’s resisted

He imagines a flickering light in the center of the room
She’s there, she shimmers like a fever
She looks the way she did that afternoon
He’d taken her to Santa Stefano

With picnic baskets they’d climbed the hill past stones & wooden crosses

I’ll always remember you’ she said

She looks the same, yet he knows he’s only seeing
A ghost of light

My heart is still with you‘ she’d said
Before boarding the plane to America

He rises, passing through the room
To find himself facing the shattered mirror
His hand touches the razor, his fingers stray lightly
Above the blade, as if they touched strings
Notes so soft not even the player can hear them

He reaches for a water glass
The water tastes like cold snow

He shakes out a slender tube
The red pills dance
Into his hand, bright as berries fallen on cold snow

He lifts the glass & drinks again

Soon he’ll rise, soft as smoke
Passing through the open window
Into the beautiful morning

m. shepler 2022


To A Chinese Poet

A thousand evenings have gone by since you stood here
Passing the hour listening to a choir of night birds & crickets
Waiting for the arrival of the late evening ferry
Watching the full moon rise
Distant as the faint memory of a dream
From the far shore, flicker of a restless firefly
The boatman’s orange lantern

m. shepler 2/16/22


No Second Acts

A gray ring orbits the porcelain tub
A thin bar of Cocteau soap
Floats dreamily across the surface
Of the tepid bath water
If the clock had hands it would point to four
Killing time’s no laughing matter

Getting back to that tub—
Where’s the bather?
The wet impressions of fleeing feet
Trail drippily out the door
Toward a cluttered garden
Smothered with droopy flowers
strangler vine climbs the broken trellis
A fat robin atop a cracked fountain
Whistles snatches of Puccini

Dull as fat man in a hammock
The afternoon drowses on

m. shepler 2/8/22


Winds Of The Wasteland

The title of some Thirties ‘B.’
Shot for peanuts on the edge of the desert.
A week in theaters, later fodder
For thirsty 10 inch screens–
Huge consoles, remember?
Radio, phono, TV.
Horses galloping, an endless loop
Miraging past the glass porthole.
Car salesmen, wrestlers,
Turbaned Indians playing Hammond organs.
A garrulous gibber, a babble.
In the newly built tracts
The desert was so close.
We watered the wasteland of the yards.

m. shepler 2/8/22


Light snow dusted the peak

& we wondered if it was the last
A thick overcoat of ice formed fast
Along high jagged ridges
Where we stood, up from Palomar
With our painted baskets
Sandwiches & cold fruit
The scientists had made up for us
Waving from the steps of the lab
They watched us start off
Rising like gods in the silver funicular
Our puffs of hot breath discoursing
Silent in the cold thin air
We paused near the spot where Meredith was buried
Her red tam glistening
Just under the ice
We could see her features
Blurred & indistinct
As she often was in life
A somber moment, but hot cocoa awaited
Assuming demeanors of nonchalance
We drove our pitons into the rocks
Gamely climbing upward toward our peril

m. shepler 2/7/22


A Walk With Two Cats

It was night, what a night!
The moon was alive with yellow damage
One came from beneath a porch
The other from under a parked car
We never gave each other names
So our greeting was silent
Sniffing, rubbing, leg against flank
A formality, we knew each other well
The houses were rows of sealed tombs
Our shadows leaped along the street
There was the reptilian hiss of a sprinkler
A single bird sang, high in an oak
A cluster of neighboring stars kept watch
We traveled together to the end of the block

m. shepler 1/29/22


Drinkers

There’s a painting in my mind
Comes to me at dark
When electric blood floods the neons
& gypsy music starts

Barely invented surrealistic strings
& bits of wood contrive black echoes
Set the shades moving in the nerves of their grimy gowns
Their snapping fingers silvering expanding evening

Have you ever spent an hour
Entertaining the blind staggers
When reason comes unravelled
At a shadow’s chiaroscuro
Motion on the curtain
Or afflicted with renaissance jitters
When the singer put her finger
Inside the frozen eye of the hurricane?

