The Post-Graduates

By PETER JAY SHIPPY 

We hung, chiefly, with actresses who read only
the highlighted sections of scripts, we understood,

better not to become too involved in narratives
that might not love us, we derived great pleasure

from that moment when a man trying to lay his hands
on his hat found a fiery bowler on his head,

we worked for an ex-deb, writing Beth March was screwed
like a housecat on dollar bills, at quitting time

she tossed the singles in the air by the fistful,
here’s a flung, a trip, a plump, a train, a mew

for you to keep, her father had made their fortune
selling atomizers of Lenten air before he passed go

without collecting, she taught her chimney swifts
to mimic papa’s voice, singing, O sole mio

you make me happy when skies are gray, we understood,
better not to become too involved in narratives,

after her whistlers blew we’d buy dark drafts
and foment foamy moustaches and umlaut eyes

until the word master expelled our spellings,
on the pavement we’d elevate our ears to catch

counting rounds, prisoners’ voices, we’d follow those
down-in-the-mouths past the red doors and blue houses

to our crash pad near the slammer, a barge-keeper’s
shack by the slack canal, lions, lambs, like a manger

in January, lots of bones and a stranger
that might not love us, we derived great pleasure

from that moment when a man trying to lay his hands
around our hearts croaked, like bullfrog in the lock,

in the spring, when we no longer needed protection
we’d hold hands and skip to the convent to sell

our hair, the sisters’ cold shears made us giggle,
a scouring robot sucked up our curls and straights,

burrs and thorns, novices tied suet to limbs,
here’s a flung, a trip, a plump, a train, a mew

they sang, they fed us figs and Eiswein then pushed us
on the pavement, we’d elevate our ears to catch

the highlighted sections of scripts, we understood
that for the next few weeks we’d touch our skulls

and feel Saturn, haloes of ice, dust, lanolin,
and a golden sheaf hidden in a stack of needles.

Peter Jay Shippy is the author of Thieves’ Latin, Alphaville, and How to Build the Ghost in Your Attic. He has received fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and from the National Endowment for the Arts. His work will be included in The Best American Poetry 2012. Shippy teaches literature and creative writing at Emerson College.

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The Post-Graduates

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