Fog of Tongues

                                      Once upon a time
                                                          words were beasts.
They stalked the things they named
until they became those things.

                                                    Fog
                                                             stumbled behind.

We lived and died in the direction of words—
a religion of everything unsaid.
                                    Not an image named.
Only sun and shadow—
that violent blur
                                    between
moon waxing gibbous               moon waning crescent.

Growing up I flung myself
toward the words
that fell slurring from my father’s mouth—
                                                                     fished them
from the darkest slits
of our secondhand couch like lost coins.

I flung myself
                         toward and around and onto and inside.

His words were beasts—
                 claws and teeth          dripping fur
            scared and shaking         so desperate

to cling to some freedom of expression
suitable to name his misery              an ancestral strain
mapped out in his blood.

Something like God                         or something like
the thing without the word
for the thing.

                Maybe a single moment that had never been
lit at the edges by his past—curled up by that violence
                                                                         of words

                                                        is what he craved—
                                is what he tried to carve out of me.

Not the familiar strangeness of memory. Not
the mud it’s made from. Not a mother murdered
or a deranged uncle                                         to blame.

Not always his absent father. Not so often in jail.
Not
the streaked glass where the brick propped open
the window
                                           before it attempted to name
                                                                        all things.
One brick
the moment of its fall a mist
                                                     over everything after
that can ever be said—red brume—the blood
the uncle toed into the carpet like a bored boy

                                 before he said the words
                       your mother is going to be fine.

Before he hauled her dying where pines hem the river
                    always midsentence
                    just off highway 107.

If my father could wage such a war with words—
if he could stalk them circle them move toward
                          and around and onto and inside—
if he could lose
                           I can whisper whatever prayer
                                                                             this is.

I can reshape words like a beast sighing.
                                                                Name nothing
                                                      a bloodstained brick
falling from dead hands.
                                                              I can leap
toward and around and onto and inside.

 

 

 

 

Christopher Shipman’s recent work appears or is forthcoming in Denver Quarterly, Iron Horse Literary Review, Fence, Poetry, and elsewhere. His experimental play Metaphysique D’ Ephemera has been staged at four universities. Getting Away with Everything (Unlikely Books, 2021), co-authored with Vincent Cellucci, is his most recent collection. He lives in Greensboro, NC, where he teaches literature and creative writing at New Garden Friends School and plays drums in The Goodbye Horses.