Lakes of spilled liquor
Pool along the bar’s dark brown surface
Distorting circles of intoxicant waste
Soaking in coats & pores
Of drinkers
Who laugh without humor
Or scowl into mirrors filled with nothing reflected

A delirious tableau comes into focus
Dutch master fashion, dark daubed, in canvas
Smothering deep as cocktail-lounge leather
Or, spare as an artist from the Ashcan School
Thin-lines bleed, yellow, red, green
Depending on the hour & degree of hallucination

Edging together, broken flowers
Refugees forever, each names their poison
The drinkers bend their heads
Minds a blurry text in ruined cuneiform
Blind as baby chicks
Thin shell’s cracked open
By reason’s hammered extinction
They sleep

m. shepler 1/8/22


You Leave The Room

You leave the room, your image remains
Imprisoned in a shadowed mirror
Full length, spectral, austere
Through the interminable passage of afternoon
A thread of sunny dust touches the glass

The image, if it could, might reach
The spectacles on the night stand
Sunglasses, prescription, your prescription!
Still, a captive, it can’t move, & it’s so far
Blindly it must wait, the image must
While afternoon devolves to dusk

In the dying light its face seems
To frown or faintly smirk
Amused, perhaps, at it’s own dissolution

m. shepler 1/3/22

-for Jackie


Sleeper

‘Tonight’s assignment, should you choose to accept it…’

The assignment really doesn’t matter.
It’s the chase, it’s rainslick streets,
It’s dead of night.
When I aim the gun, it turns into a lighter.

Beyond midnight I meet Control.
I light her opiated cigarette,
Staring down the red-tipped tube
Into eyes old as Egypt…

Traveling the sewers til dawn,
Dapper as Lime, or Mackie Messer.
In morning, what do others see?
Nothing more than little me;

Jones, in sales, who travels.
Something to do with ladies underwear.
Washed, brushed, preternaturally chipper.
Down for breakfast, same as ever.

m. shepler 1/1/22


Variation On A Text By Sabines

In this house of strangers, under jittery neon
Furies in the ark of sleep
Escaped souls, black butterflies
Grown comfortable in our assumed names & dimestore gowns
Ashimmer in polished blades favored by the dead
Let’s all go down & address our suitors
Ears dumb to their rough boasts, baroque stories
Let’s plunge into another’s darkness
Break up the furniture, we’ll set the joint ablaze
Pillowed in stained sails, we’ll go all night long
Our knocked out nerves drift toward morning’s unmade harbor
Someone discreetly bears away night’s detritus
He’s there to place the rope around my neck
Whenever I run, he hurries to catch up
Our voice becomes one, a song of strangled birds
I’d kill him if I didn’t want to keep living
I tell him he’s going blind, I plunder his library
This dark contracting room where we suffocate together
We continue to tell lies, pretending we’re friends
Certainly we’re inseparable, monstrous twins
Whoever goes first knows death can’t part us
He’ll linger in shadows, waiting for the other

m. shepler 11/26/21


Winter’s Harbingers

I thought I wrote this yesterday
Now another year has passed
The chimes are dressed in ice
Frost salts the rail
The ink’s cold in the well
I take up my pen
A few hungry birds scuffle in the yard

m. shepler 11/25/21

Junction

In the end it was effortless
As though nothing had happened
Shops are closing up
A bus pulls away
The junction gradually
Empties of life
A few props remain
Artifacts from a play
A tree, a chair, a lamp
A vase the ancients made
Collectors with nailed spears
Working silently begin
Disposing of what’s left

m. shepler 11/24/21


The Clouds

The brisk laundresses are hanging the clouds
Securing them with silver pins of light
Softly whistling, they contrive a breeze
Stirring trees whose crowns are wet with rain
Which all day drenched the thirsty ground
The last blue light is leached from the sky
Hills darken, all’s quiet, night thickens
Only the rough fluting gossip of thrushes

m. shepler 11/21/21


House In Aptos

A blue frame house on a neglected street
Tree roots growing up through the floor
Ravenous ants in endless rows
Marched through the kitchen
Up the stove
Where last night’s coffee sat
Cold & black
In Chinese cups

Conversation would always turn
From Siddhartha & Hermann Hesse
To tomorrow’s storm
Or a play by play
Of someone’s bad trip
Often, that season, I visited them
Friends of mine, a disparate crew
But the only ones worth talking to
Were a pair of car thieves

