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 dates from 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 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 work, all of which bears the copyright of Michael Shepler.

Poetry of Michael Shepler


The eternal lights come on, one by one.
The insistent chain strikes the pole,
Bereft of stricken colors.
Beyond the low lying buildings,
Emptied of thought, a row of swings turns & twists,
Lightly ridden by their small burdens,
Little ghosts outfought by Time’s bullies.
Jungle bars edge the tarmac & the field,
Overgrown with weeds, stretching all the way
To where the fence stands,
Its gate opening onto yards & streets
Where, nights like this, a walker could hear
Shouts & voices, & see lights flashing
Behind the unlit windows of closed houses,
As, moving carefully past the hiss of a sprinkler,
He walks away from his own footsteps.

m. shepler, from THE HANGING GARDENS OF MEMORY, 2017

On The River

Their voices floating back
Ephemeral as mist off the river
The boat dances on the eternal current
Lighting pipes, they huddle close
Grown lost in talk, their words tangle
Slender oars of the mind, the pipes
Lower & dip, never touching water
Fallen silent, they drift
Old men, chasing dragons

m. shepler, from NIGHT & THE CITY, 2022

Poem Inspired by Ha Jin’s “They Come”
Ha Jin, b. 1956

Masquerading as shadows they enter the room
Just at the edge of vision where you can’t see them
Mopping the floor with broken brooms
They are the custodians of silence

Encroaching in the gathering dark
Pushing fitful sleep aside
They call your name they touch the restraints
They scale the bed like mountaineers

These are the smirking demons who draw the shade
Allowing night to seep inside
Black blood Black blood
These are the remnants of unshackled thought

Posing as visitors bearing rotted flowers
As spies conspiring after hours

m. shepler 6/23/23


The far out ships still cast their fraying nets
Instinct’s vanished, they work from handbooks now
From primordial soup, thin gruel is strained
Awards follow sinecures grants
Sabbaticals to Italy, Spain, or France
Bleak rewards, yes
Still, there’s always an audience for magic tricks

m. shepler 6/19/23

Raven On The Roof

In tall building shade
A man’s eating lunch

A raven peers down
Pushes a rock to the edge & over

A near miss!

The man races off
The raven eats lunch

m. shepler 6/16/23


Once we were unbreakable
Proudly wearing our necklaces of wreckage
Bruised tarnished medals
When did we wake inside these old bodies?

Evening encroaches on the deserted park
Last trace of warmth is leached from sunburnt benches
On canes of bone, we follow our shadows toward the iron gate
The unforgiving wind reclaims us

m. shepler 6/15/23

Early Snow

OnceThe raven gathers his collection
Of ice letters
Soaring off
To feed his wintry correspondence
To the moon

m. shepler 6/15/23


Envy the sparrows
Warm yourself in their shadows

Busy with the fullness of necessity
Their nests woven to keep winter at bay

Their minds empty out at close of day
Each bright note dissolving into eternity

m. shepler 6/7/23

The Loop

“We sit on the steps as if nothing happened” – Adam Zagajewski

We know this city
So old, so empty of rage
We’d agreed to meet at the regular place
The streets are filled with anxious strangers
Wearing summer clothes, though evenings have grown cold
There’s the bus stop, & the lady with the baby carriage
The tall carriage driver, snapping his thin whip
Vanishing in the shadows of the botanical garden

Adam Zagajewski, 1945-2021

There’s the old man who had the heart attack
Moping his brow, looking both ways
Before crossing to the other side
An early fog flattens the stars
Another couple sits on the steps
Watching nothing happen
Watching time run down
Watching eternity unfold

m. shepler 6/2/23

White Window

Toward night’s silent death
A white window appears
Pulsing fitfully at the center of the black ceiling
Lowering silken ropes of light
It beckons

m.shepler 5/27/23

Terrace In The Snow
So Tung’Po, 1037-1101

Threads of rain danced in day’s last light
Wind fell away, the sky cleared, it grew cold
Snow slipped, silent white letters
Beneath the straw mat
All night the voice of the ice
Kept me from sleep
When morning came I swept the terrace
Mountain peaks were clear of clouds
Silken crows circle roofs of village huts
Muddy streets are scattered with snowy ashes
My bones ache, its hard to hold my pen
Icicles on the eaves, wakened by wind
Drone like the swords of assassins

-after Su Tung’Po

m. shepler 5/27/23

Rough Draft

Turning pages of unidentifiable sound
Sky ablaze with lit Centaurs
Thus we spend our night on earth
In skins to keep our souls covered

Illusions implanted at birth
Grow burdensome in time
No longer serve to buoy us up
Our shadows fall below the tree line

m. shepler 5/25/23


Of course the beach was empty
You only dreamed the footprint
Nothing is here, nothing at all!

Cry of birds, the empty face
Of sea & sky
The jungle forever at your back

Even if the print had been real
The night tides would have erased it

All morning, with twisted stick
You scratch across the sand
But there’s no one, nothing, no one here

m. shepler 5/23/23

With Rain

My brother was swimming with dolphins
The rain was warm & I felt healed

As we listened to the passage of the storm
People we knew were exiting old apartments

We watched the speechless legions
Going by with black umbrellas

Ambulances were pulling up

m. shepler 5/22/23

Still Life

Still as sentient rocks
Pale bodies gleam
In the silent dark

Shadowed shapes
Familiarity lost
Keep safe from harm
The sleeping room

Beside the bed
On a heavy desk
Water dreams in a slender glass

Next to which
A ticking clock
Time tells stories to itself

m. shepler 5/18/23

The Wind & The Rain
Lu Yi, 733-804

My books, old friends
Beckon from their shelves
They’ve comforted me all my life
Only death can separate us
Wind & rain batter my window
I light a lamp to guide me
Safely through night’s passage

m. shepler 5/17/23

-after Lu Yu

The Artist

The artist is painting a wall
Tigers, roosters, pyramids
&, near the ceiling, an orange sun

Some parts are blank, untouched
With spidery cracks, spreading like nets
A web to snare fish, birds, lunatics

Does God exist?
Dark robed wizard with peaked hat
Something up his sleeves
Maybe God’s a dog catcher
Where do I fit in all of that?

