Under the Milky Way

Some stars, brightest early, falter
and fade, while some increase in magnitude
throughout the night. Sometimes
fistfuls of scattered light croon
through my star-spattered sleep; sometimes
the stars are silent. Sometimes the soul loses control
of Plato’s horses swimming viscous air: the sensual,
the beauty merely intellectual. Sometimes
not. Some nights I can see Gemini,
white shadows Gemini leaves. I’m lying
with my hands here in my pants, hard
for you but to no end. I’m rummaging
this rumpled bed where we last fucked
looking for clues to you, a print
of dried semen or an invisible “I love you”
in Vaseline. I wanted to take your picture
as you lay spread open, white briefs bunched at
your ankles, but what can cameras
keep? Your portrait’s burned into my retina
upside-down. Buoyed above the tedium
of the working week’s routine, sometimes
obscured by clouds, it’s a glittering prize
for the swiftest, the fairest, well hung
in the desiring sky. Your body,
I mean. I think of your body
as a museum of careless gestures:
the way you light a cigarette or turn
a sticking doorknob, the way you shake your head
at something you’ve just read. Impulses
chase themselves through a closed circuit,
the expenditure of energy unavailable for work:
I call it desire, or just unsated hunger.
Your body is too far above me to read
by its light: I walked right into two blue eyes
and drowned myself, can’t remember
if you pulled me out. Here I am
washed ashore, your summer skin
sees right through me. I’m leading myself
by the hand again somewhere I’ve been
too many times, I’m floating on mercury
toward you in a tissue-paper boat and you’re
looking away. Here I come.

Reginald Shepherd (1963 – 2008) was born in New York City and raised in tenements and housing projects in the Bronx. He received his B.A. from Bennington College in 1988 and M.F.A. degrees from Brown University and the University of Iowa. In his last year at Iowa, he received the “Discovery” prize from the 92nd Street Y, and his first collection, Some Are Drowning (1994), was chosen by Carolyn Forché for the Associated Writing Programs’ Award in Poetry. His other collections are: Fata Morgana (2007), winner of the Silver Medal of the 2007 Florida Book Awards; Otherhood (2003), a finalist for the 2004 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize; Wrong (1999); and Angel, Interrupted (1996). Marilyn Hacker has described Shepherd as “brilliant and elegiac … a writer always conscious of the shadowy borders where myth and history—his own and Western civilization’s—mingle. Those borders, classical and contemporary, are the true location of Shepherd’s poems, and his newest work crosses and recrosses them, excavates their sites, finds the evidence of the poem at every stratum.” Shepherd died on September 10, 2008.


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