Just passing through
They’d driven south from Portland
All night, beneath a bomber’s moon
In flat Eastern accented voices they spoke
Of innocence & experience
Sick of the Coast & peace & love
They’d learned a way to make life work

m. shepler 11/13/21


Everyone Runs

Everyone runs away from home once
Most often as children, gathering our little packages
Of love & memory, magnified slights

Bundles of fire & life, which seemed heavy even then
Across the street &, growing bolder
To the end of the block
Where, called for, we’d turn back

You know how time passes
Having seen it often enough in the movies–
A montage of calendar pages
Falling like leaves
Kicked along gutters of darkening cities
Past bonfires fueled by the stuff of life
Refuse, junk of moments
Disregarded or unnoticed

& as you pass the flames you wish them back

Take this man for instance
A darting cat crossing plazas & seasons
Squandering years in the course of an afternoon
Waiting for the fulfillment of an unspoken promise

A child no one called back
A man who kept walking
Driven by the dissonance of his own composition
Hat worn low to cover his thought
Hunting all day unto fall of dark

& in morning, the solitary shadow sprawled
Across the parched waterless fountain
His mind’s a hand-held camera
Jittering loops of recorded rain
He holds his shade, he keeps it close
Warming his bones against last night’s faceless windows

m. shepler 11/6/21


Night Voyage

The silent driver
Ferries the dreamers
Through the slumbering park
Past endless white benches
Of new cut lumber

Toward a fulsome moon
Which had risen & hovered
At the farthest edges
Where shadows were spreading
Ever since evening

Late now
An iron bell is tolling
Lonely sounding
In the high blue tower

The bus is floating
Across deepest silence
Driver & passengers
Each an ocean
Speechless, hermetic
Each is awaiting
The end of the line

The end of the journey
When they’ll gather their lives
When they’ll rise & step down

m. shepler 11/1/21


Driving The Grotesque Dolls

Call them back from the cellar
They’ve brooded enough
The weather’s clear, let’s bundle up
Lead them shackled to the touring car
Help them into their Sunday Best
See how well the stains came out
Martha, Ellen, Luke, Pete
They can’t keep their hands to themselves
Get some music going on the radio
A crutch with strings, a nightbird’s dream
Homemade instruments from long ago
Keep that scattergun under control!
Whoever made them did a half-ass job
It’s jagged where the stitches are sewn
The best part of the ride’s just coming up
When oncoming traffic sees their faces

m. shepler 10/21/21


Band Of Outsiders

Silent snowmen in hats & belted coats
Miss-sent letters, blackbirds
Drifters in some concocted storm
Whipped up by wind machines
Legends inscrutable as cuneiform
Scratched across the bottom of the screen
Subtitles in a language we don’t know
The audience?
Stragglers from a drunken dance
Inattentive, disreputable
Spent arrows grasping nothing in their clumsy hands
Let’s join them in this late matinee
Let’s throw away our minds
Retreating to a pipedream time
When mad love filled the bill
When cobblestones, pried up
Shattered castles, splintered locks
Flinging wide the gates to the sublime

m. shepler 10/13/21


1966 – after Ungaretti

Bad penny returned
Bright as before
Fire engine red
You consume & ignite

A thorn from a rose
Caused my finger to bleed
You gave it a kiss
Sucked up the muck

Tigers in the streets
Feeding on life
We’d feast til the end
Leaving nothing to waste

One long afternoon
We lay down in a park
Then someone complained
The police threw us out

m. shepler 9/13/21


Cutthroat Song

The cutthroat wind ground stone to dust
White powder to tickle the nose of god
Thus uttered the army of empty men
Clutched in their holes
& the ripped up tracks
Quenched errant dreams
Of rust & wind
Giving no quarter to
The hopes of the lost
A shinny photograph of night
Sprawled overexposed in a tray of blood

m. shepler 9/14/21


Little Dog

The same little dog of light
Follows me each night
On my way to the well
Voicing his small
Unintelligible thoughts
Snapping at the heels
Of time
Which races just ahead
When we reach
The cool stones
He becomes frightened
By his moon-cast shadow
I dip the wood bucket
& we drink