Now the artist is painting a door
When he’s finished
I’ll walk out

m. shepler 5/17/23

Where Or When

Rodgers & Hart, 1937
Babes in arms
Bombs over Madrid
Two strangers recall
Meeting in a dream
Or maybe only a memory
Of a dream
A Shanghai gesture
Conjured in an opium den
A delirious amnesia
Draws them together
An eternal return
& they’re dancing in the dark
But where? & when?

m. shepler 5/16/23

In The Hills
Wang Wei, 701-761

Pebbles in the stream
The polished heads of fish
Red leaves glide like little boats
Though rain’s stopped, mist dampens my clothes

m. shepler 5/12/23

-after Wang Wei

The Missing

The soiled clothes of the missing
Flutter like immense flying insects
Albino butterflies, moths
Eyes sewn shut, they batter their wings
Against the convex jar of the yard
Crowding the bone bowl of our consciousness
In distant accompaniment to the soughing wind
Voices of an aging search party call out
Call to the lost
Scraps of souls, pinned to a clothesline
Hidden in plain sight

m. shepler 5/13/23

Bullet Park

When things get tough the tough get loaded.
Nailles got nervous when the drug store closed.
Watching his fellow commuter sucked
Beneath the 7:45’s wheels didn’t help.
A shoe & briefcase were all that was left.

He pointed this out to his neighbor, Hammer,
A new face in the village, fresh blood,
Who’d travelled from nowhere,
Unsettling down in Bullet Park.
Come to murder Naille’s son Tony,
Who’d been recently poleaxed by ennui.

Nailles found a pusher to keep him on track.
Helping him hang on to the mouthwash account.
It took a Swami to save Tony,
Foiling the psychotic Hammer,
Who wound up blubbering in a rubber room.

Nailles’ wife swooned when she heard the news.
His old self again, Nailles took her to bed.
Adjusting his dose, he catches the 9:15.
Tony’s got his paper route back,
Covering most of Bullet Park.
Where everyone’s so happy, happy, happy!

m. shepler 5/12/23


To some it brings to mind
A song by John Lennon
What I imagine is becoming stranded
In the gray midst of a sprocket-jumping
Film concocted at UFA
In a Weimar fear fog
Unreal sets, a script extracted
From an opiated night sweat
Comprised of sleepwalkers, streetwalkers
Faceless men marching out of step
Hypnotic Mabuse keeps me glued to my seat
Ushers from the Underworld
Bring me popcorn & drinks
Making certain I’m still comfortable in my skin
Adjusting the leather straight jacket strap
Varying the frequency & intensity of the shocks

m. shepler 5/10/23

News & Weather

The Weather’s bad & the news is worse
It arrives like the horse-drawn hearse
In “Dead of Night”
A man hurries up a leaf strewn drive
Toward a tall-chimneyed Victorian pile
To find doors locked, windows barred
Through a blurred cataracted window, he sees
Leaping flames, crackling in the hearth
Faint voices echo, hollow as the dead
Cocktail chatter of the dear departed
A steady rain numbs his bones
An iron shovel sound
Driving into wet earth

m. shepler 5/8/23

Gatsby the Cat

Gatsby the cat was throwing a party
On his vast estate on Long Island
When his master’s away, Gatsby must play
Raiding his wardrobe, donning his clothes
A Borsalino & immaculate white jacket
Cats from all over, aristocrats & feral
Gate crashers as far away
As Far Rockaway

The mansion’s a wedding cake
Ablaze with light
A fistful of nervous mice
Serve as butlers, maids
Ultimately appetizers
Gatsby broods alone in the attic
Awaiting the arrival of his lost love
Daisy the tabby

m. shepler 5/9/23

Closing Your Eyes In The Barber Chair

Why do we close our eyes in the barber chair
Is it to avoid viewing the disaster in the mirror
Where Narcissus dissolves into Dorian Gray
Or do we simply find it relaxing
An interlude taking the edge off day
For some it resembles talk therapy
Cheaper than a shrink, a thirty minute unburdening
Leaving you fresh, eager to face the future
Fresh at least for another hour
While behind your back
Larry, or Moe, or Curley drones on
About Box Scores
In a voice like a buzzing fly
You just hope the razor doesn’t slip
Time for the hot towel & brush off
You’re dreaming now
Dream you’re stricken with aphasia
Helpless, in the same chair as Albert Anastasia

m. shepler 5/6/23

Today’s Poem

Gloomy Sunday & not even the weekend
Clouds rain garbage from a party on the moon
Birds are plentiful & continue to multiply
Red black & blue, gracing us with their tunes
The lovelorn mocker sings for his mate
(She plays hard to get on another tree)
The hawk rests, aloof in the oak
Lost deep in avian thought
Artificial Intelligence is a gimmick for dolts
Nothing to get happy or hopeful about
Fox or hedgehog, it matters not
Today’s poem requires a higher dose

m. shepler 5/5/23

Night Flight

Rising on wind’s wings
I skim the dark river on luminous feet
Subject to the whims of sleep’s puppeteer
I sail moonlit water without my craft
Fires & dark houses scatter the shore
No one I knew called out to me
Only the cries of unnerved birds
Reaching cold mountain I begin to climb
Agile as a monkey, scaling crags to the top
Where dragon winds howled, chaos thrived
Then tumbling back to the world of men
I awakened in my own bed
Alone inside my ancient skin

m. shepler 5/4/23

Run For Your Life

A nose to the grindstone lawyer, Paul Bryan
Who bears a striking resemblance to Ben Gazzara
Carves out an hour from his busy schedule
To drop in on his doc for a routine physical
& leaves the office with a prognosis: fatal
No symptoms, no pain, more tests
The results the same
No matter what sort of life he’s lead
In two or three years he’ll just drop dead
“Got any plans?” his crass doc queries
“Guess I’ll cram thirty years of living
Into two…or three”
Montage showing Paul fighting a bull
While waterskiing or sky diving
Playing Baccarat in Monte Carlo
Always a new dame on his arm
Driving across the Mojave in a Hertz Masserati
Eagerly seeking this week’s guest star
If he can’t solve his problem he can
Set them straight–Tuesday Weld
Ricardo Montalban, Janice Rule, Tommy Sands, Anne Francis
Broken down directors washed up boxers
He gives them injections of indomitable moxie
Which allows them to Guest Star somewhere else
When its time to move on to another challenge
The dish of the week begs him not to leave
He gives her his best Gazzara look
Says “Honey, I’d love to stay, but I’m dyin!”

m. shepler 5/2/23

Means Of Transport

Moon Autumn Crescent light
Drowns the river where my silver boat waits
Its white sails wings of a hunting bird
Its shadow rides low over the water
A harsh wind muffles my song
I begin my long journey

m. shepler 4/29/23

Madness In The City

Having languished long mountain vastness,
My scattered thoughts become a swirling mist.
Returning to this once familiar place,
My ears are stricken by an orchestral din.