m. shepler 9/22/21


Thrilling

“…thrilling, & a disaster for a time” – Ricki Lee Jones

Fun wandering where one isn’t wanted
Especially when young & they can all see you coming
Fresh off the bus from Heaven or Kansas
A hayseed, yes, but wet with promise
Six quick shots, at the bar, on the rocks
Flush with starry night & unbridled passion
You’ve broken a heel on dawn’s early light
The wishing well’s dry at Los Feliz & Fountain
See the pimp on the bench at Sunset & Fuller
For a while it felt just fine being mad
A quick slide, a thrilling disaster
You tumble on down to a disheveled park
Winged messengers gather, dressed for evening
Near uncharted edges where shadows obtain

m. shepler 8/2/21


Cold Morning After Storm -after Su Tung P’o

Night was cold, without wind.
This morning, sweeping the porch
I see the mountain
encircled by crows–
They form a dark crown.
Nothing moves in the frozen streets.
Stores & houses are tombs of ice.
A few clouds, silent conspirators, gather.
Outliers in rainshrouds
twist in the pale sunlight.
I feel weak. My head’s not right.
Day passes, slow as dying.
The storm-wracked trees
glitter like dragon’s teeth.

m. shepler 7/31/21


Los Angeles, 1926

‘Reality makes him dream’
(introduction to a book of Weston photographs)

Having returned from Mexico, Weston goes
To see Murnau’s The Last Laugh at the Orpheum
Losing his mind in the night streets of Weimar

On screen, Jannings, deemed too old, too weak
To perform his duties as Doorman
At the Grand Hotel, turns his back
To the camera. Such thick sadness!
What treacherous harpoon could lay this
Great Beast low?

Is Weston drawn to the fluidity of Murnau’s dream?
A thousand stills made animate float through
The cavernous brain of the Dreamers in the dark.
Hypnogogic light – like the glint
Of Mesmer’s twirling watch, plays across a thousand
Shuttering eyes

As each evening the old man sheds his lavatory attendant’s smock
Retrieving his doorman’s jacket, with its gold epaulettes
His stature increasing with each piece of cloth, until, resplendent
As the Kaiser, he leaves the hotel, crossing the city
To his own dank street
& he swaggers now, past the awestruck neighbors

He swaggers, but with a limp

A crippled spider, legs moving sidewise
In an effort to reach the apex
Of its thick-spun web
‘Do they see it?’ the Doorman thinks
& Weston hears him thinking

& Weston, too, is drifting
Becoming insubstantial as dust
Whirling in the dry light of a Magic Lantern
He sees Tina standing by an open door

Tina – acting again, the Doorman’s daughter
Pregnant, & then a suicide
Cold & small –
Along on a steel table in a room
In the centre of the Labyrinth where he’d left her.

m. shepler, from Dark Room Elegies, 2009


Secrets of Clouds

Spiffy in white tuxedos
Basking in luxurious corpulence
Herds of silent fat men
Roll around heaven
Merging, then pulling apart
Blown sky high against blue walls
Those stretched out O’s
Pale rings of smoke
Sliding from their louche lips
Signals of their swift
Disintegration

m. shepler 3/10/21


After Lorca

The moon rises
Its pale finger indicates
The passage, the page
The moon rises
We draw close
Night’s cloak
We shiver
In slumbering gardens
Buds close tight
A few drops remain
Luminous, moist
When the moon rises
Walkers hasten
Hands thrust in pockets
Touching coins with blank faces

m. shepler 3/9/21


Clear Bright Festival

Hillsides sprinkled with tombs
Mourners bring wildflowers, brooms
Weeping, neatening, all afternoon
Moonrise welcomes other creatures
Wild things, returning
Wolves, foxes, girls, boys
By lantern light, shadows warm cold stones
Let passion mark the journey down life’s path
No comfort greets us at Nine Springs

m. shepler 11/3/20
-after Huang T’ing Ch’en


Peaceful Days

Longing for days when news was long coming
I spend my time in high mountains
Busy all day with custodial tasks
Providing food for birds & squirrels
At night I linger over yellow notes
Marveling at notions of changing the world

m. shepler 11/4/20


Autumn

Hummingbird light threads mist
Green, red
Alight, toward the distant shore
Quick shadows shimmer over water
Dazzling blue clarity
This evening, wind & rain
Arrive as promised
Drenching the garden’s autumn spoilage

m. shepler 10/17/20


Return To The Lost City

Not budgeted for pith helmets & goofballs,
We’ve found drinking snake medicine produces
Visions of breathtaking beauty.
Pola Negri is gone, & Gustav Frohlich.
What of Debra Paget? Does she frolic still,
White-haired, shriveled? Barely able
To go into her dance–
The legendary Dance of the Cobra?
Perhaps she’s resurrected every century like She?
A quick dip in the Eternal Flame & she’s hot as she ever was!
Really, there’s no one here.
No image soils the desert eyes of glowing mirrors.
The walls of the torture chamber grow too crumbly
To sustain their chains.
Eunuchs, maidens, dwarfs–how we used to party!
All of them gone. All that remains
Some bits of unraveled gauze
From the night the mummy did the Watusi,
The outline of a dusty rose

m. shepler 7/8/20


Days of ‘83

Having traveled the halls of academy & industry
Palaces of endeavor where death goes unnoticed
He’d become a dreamer among swans
Spending long afternoons in neglected gardens
Tonight he’ll dive into fathomless waters
Swim the lake toward the distant skyline
In the morning he’ll pawn his suit of lights
Leave the city, start again, hair straight on end
Somewhat tanned from his days outside
Possessed with a new quiet certitude
Thanks to years of dissipation & anxiety

m. shepler 7/2/20


Sunset over Villa Ortuzar -After Borges

Here the world ends
The street mouth deepens, opens onto night
Bonfires become rows of immolated angels
A fever dreamer’s sunset agonized on the wire
Wire which tears the sky’s skin
A world discarded out of disgust, neglect
Scraps of light, scattered bright rags of a swimmer
Pool by a bus stop where frightened girls huddle
The landscape, losing definition, dissolves
Cut-purse night lurks in the barranca
The day’s riches plundered, divided & spent
Voices of thieves quarrel in my head

m. shepler 5/11/20


Aspects of the Novel – for Richard Yates

Richard Yates

He insisted on smoking in the car while sucking
On the oxygen tank; & the car itself, so junked
& broken, gas fumes curled through the cracked
Rolled up windows, further hindering him
In his abstract meanderings down the Dixie Highway.
He lectured his students, ‘Aspects of the novel’,
Claiming he wrote no more.
All the while pages fell, scribbled leaves
From his stammering machine.
The manuscript grew, bulky, unread;
Stacked in the refrigerator, rubbing shoulders
With limp vegetables, moldy sandwiches.
He stashed a bottle of Everclear in the closet,
Unopened, kept his pencils sharp, desk cleared
For action. Every day behind thick glasses,
Held together with bandaids & Krazy Glue.
Behind his unvoiced inscrutable motives
His fractured heart fluttered in its cage.

m. shepler 3/29/20


Meshes of the Afternoon

Your shadow picks up the flower
As you ascend the stairs
Someone within the apartment is watching
Hidden after you come inside
A mix of cigarettes, sweat & fear

Objects become malevolent
The bread knife ponders its history of cuts
You back away from the voice inside
Tumbling down stones toward ocean rocks

In the empty room faucets drip
Twigs crackle in the fireplace
Garments burn, a sleeve twists
Blackens then curls in combustible sleep

m. shepler 3/28/20


Poem in the Manner of Chi’n Kwan

Spring blossoms are bursting along rainy roads
Flowers of unstudied brilliance
Swaying flags, colored dancers
Startling birds with their audacious ravishments

At the edges of a hidden stream they huddle
Above their golden heads, clouds twist
Untongued, animate, soaring

Beneath these trees, drunk with light
We spin, blissful, directionless

m. shepler 3/3/20


Mirage

I can’t think fast enough to remember
What happened back there
In a glow I know was a haze of sun & smog
Or scrim of rain & wind
Washing down Sunset in a torrential flood
Uprooting memory
& the sign in front of Zeidler & Zeidler
Where Lenny Bruce bought his threads
On that radio spot
Or said he did