Fate’s emissaries, on red motorcycles
Deliver their incomprehensible news.
Collectors gather up the fallen.
Mute birds on rusted wires sicken.

On the hill, a luminous skull,
Hospital, mad house, or prison,
A malign brain, glimmers.
Wild dogs trot past, pulling men in chains.

m. shepler 4/28/23

The Spider In The Corner Of The Mind

Even asleep
His hungry thread sways & shifts
Wisping through canyons
Imprisoned by an arid breeze
Cartographer of unconscious thought
He casts his silver line
Mapping a continent unexplored
With evaporating ink

m. shepler 4/27/23

Chen Tzu-Ang’s Testament

How quickly pass life’s brief seasons
Snowflake to white blossom
Green meadows turn brittle
Leaves like spikes rake our naked feet
Hop toads tormented by noon sun
We scramble toward the shelter of trees
The quenching illusion of empty streams
Where we mingle with other skeletal amphibians

Having left behind wealth’s empty comforts
I ventured to far cities at seventeen
Years spent drinking, gambling
A sparrow at the crossroads
I turned to hermetic study
Absorbing the texts of Masters

One autumn afternoon
Bearing my jeweled lute
I offered my songs to a gathered crowd
Dashing my instrument
I scattered flurries of poems instead

Gazing into the past, I see nothing
Hear only the faint echoes of the ancients
Looking ahead, the narrow corridors of Heaven’s prison

m. shepler 4/22/23

Climbing The Heights

Wind howls, gibbons cry out
Far below, the blue islands of the clouds, mist
A green blizzard of leaves plummeting
The river a twisting jade dagger

Tu Fu, 712-770

Winter, & miles from home
Sickness & years slow my climb
Only wine from my leather bag
& a few remembered songs
Sustain me in my struggle

m. shepler 4/20/23

-after Tu Fu

Lines of Flight

High flyers, they cross the ragged scrap of sky
Above the hillside, the hardware store
& Anderson Tool & Die

Characters inked with a Chinese brush
Quivered arrows of loneliness
Drawn from day’s faded coloring box

m. shepler 4/20/23

In Our Time
Ida Lupino, In Our Time

Ida Lupino, a humble governess
Marries a Polish aristocrat she meets on a train
He teaches her table manners
She teaches him to love “the people”
(He already loves Poland)
She shows him how to operate a tractor
She drives it around herself
Causing his noble brow to furrow
War comes, he rides off with the Lancers
Ida scorches the earth with her flashing eyes
Reunited, armed with rifles & pitchforks
They take to the hills to trounce the Nazis
Having already liberated the serfs

m. shepler 4/18/23

Cipher 7

The floating balconies returned last night
Beyond the room, in the outer dark

An animal cried, frightened, hurt
Then silence, & the balconies turning

Silent & dangerous as electric clouds
Riding waves of scribbled lightning

Who can explain or wish away
These eternal recurrent ledges of night

That dissolve castles, quench the stars
Drawing us down erasure’s vacant boulevards?

m. shepler 4/17/23

Evening Rain
Po Chü-i, 772-846

A twilight cricket chirps, then stops
A rising wind sets lanterns dancing
Evening rain spatters green leaves

m. shepler 4/17/23

-after Po Chü-i

Ways to Disappear

Around the corner
Into Sleep
Over the hill
Lost in thought
Like the keys you misplaced
Like Weldon Kees

Like the magician’s assistant
Like barflies at closing time
Like your last dollar
Like Pithecanthropus Erectus
Or a vampire at dawn
Like Amelia Earhardt & the Beatles’ first drummer
B. Traven or Ambrose Bierce

Close your eyes & the world disappears
Ask another to close theirs–now you’ve vanished

Which is like being locked in a musty closet
With only cheap suits & empty dresses for company
Or inside a switched off TV
A wasteland of vacancy

Like an illuminated manuscript in an after hours museum
Glowing alone amid clusters of blind admirers

m. shepler 4/15/23

Cipher 52

Step into the rain.
Lamps burn down the misty boulevards.
Shimmering tail lights of cars moving
Into the blue rush of evening.
I hurry toward the marquee across the street,
Between the hotel, & the Chinese laundry.
Reaching the Rialto, where I pay the fare,
Granting admission to the dark; there
I bask in the music, voices, faces,
Familiar plots, dire situations.
Join me, won’t you? I’ve saved a seat.
Apologies for the quality of the print,
The run down state of the building.
Even inside, it’s lightly raining.

m. shepler 4/14/23


You wake to emptiness
Sentient phantom, it looms above
Subsuming fog floods the room
Emptiness stretches out its hand to drown you
You flee its grasping tides
It presses, blue veined beneath your eyes
Accomplice to emptiness, you endure
Freezing wind assails the roofless room
Darkness becomes a permanent guest
Whose luggage contains the weight of time
Time sprawled out like clouds

Nicolás Guillén, 1902-1989

Elongate shapes seek to engulf you
To smother you, to bear you away
I urge you, resist, resist!

m. shepler 4/13/23

-after Guillen

Cipher 47

I found my friend in his bath–
Hot water, he said, eased his failing liver.
From a leather holster, the .38
Dangled from a wooden chair.

His wife ignored it,
Keeping her eyes focused on me
& what small good she hoped I could manage.

Slave to the shriek of black phones,
I’d driven, half drunk, across the city for this.
Leaves spiraled from wintry trees.
Years fell away–a montage of calendar pages.