It isn’t that I can’t go back there
Dreams are built for that
Although what I saw is dead & gone
& it was Dream City from the start
A desert construct miraged out of stolen water
Palms & gardens tended by people trucked in
Everyone there was from elsewhere
Even the Chilean girlfriend of my pal from Manzanar
Racing the fire road above Beachwood Canyon in an open car
Black hair whipping in the wind

Nothing happens quickly
Memory loosens its hold
The suit I’m wearing doesn’t go with the pill I’ve taken
Demolished blocks of time turn to lyrics of a song
Soft as rose petals drifting down
From an overheated radio
Through an open window
Of a darkened Spanish bungalow

m. shepler 2/18/20


Late

The empty voices have departed
A single lamp burns inside the house
Night wind scatters flowers
Petals fall in patterns of random confusion
At the edge of the porch
Stands a figure with a rake
Slumped shadow, shoulders bent
Too tired to sweep them up

m. shepler 12/25/19


Exit Wounds

The door stands open, yellow, grinning.
Inside, silence is a soliloquy unto itself.

Dishes done & stacked, except for a half-filled
Cup of cold steel.

Keats nightingale, deafened by jackhammers,
Yammers in the trees.

A breeze slams against my blue-eyed broken windows.
Sky turning purple as a bruise.

m. shepler, from Late Show


Henry in Pasadena

Lashed to the podium like Ahab to the whale,
The splintered man sweats blood beads.
His red specs bleed beneath stained glass light.
His faraway eyes lock on a tumbler
Of amber liquid. The Grail!
It’s his, once he utters
The last stanza for which he’s being paid.
Later, chasing coeds
Through the halls of the Green Hotel,
He shouts “Feets don’t fail me now!”
His best Mantan Moreland, he’d allow.
Tackled by a nurse with hypo, he’s put down.
Coming around, he fumbles an unstrung rosary.
Villagers with torches bear him to the train.

m. shepler 11/9/2019


Sun in an Empty Room

Something’s painting this tired afternoon
Choosing a palette of yellow & shadows
Daubing an empty room haunted by whispers
A faint perfume of night’s allure lingers
Exhausted light sprawls across the bed
An unpainted phone, insistently ringing
Cars pass below the open window
Transporting strangers on inscrutable errands
Inside’s all angles, blocks of light
A sunny scene of uncommitted crime
No one in the room has been sketched in

m. shepler, 10/31/19


Lifeguards

Watery light dances on the surface of the Municipal Pool,
Its red bricks stacked dull in full moonlight.
The second story row of windows are flooded
With yellow streams of light, cranked open
Mouths gasping for breath.
Inside, the empty diving board vibrates
A tuning fork alive with unanswered cries.

The lifeguards are off duty in the quiet summer evening.
Everyone is drowning,
Hidden inside the pooled shadows
The lifeguards stand in helpless knots.
The red glow of their cigarettes pulsing,
Their feet heavy, unmovable.
Immobilized by the gravity of the emergency.

m. Shepler, from The Hanging Gardens of Memory, 2017


Elegant City Comix

rainy nights, oboe in hand
i would walk deserted streets
stoplights would change
blink — Green
blink — Yellow
blink — Red

& the neons did shine
whiskey bottles 50 feet tall
going into orbit!
dark cars slow then speed past me
they monitor my movements
& the men in the penthouse
update my dossier
dining on cheap takeout food

(From Statement Magazine, 1979)

m. shepler


For Peter

they move carefully
thru each chamber
of the
world.

furtive jugglers, sometimes joyous
the dances are there
to step to
capering minstrels
eke a living
amid rubble
& mud.

thru villages
cross/t borders,
boundaries
w/ out passports
or cards
of identity.

legendary names:
villon
perkoff
rimbaud

li po
who painted cavepoems
who drank & bathed
in melted snow.

or silent,
chary
afraid to expose
their wares:
remembering the 1000s gone—

hands clutching air
grasping
thru boxcar slats

frm hungary
frm poland
frm heydrick
torquemada, joe mc/carthy
& the electric chair.

frm stalin
trotsky
& the stormtroops
of skokie.

sage is fool
sage is sacred

sage w/ numbered days
sleeping in a yellow field
of daisies

the black smokestacks
the brick/t wall

sweating out dawn
w/ a thin sheet
clenched
between their teeth

separate, sometimes
they recognize one another
across distances
of cocktail party
& exercise yd.

dancers, yes.
their stumps
bleeding / stomp
out a hymn
pounding tambourines
by a pond
at sunset.

they only do
as they must

put one foot
first
in front of
the other—
right
before left
& left
after right
toward a glowering
horizon,
promising nothing.

facts of the matter become blurred
sharp pain might almost equal ecstasy now
anything but this fearsome dullness of days
accumulation of disconnected moments
is this what knowledge has to offer me?

once i was wild—an idiot on the edge
singing torchsongs to the abyss
an overnite sensation over nite

i say ‘love’ now
& am fritened

before, love thrived
& died

each time an undiscovered garden—
beautiful, yes
filled w/ camouflaged pongi-stakes

                       . . .

one bird sings in this garden now
in the exact center of nite
& i cannot let love leave
or draw nearer
one bird sings in this garden now

m. shepler, from Statement Magazine, Spring 1980)


Villanelle

We burn with fire, the fire dies down.
Years fall like leaves, like dreams.
Flames devour the wedding gowns.

Each arrives, a stranger in town.
We cross the green toward the tavern’s solace.
We burn with fire, the fire burns down.

We leave the bar to stroll the town.
Window gazing, an alarm sounds.
Flames are devouring the wedding gowns!

Evening’s passage brings jaded knowledge.
Passion spent leaves us restless, unsated.
We burn with fire, the fire dies down.

The street lights bear their icy crowns
Of febrile light, cast fitfully.
Flames devour the wedding gowns.

Night throbs with a fretful sound.
Drenching dark cloaks the ruined store
Where flames devoured the wedding gowns.
We burn with a fire, the fire dies down.

(From Get Happy, 2019)


Days of ’67

Routes to the border were rapidly tightening
Rough saints sharpened totalitarian knives
The doors of perception, double-locked, beckoned
Parents wrung their hands in the blood of lambs
The Fox lot was transformed into Century City
We could hate LBJ, but just for a day
Winter was upon us wearing nights of white satin
Star maps, burning, lit wayfarers home
Something was cooking inside Hell’s kitchen
Our children, poor children
Forgetting us, grew frightened

m. shepler 8/31/19


La Nocturne – 1954

Distant light saturates the wet iron rails
Bracketing the steps of the Lincoln Heights jail
It’s only the moon, out on parole
Tracking our relentless night patrol
From tavern to tavern, Eastern to Brooklyn
Past houses of slaughter which run along Slauson
Lights which are red & never green
County General where the mad rave & dream
One of those evenings, one of those nights
When nurse & orderly lace straitjackets up tight
& the Stations of the Cross in deep cover disguise
Are best viewed obliquely through dilated eyes
So pack up your troubles, sew up the shroud
Life’s only bearable lived in a cloud
Where angels sing doo-wop from a glittering juke
& not much stock is placed in the truth

(From Get Happy, 2019)


The Remaining Darkness

Michael Shepler

I muscle my way inside the photo
Taking my place among these dead friends

It’s early in the picture
& although sunlight strikes the porch
Bits of night are clinging to our clothes

What were we talking about
When the lens trapped us?

I’d rather not go into it
At least no further
Having spent so many years away

Last I checked there’d been two of us
Living imposters
Now I’m definitely ‘alone at last

Standing, somewhat abashed, near the edge
Taking shelter in the remaining darkness

(From Get Happy, 2019)


Operation Skull

Arrgh!
as they say in the cartoons

(long screams of stark black
type / bursting frm
the gook’s balloon).
animal horror,
expression of utter
disbelief.

as he is mowed down by the
superior fire power
of abstracted hate.

ARRRRRRRRRRGGGGHHH!!!

I scream it to you now.
here.
safe.
in a room.
in
these
united
states.

m. shepler, from Late Show,1974)


(Editor’s Note: More to come. Check back here every few days for another Michael Shepler poem.)