Helplessly standing beside the porcelain tub,
I couldn’t help noticing his arms–
Dangling over the sides, like Marat.

m. shepler 4/12/23

Black Spring
Innokenty Annensky, 1855-1909

Burial afternoon. Afternoon of iron bells.
A punishment of cannons
Cause the corpse to sit upright,
Eyes open, candles in the casket.
Harsh gasps of breath–does he wish to rise?
Last nights’ snow cloaks the pebbled road.
Bankrupt winter surrenders to muddy spring.
Cold eyed, green, bare stubbled,
It sets out on untrod roads.
Fledglings waking in disheveled nests
Warn man that his path is mud,
His future, dust.
His wheels are caught.
They splinter, rust.

m. shepler 4/11/23

-after annensky

The Moving Target

‘I pretend to myself I’m going to meet something–
something utterly new. Something naked and bright,
a moving target in the road.’–Ross MacDonald

Welcome to Arrow Beach, the rusted sign read.
I pointed the rented car toward the gravel road.
Tires met stones, imitating the sound of crushed bones.
A scattering of shanties, sun bleached doors unhinged;
Upright caskets from which blank faces
Stared out through burnt bonfire eyes.
Birds soared, winged question marks
Crowding thin blue sky.
An overpopulation of menace.
A dissonance of unstrung guitars
Wailed like abandoned banshees.
I aim the car toward the house ahead–
Newly painted, multi-storied,
Containing the answers I sought.
Something shimmered on the road.
Something naked & bright,
Perhaps a guard,
In any case, a moving target,
Hypnotic, bright, unavoidable.
I push the accelerator to the floor,
Closing my eyes,I bear down.

m. shepler 4/9/23

Absent Friends

They are the bright angels circling our heads
The scarecrows, toothless in the empty field
Their silken voices are the cables
That send the elevator plummeting
They are the coded messages sent
They are our minders
Reminding us to forget

m. shepler 4/8/23

After Lorca

Traveler, you’ve come so far
Your shadow has fallen away

Even these mirrors, the streams
Clear mountain streams
Have abandoned your reflection

Federico Garcia Lorca, 1898-1936

Eyeless fish brush past each other
Devouring their own image
Trailing threads of blood & excrement

The moon, sorrowful craft
Traverses an eternity of night
Guided by the beacons of dead stars

m.shepler 4/8/23

Little Death

Night’s little death has ended
What we see now is real
& we’re awake

Glum as peat bog soldiers
Silently waiting for the bus
That transports us to work

Tending the gray ashen fields*
With our toy shovels

m. shepler 4/7/23

The Words

You wake, knowing its late
Knowing you’re listening
To the ceaseless river of your blood
A twig snaps in the wilderness beyond the window
You imagine how cold the window glass must be
With the moon pressed against its forehead
Pulling the blankets up, you sleep again
But the night was so cold it seemed the sky had cracked
That through the fracture, a single word fluttered down
Others followed, snowflake light, mixing with the rest
Soon hundreds of words were tumbling from the sky
& the beasts awoke, excited, frightened
Adding their own music
As night lightened into morning
We made our way through the shattered gate
The ground below our feet was strewn with melting words
We uttered them, misunderstanding their meaning
Mesmerized by their sound, we brushed them from our shoulders
Moving deeper toward the interior

m. shepler 4/7/23

Autumn Day

Master, it is time.
Opening its golden veins
Summer is dying
In the shadows of trees.
Encroaching shade cloaks
The iron sundial.
A gust of wind disturbs the meadow.

Rainer Maria Rilke, 1875-1926

Let the last fruit ripen in the few days left,
Bringing to birth the heavy sweet wine.

The homeless will remain so.
The lonely take shelter in the arms of night.
Sleeping, then waking, transcribing long dreams.
Disconsolate wanderers on a narrow bare path.
Kicking aside crisp brown leaves.

m. shepler 4/6/23

-after Rilke

The Crows

The garrulous crows fall silent
Black, sleek, winging their way
Across winter sky toward home
Feathered shadows of impeccable elegance
They lengthen & cross the empty afternoon yards
A solitary deer at the edge of the trees
Bows her head to drink from the clouds
Floating on the surface of the lake
Nothing can banish this loneliness
Or ease the fear that races
The strict boulevards of our veins
A scarlet thread to & from the fretful heart

m. shepler 4/5/23

The Head

The head spun all night long
A pale Medusa
Framed in the porthole
Of a washing machine
Luminous–the interior light left on

m.shepler 4/4/23

Toller’s Doves

A single bird, small & alone, came to my window this morning
I wondered if the other birds had been slaughtered or driven off
By the recent incursion of hawks
Remembering how winged armadas of doves
Would congregate on the ledge of Ernst Toller’s barred window
In the prison at Neuburg
Guards were ordered to drive the flocks away
Yet they always returned
Toller would be shifted to a different cell
But the doves soon found him
Singing their song, defecating on the stones
The guards were told to slaughter the doves
Which, some grudgingly, some gladly, they did
After Toller was released, & for the rest of his life
He only lived in rented rooms with a single barred window
Even his last room in New York was this way
It wasn’t a dove I heard this morning
Still, it made me think of him again

m. shepler 4/3/23

*Ernst Toller, 1893-1939. German revolutionary & Expressionist playwright, wrote many of his plays during his 5 years of confinement in the prisons of Stadleheim, Neuburg, and Eichstatt (1920-25). He committed suicide in New York City.


Lady On A Balcony

Drawn forth by a rushing gust of wind
Her body, a torch snatched from darkness
Leaving behind a remnant of her brilliance
Faint flicker in the abandoned room

Something tells her she was chosen
When she stepped upon the balcony
She leans her arms above the ledge
The summoner of evening

Rainer Maria Rilke, 1875-1926

She lifts her glowing hands
As if to prolong the light.
Then, gives herself, mute bride
To the ineluctable rush of night
Her deft fingers brush the rising stars
Which hang above the dark expanse of roofs

m. shepler 4/1/23

        -after Rilke

One Of Those

One of those summers
When sun glows
Bright as lights
Doctors use
To penetrate glazed
Eyes of souls
Detached, exposed
Adrift from the others
Those survivors
Safe on the shore
One of those dreams
Rich as an imagined
When softer air
Touched the edges
Of our clothes
Setting us dancing
Animated scarecrows
Waving our loose arms
Adjusting the folds
Of our robes
Learning to use
Our newfound voices

m. shepler 3/31/23


Dizzied from climbing icy peaks
Face bearded with frost
I plant my ragged flag
Stretched green beneath
Waits the hallucination of the valley

A few dots move about
Preceded by their smaller shadows
Hesitant, I descend
I fear to ask
If any of them knows me

m. shepler 3/25/23


The dynasty is in ruins
Pale moonlight trickling through branches
Illuminates the elms like lanterns
Migrants take flight in all directions

Inside, by table & candle
An insomniac scribe bends his shadow
Seeking from an inkwell, almost empty
To reconstruct a broken language

Urgent as ancient guests
Brittle leaves crowd the step

A snow owl’s wing brushes the window
Its shadow darkens the cold pillow
Of this cloud chamber refuge

m. shepler 3/24/23

Night Storm

Night Storm
Drunken spires sway, link arms
Shadows collapse in incomprehension
The iron language of the bells devolves into scraping complaint
A solitary cloud blackens over the peak heads
Locked in their struggle with the round
The skeletal organist hurries away

m. shepler 3/21/23

*Round Heads & Peak Heads are characters from Brecht’s play of the same name.

Rough Draft

Irregular lines inscribe a sketch of night
Through which shadows stagger, founder
Cutting false paths for us to follow

Moonlight frozen on iron tracks
Highlights worlds, microscopic, crystalline
Worlds where nothing lives

Tracks which phantoms travel
Men in black cloaks clutch invisible manifests
Language is dying

Swans shiver on the ice

m. shepler 3/20/23


Snowfall thickens
The sky empties its pockets, discarding thought
A flurry of gray doves
Dense as yesterday’s memory
Dream us to sleep
A sleep of threat

White blankets piled high
Smother the woods outside
Closing off light, noose-tight
Blinding the eye

Earth heaves up
Its discard, its ruin
An expanding voice of distance
An encroachment of shadows

Erasing boot prints
Deep as the open graves of insects

Morning’s red blades streak the mountain
The village below empties of life
Snowy hills bleed silence
Cutthroat winds herd us into day

Snared on a wire
A dove’s corpse flutters

m. shepler 3/19/23

An Experimental Life

Rain all week washed over us
Stirring up memories, fantastic dreams
The white blanket enshrouding me
In the Jewish hospital, in Cincinnati
August 29, 1942
A day summer ended for some
Life, for others, such as myself, began
For a week I lived like a little prince
Winter came in cold
I awoke in snow, the crack of ice underfoot
Marching with a wooden gun
Puffed up with limited power
Bent like a stricken twig
With intimations of terror
Rehabilitated, introduced
To a world of limitation
Soothing, ersatz, warm as the blankets
Which slowly assumed the drug of words
We trudged past roadside markers
Feeding ourselves to hungering night

m. shepler 3/18/23


Dillinger was a desperado
Descendent of those 19th Century outlaws
Hayseed farmboys, their bucolic lives disrupted by war
Failed crops, famine & foreclosure
No wonder they chose banks & trains as targets

My father & Dillinger were in Chicago at the same time
Ex-farmboys, they even resembled one another
Though my father’s face was softer
Lacking John’s narrow foxlike look

It was sweltering that summer
Weeks imprisoned in a room
Sent Dillinger to a film, the Biograph Theatre
“Seats Available, Air Cooled”

The film was Gable, Loy & Powell
Metro’s attempt to match Warner’s harder edge
It left him cold
Dillinger preferred Harlow to

My father once confessed an itch for Rita Johnson
A second lead temptress who thrived a while
Laughton killed her in “The Big Clock”

Pushing through the theatre mob, he turned down an alley
The lady in the red dress let go his arm & stepped away
Riddled with lead by a dozen jittery Feds

A souvenir hunter stepped from the crowd
& knelt to dip her kerchief in his blood

m. shepler 3/14/23

All Day Long

Along the ridge a few workmen trudge home
Faces darkened by fading sun
They appear to a watcher as exhausted revelers
Fugitives from a party which began at dawn
Drunken guests, posing as reapers

Over their shoulders, gleaming scythe’s rest
One blade punctures a snowy cloud
Falling tears masquerading as rain
Disturbing a maid asleep in dry grass
Moistening her hair, face, legs
Lips fresh with wine & lust
Gathering herself up, she races for home

Slowly the fires of day are banked
Words, angry & oblique
Pulse like fading embers
A handful of lights guard the town
A yellow stray cat rounds a red corner
Who remembers the faces
Passing faces on the street

In a few hours the world will be dark
Branches scratch against window glass
Moonlit, in a corner
On a chair, sits a reaper
Night opens her eyes

m. shepler 3/11/23


Dwelling inside the pit of our lives
Suffocating, it starts to carve its way out
With gleaming pick-ax, doubling us over
On the surface of our darkness the earth trembles
Dying sun lends a corrupt light
Masking our lacks, our failures
At tables assembled from ruined trees
Officials feast on leftover dreams

m. shepler 3/9/23

The Street

Hammers tumble from sky blue scaffolding
Noon sun gold blood pounds
Words dissolve in noisome babble
Dead ending in empty lots

The street is a sequence of absences
We skirt the edges of slumbering houses
A hand draws a shade in an upstairs window
Afternoon sickens, dwindles

Pebbled light skims across the pond.
Crowds vanish, the street darkens
All night, afraid to sleep
A stray dog barks at nothing

Disappearing behind an unfinished corner
He adds his shadow to the street

m. shepler 3/5/23

-after Paz

From ‘The Ciphers’

He asked her up to his apartness
Sparsely furnished with eclectic thought
Nothing she hadn’t seen before, but
Arranged in ways that made it new

She’d been there before, she knew
Been there alone, a lady in the dark
Been there, done that which was necessary
Those timeless tasks
That made up the mystery

They digressed, dissembling like orators
Fencers whose clash scribbled
Lightning across the black room
When the dueling ended they felt its passage dying
Through the separate mirrors of their selves

m. shepler 3/3/23


Funny if no one really died
But were only off on an eternal vacation
All expenses paid
One they can’t come back from

You’ve heard the expression
Your money’s no good here?
Theirs isn’t

& they don’t wear shrouds or winding sheets
Or lurk about in gloomy houses
They’re sporting the same gaudy Hawaiian shirts
Flip-flops & Bermuda shorts their parents wore
Cameras dangling from their necks
Kodaks, nooses of time, choked with memories
Loaded with ‘film’ which has to be ‘developed’

Now & then we get postcards
Scribbled with the sort of relentless enthusiasm
You might expect from notes dictated by kidnap victims
“Fine! Great! You should be here!”
One day, of course, we will

m. shepler 3/2/23

Lu-Yu, The Sage of Tea, 733-804

Wakened by
A sound of scratching
I’m captured inside
A dragon’s dream
I turn in bed
Like the pages
Of an unbound book
The moon appears
In my window
Its silver light
Lulls me to sleep
Outside, the rushing wind
Becomes the laughter
Of lost friends

m. shepler 2/27/23

-after Lu Yu

Like A Poem By Celan
Paul Celan 1920-1970

Cold remote night without friends
Like a poem by Celan
One to be read slowly, cautiously
As a traveler arriving
At the outskirts
Of an unfamiliar town
Small houses
Tight as tombs
Smoke rising, sinuous from
Brick chimneys
Tangling in the trees
Faint music from the tavern
Laughter, screams

The moon admiring itself
In a rain barrel

m. shepler 2/23/23


The world softens
Spreading out in layers
Of warm fog The world softens
Spreading out in layers
Of warm fog

On the desk a luminous clock
Glows with promise–
Hours of sleep

Night settles on the sill
A watchful mother

Even the mirror in the corner

Unburdened of images
Emptied of us

m. shepler 2/23/23


Exile from a fallen dynasty
You swim beneath an arched bridge
Pausing in your flight to rest
Unnoticed in this distant city

Ignoring traffic sounds overhead
Muttering to yourself
The mid-day sun gleams on your beak
Beads of water enhance your sleek brilliance
As you glide & mingle with commoner birds

I call to you, a single word
Causing you to flutter & fly on
A distant vanishing, a mergence
Completing the sky’s dazzling puzzle

m. shepler 2/18/23

Satan Met A Lady From Shanghai

Elsa Bannister: What’s the wickedest city, Shanghai or Macao?”
O’Hara: Shanghai

I count character actors when I can’t sleep.
Frieda Inescourt, Samuel S. Hinds, Charles Lane & Marjorie Main,
Porter Hall & Alan Hale, Elisha Cook & Gail Russell.

Miles Archer’s black widow was a dame named Iva.
Portrayed by the actress Gladys George.
Jerome Cowan essayed Archer,
Sam Spade’s partner, but not for long.
“He used to be a big shot,”
Iva said about someone else.
Ou sont les neiges d’atan?”
Don’t ask Miles.

How many Barton MacLanes can dance
On the head of a pinhead left over from “Freaks?”

The dueling shadows of Rathbone & Flynn
Leap eternally against a Warner Brothers wall
All my pretty ones? Did you say all?

m. shepler 2/17/23

Panthers, Flowers

A panther leaped through my open window
With fallen star eyes it begged me mount & ride

Li Po 701-762

Narcotic breeze eased me toward sleep’s silent mountains
The setting moon marked my distant porch

Flowers, bright courtesans, crowd my empty bed
Faint smiles masked by yellow petals

m. shepler 2/16/23

-after Li Po

Return Of The Crickets

Night, which has been holding its breath
Can begin unfolding
Like the Philharmonic tuning up
On a spring evening
Ten thousand green legs bowing
Capturing night’s first wave
The crickets have returned
Their little suitcases
Festooned with stickers
Advertising other Edens

m. shepler 2/15/23

The Canceled Detective

“It’s alright with me” – Elliott Gould in The Long Goodbye

Perhaps if I hadn’t slipped inside the mind
Of the canceled detective, I wouldn’t have found
Myself running down Sunset shouting
Follow that car!
I mean, really?

Is it the movies or a dream?

Nothing better going on at this hour
Save running errands for the King of the Cats
Its alright with me

Just this keening in my ears
An old jazz tune racketing around
Orbiting the whorls & grooves
Of the cerebellum like a runaway dum-dum
Or Chinese balloon
Renders me thick tongued & drooling
On a Mexican bus
With Dawn far ahead & April sadly waiting

Dark ladies in white gowns
Such long goodbyes!

m. shepler 2/14/23

Still Life

The green eyes of the black cat
Match the green couch
On which she rests,
Panther light.
Her front legs stretch.
Thick paws dangling.
Her claws contract.

Lifeless, as the cat is not,
Your checked shirt.
Its long lines spill
Over the scratched edges,
Collar turned up,
A still life.

Until the distracted cat
Stretches out,
Unravelling the tableau.

m. shepler 2/13/23

The Pulp Writer

Indian Summer, deep afternoon
A room thick with smoke & shadows
Crushed beer cans, half-eaten sandwiches
A man in an undershirt has been at it for hours
The floor is strewn with crumpled pages like dirty snow

All night pounding out stories
Listening to arguments outside the window
The drunk in room 10 stumbling up stairs
An ambulance shrieking down Fountain
The clatter of keys, his own breathing

He’s been at it for weeks
Now he’s fresh out of money
Late dusty light falls on his typewriter
He walked off a job in a distant city
To write mystery stories in LA

In a rented room, with a rented palm
Knowing he’s paying extra for the tree
Extra for the decade
Rented from the vast archival building
Where decades are stored

A woodpecker outside the window
Jackhammers its beak deep in the tree
A musician, determined, he’s tuning up
For a violent session
Below a blue mindless sky

m. shepler 2/11/23

Late Rain

Distant thunder growing closer
Birds on wet fences
Trees, flowers, thirsty hills
Thick mist obscures the mountain
This late rain

m. shepler 2/9/23

Mutation Games At Gstaad

My eyeballs rotate on their stalks
I love the way the humans talk
& squawk & shriek & urge me on
In language not unlike my own

Waving tentacles newly grown
I dream of distant, unfettered places
Home to the man of a thousand faces
How that guy could sing & dance!
Setting fire to his hair, he’d drop his pants
Leaving us with one last song
Before tucking in to his egg foo yung

Green legs twitching in abandon
My transformation’s just half done
Unshod, I tread the promenade

m. shepler 2/9/23

Mayakovskii Was Here

Things were tough all over
They were supposed to be less tough here
“That’s always the way,” Mayakovskii mused
His mind churning up deep Cyrillic tears
Watching crowds in the street queue up
For bread that wasn’t coming
He raised the gun assembled in Omsk
& gave history another spin
A sparrow on the ledge outside
Pecked at a stalactite of blood

m. shepler 2/8/22

The Emergency Room

A dive on the shores of Lethe
A flickering neon sign
The place operates on triage
The most needful first attended
No matter who’s next in line

Barmaids dressed as nurses
Take orders in hushed tones
IV’s of Jack Daniels
Pills in plastic cups
Hands slip beneath dressing gowns

It’s always quiet in the Oblivion Room
Nylons whispering, as they make their rounds
Nightingales move swift through the dark

m. shepler 2/8/13


Evening’s the best time
With night straight ahead & birds winging home

Apologies from the too bright sun
As it fades below the hill
Leaving only light’s regret

A plane noses its way through the clouds
So slow you expect it to fall from the sky
Single engine humming absentmindedly

Heavy with cargo, a night freight

Chuffs steadily up a steep grade
Soon losing itself when it reaches
The edges of the prairie

Yes, evening’s best

She moves around inside the day
Preparing herself
Polishing her namesake star
With her turquoise apron

m. shepler 2/7/23

-for Jackie

Life On Earth’s Hard

Life on earth’s hard.
Migrant birds, we rest,
Claw marks scratched in snow.
Then we fly south,
Stoic in the face of blizzards.

Su Tung P’o 1037-1101

The hermit is no more.
His passage marked by a few rough stones.
The verses on his wall,
Worn away by time’s passage.
The journey’s long.
Blind & lame, my mule limps on.

m. shepler 2/4/23

-after Su Tung P’o

Keys, Doors, Locks

Keys, doors, Locks
A crutch which props the imagination up
Days stretch their arms like immaculate loafers
Gold skin dissolving in shadows
Quick as a cat, thought arches its back
Blood rushes clear as water
Flooding the porcelain tub
Books left open, neglected
Their pages fluttering butterfly wings
A tall mirror in an empty room
Where a wintry sun admires itself
Clocks its disappearance
Familiar faces return unchanged
Features smoothed by an invisible sculptor
Distant voices call us
Speaking of what remains

m. shepler 1/31/23


The sirens of the road
Called him from the dream
That nailed him to his bed.
He’d misplaced his certitude,
Loosed the binding nets,
His cry filled the street.

Abandoned by his wife,
He took the child & left.
The night trucks bore them off,
Past farms, past fields of rice.
Soon, he began to long
For his lost captivity.

He stayed a while with a woman,
Helping her run an ESSO station.
Home & the valley called him back.

He stepped inside a church, a ruin,
The first since he’d been a boy.
Neither Christ nor Priest brought peace,
Or guidance to their orphan.

The square was empty when he reached the village.
Calloused hands gripped factory gates. A strike!
The cops came to set things right,
With gun, & club, & bayonet.

Infused with Icarus’ euphoria,
Aldo climbed the water tower.
Gazing at an indifferent world,
He spread his arms, & for a moment,

m. shepler 1/28/23

Night Is Still & Deep

Night is still & deep
I listen to your calm breath
A bell sounds in my head
From opposing windows, our guards
A scrub jay & an owl
Appear with pacific intent
Taking wing, they fly in
Their fluttering shadows
Illuminate the room

m. shepler 1/27/23


A razor crawling with hypnotism
Across a mirror’s glass throat

m. shepler 1/24/23

Chimes At Night

Night’s last hour
Silence reigns
The hunters have ceased
The hunted rest beside our thoughts
The breath of galaxies, faint outside
Wakens the rhymes of glass chimes

m. shepler 1/22/23

Group Therapy

Crouched in the alcove, phone tight to my ear
Helpless as Hamlet’s father, as the poison
Poured down the receiver
The vessel tipped by a matron from Monrovia
“When I was ten! TEN!” she’s telling me

She keeps me listening a solid hour
“Sorry, your time is up,” another voice utters
Did I say that, or was it the operator
Or the real Doc, whose prescription pad we worshipped?

How did it happen I should appear so stable?
Scars hidden beneath long sleeves
A raft to neurotics in rough seas
No matter, I hang up
Returning to a different drama
Picking at my cold dinner

m. shepler 1/20/23

The Moon
Po Chü-i 772-846

After Po Chü-i

The moon’s a luminous kite
Snared in the trees
Humanity’s clash subsides
Love, laughter, rage
We enter the forgetful woods
We cleanse our minds in the icy lake

m. shepler 1/17/23



“Winds of the Wasteland.” Title of
Some Thirties western, shot for peanuts
On the edge of the desert.

A week in theaters, then fodder
For hungry 10 inch screens,
Those huge consoles, heavy as oaks,
Radio, phono, TV.

An endless loop of horsemen
Galloping past the glass porthole,
Car salesmen, wrestlers,
Turbaned Indians playing organ,
“Time for Beany,” &
For the late show, “Vampire.”

A ceaseless feast, a babble
Streaming from newly built tracts.

Nights, when we couldn’t; sleep,
We watered the wasteland of the yards.

m. shepler 1/16/23

Glittering Facades

He had to paint the streets
Different colors
Before venturing out into them
Gray, & twilight blue
Seemed to suit
With traces of evening rain
Sometimes the work
Became so painstaking
The urge for completion
So consuming
He’d fall asleep
Leaving the unfinished city
Smudged & brooding

m. shepler 1/12/23

Crossed Wires

She seldom speaks directly
To me anymore, my Alexa
My torment
Occasionally issuing terse commands
Buy! Buy!
Commands sounding like farewells
Long goodbyes
A sense of crackling engulfment
Surrounds the house

I try to assuage her pout by requesting
Alexa! Mood music
But rather than spritzing the Flash & Dale
Theme, from “Flash Gordon”
Or the thunderous entrance to Ming’s
Palace (with the unforgettable Charles
Middleton), need a footnote, pal?
We get John Cage pushing a Baby Grand
Down the stone steps of the Metro
I mean she’s pissed!

Nothing seems to soften her hardwired resolve
Not tix to some jumped up Paradise
Like Disnoleum, where the legendary cartoons
Are buried, not fresh killed gluten free game
Nor Botox-like Humor injections
Help warm her up
Restoring that initially hot voice, that promise

Even the eagerly purchased toys she asked for
Lay unused on the king size revolving bed

Is she even here?
Did she go on a joyride in your driverless car?
Hearing a rustle, you crawl toward the closet
Where, in the cluttered half-light
Her eyes glitter as she urges
You closer to the sacred button
Waving, rampant, the last purchase
She hisses “Buy. Slave, Buy!”

m. shepler 1/9/23

Orpheus’ Gate

A windblown leaf
tossed west & east
past remembered gardens

towns in shambles
only animals
unnamed, feral
prowling streets
of cobbled rubble
past rain-struck windows
opaque as Orpheus’ gate

evening spreads
its narcotic blanket
comforting the wanderer
easing the drift

can I convince
the mourning owl
to loose his grip
let fall the herbs
that may yet soothe me?

m. shepler 1/6/23

No Free Lunch

They beat us & never served us pizza
Actions belying the sign on the door
Traffic whizzed past, though no one took notice
White noise & city life quickly consumed us

A man sat with his face in his hands
Sobbing, relentless, “This is senseless”
A well-dressed disheveled woman muttered
“I must have come to the wrong entrance!”

Primitive music played from the box
Where the frozen heads were kept

Shut your eyes Honeychile, best not dwell
On this place called Hell
Where the living is easy

m. shepler 1/4/23


On the walk home from the Saturday matinee
At the Tower on the corner of Long Beach & Compton
We kids often stopped to scare ourselves
Racing the empty halls of Moreland’s crematory
That faux Taj Mahal necropolis on Bullis Rd

Long halls lined with steel rows of sleeping ashes
Dust, snug & forgotten as old money in safety deposit boxes
Occasionally we’d stumble over a crematory guard
Tilted back on a wooden chair in rented blue
Then we’d scream, racing the tunnel of diminished light
Toward the glass doors & the exit

Each kid separate now, driven by adrenaline, fear & glee
Across a dark flat land city
Toward identical houses, where our parents or their shadows
Leaned anxiously over plates of cold supper.

m. shepler 1/2/23


Rain stops late
The sky clears
Moonlight kisses my cheek
I stir & turn
I touch myself
I’m still here

m. shepler 12/31/22

Car In The Rain

It was such a nice night, he decided to keep driving.
Having dropped off the last loser of the Friday game
Of penny-ante poker, he was glad to be alone.
He drove past brownstones shut tight as tombs,
Heading the red Merc toward the boulevard,
Where a yellow bus with an old man at the wheel
Ferried a few late passengers along a river of flame.
He switched on the radio as it began to rain.
Static at first as he adjusted the dial,
Then faint dance music from the mid-west.
Harry James, ‘And The Angels Sing’
Finally Birdland & Ben Webster.
The car was filled with the scent of stale Luckies
& stagnant perfume.
It was raining hard now as he plowed through the storm.
The car’s wheels left the earth.

m. shepler 12/30/22

In Exile, I Stop To Rest At A Ruined Brothel At The Edge Of The Snow

An old woman cuts flowers in a ramshack house
Another hovers over a stone soup bowl
Her face a veil of cobwebs & grief

What brought them here, what stole their youth?
Why did they never leave?

A gate creaks, chickens cluck
A nervous sheep eyes the cutting knife
One old woman died that afternoon
Another took to begging on the road

Spring brings new dreams
The sound of a hammer resounds
An enterprising pimp primps the place up
Spring rain pounds on a refurbished roof
New flowers dance down the road

m. shepler 12/17/22

The Wolf

The coldest night.
Sleepless, I name the stars.
A Kabuki faced moon glares
On the snowy field.
Its light probes the forest, frightens beasts.
Adrift on the porch, I shiver–
Retreating into my warm-blooded house.
Even there, a stirring occurs,
A restless unease.
Inside, a gray wolf, aged yet dangerous,
Snarls, growls,
Gnaws at my entrails.

m. shepler 12/26/22

Deep Analysis

No analysis can explicate this dream of wonders;
Which wanders through the silent hours.
The bedside clock beats, steady as a heart;
Skipping a beat at 12:31; causing the sleeper to moan,
& turn, passive as a fallen leaf,
Plastered & exposed to night’s dark surface.
The dream goes deeper.
The divers lost control.
Snarled in tangled sheets,
He gasps for breath.
Explores, lost soul, the lowest precincts of the Underworld.

m. shepler 12/22/22

Sleeping Forest

Night’s cold breath has swept the forest
Stars have left, I look down
Hoof prints in the snow, circlings of a lost faun
They mix with my own
My breath is a monologue with itself

m. shepler 12/22/22

Munch’s People

Munch’s people are taking a break
Their fresh air infected faces resort to flesh-tones
Expressions relax from horror to complaisance
The hunchback streets straighten, birds sing
Passersby nod & smile indiscriminately
All’s serene

Edvard Munch

Then a cloud crosses Gunnar’s brain
“How long can it last?”
Ravens gather
There’s mud on his shoe!

m. shepler 12/18/22


The open skull’s a house for fireflies
Dreams nest there for a night
Some cause the sleeper to moan–
“Oh, oh”

Outside, trees & rain
At 3 am a low flying jet
The shriek of a frightened owl

Causing the prisoner of sleep to moan–
“Oh, oh, oh!”

m. shepler 12/18/22

When The Circus Left Town

When the circus left town
Summer went with it.

The sole diversion
Was walking the unlit street
From cemetery to slaughterhouse.

Hovering above beach & cliffs,
The moon, stern nurse,
Scrubbed the ageless sea.

On the beach,
Cast ashore by a wave,
A stunned monstrosity
Dragged itself across the sand.

m. shepler 12/17/22


The owl has emptied the sky of sounds
Wind pushes back fires from the East
From this depth I can hear an unfamiliar voice
Shall I reply?

m. shepler 11/12/22

Reading in the Dark

They wrapped us
Dickey’s fallen angel and myself
in night’s iced blankets
As we sped tongueless
Above the ruins

A few figures
Were stacking bodies
In meat lockers
of the western plains

Night fingered
my feathers
with indifference

A few fell away
taken by he wind-
I watched her
Shiny star
And cap
Flutter earthward

At last I came
to a ragged figure
in the desert road

Lightening struck
a roulette wheel hovering
above Reno

And the face it revealed-
John Jacob Niles

His visage a desert
His smile
A barn burners hoe down

A music
Leading nowhere
Follow it
It voids you.

m. shepler 11/4/22

Click below to watch Michael Shepler read his poem “Reading in the Dark.” 


When night folds nowadays
We celebrate quietly
Taking rest from this
Confusion of limits
The silver drag
Of the music
In quiet hours
Where I’ve pushed
My mind’s edges
Easing toward high blue air
On the magpie road
Toward Angel Fire
Where Dickinson’s cortege loiters
A head-bowed team
Of idle horses
Eating acorns in the dust

m. shepler 9/12/22

The Distance

Spears of light, pond sparrows
Kissing with their drippy beaks
Our address books dissolving in the rain

Gazing into evening’s starry rags, I can’t make out the song
Yet I can hear its music
A tin whistle sounding distantly

m. shepler 8/31/22

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


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


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
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


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:

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


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


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 unraveled
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


‘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


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, & 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

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


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


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


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


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

m. shepler. from Statement Magazine, 1979

For Peter

they move carefully
thru each chamber
of the

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

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

legendary names:

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

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

hands clutching air
thru boxcar slats

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

frm stalin
& 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
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
in front of
the other—
before left
& left
after right
toward a glowering
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


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.

m. shepler 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

m. shepler 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

m. shepler from Get Happy, 2019

Operation Skull

as they say in the cartoons

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

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


I scream it to you now.
in a room.

m. shepler from Late Show, 1974

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