The Nepotist notes that he's often quick to celebrate a poem's loveliness, its beauty, its grace or even its pulchritude. But none of these adjectives, however, is particularly apt when describing the following two poems by Andrew Shields. Do not mistake me: these are fantastic poems. Andrew's diction is firm and his sense of the poetic line and how to harness its force to pummel a poem towards its inevitable ending is unquestionable. What prevents me from using soft, pretty words to describe these poems is simply the gritty undercurrent of the poems themselves, the non-flinching stare with which they challenge me , the sadnesses they re-enact upon the page. They vacillate (within stanzas, even) between the harrow of a certain kind of truth ("Grandma drowned another litter today") and the agony of an altogether other kind of mystery ("The ants scavenge the burnt-out house"). No, if these poems are 'lovely', it's only in the way a very sharp knife is lovely; in the right light they glint and gleam and it's a fine, stabbing, dangerous point they come to.
UP SHIT CREEK
Somewhere, something's rotten—the stench
is everywhere here, upstream from the weeping willow,
where we used to go after school in fourth grade
and take turns kissing Johnny Watkins. We'd hide there
where nobody could see us but the dragonflies
and pretend we knew what we were doing.
Afterwards, the boys would take turns
calling him a sissy and beating him up.
God, nobody goes near him now—his nose
is brown as my tan. And the other boys
don't think kissing's for sissies anymore.
We come up here with them; the abandoned jetty
rusts in the current. The water behind it
is always still, the eddy marked only by insects
and fish. What's left of a canoe lies on the shore,
with two broken paddles. There's an anthill
beneath the canoe, and a stream of ants swarms up
the overgrown lawn that once ran smoothly
all the way to the house, perfect for croquet
and garden parties, everybody wearing white,
pretending to be rich. Kids do the drinking here now.
The ants scavenge the burnt-out house.
One room still has a roof; its walls are covered
with names and dates, who loves whom,
scribbled curses; the floor is a maze
of candle wax and cigarette butts,
shards of bottles and shattered windows.
Most nights, there are half a dozen kids,
drinking, smoking—last night was the first time
we were here alone.
Hey, where is he?
Wriggling out of my sleeping bag,
I grab the T-shirt from on top of his—
"Fuck You," it says. Ricky's favorite words.
I squint through the thinning fog and see him
lazily zip up on the shore, spit
into the stream. There's hardly anything
to him, he's all arms and legs and hair,
but he's got a great ass, and last night he proved
he knows what he's doing. He wades slowly back
through the grass, pulling out a cigarette
as he passes the canoe. When he stops
to light up, I step out, in T-shirt and underwear,
my hair tangled, my eyes scrunched up
against the sun low over the trees behind him,
nose wrinkled against that smell. "What time is it?"
Taking a good drag, he checks his watch.
"Time to go." I walk the last few steps
to where he's standing, and slip the cigarette
from between his fingers. Lifting up my face
to his, I give him a lingering kiss, then take
my own drag, surround myself with smoke.
"We're gonna be in trouble," he adds. "Well," I drawl,
"no reason to go then, unless you're hungry."
I take him by the hand, head back to the house,
going back to where we were the night before.
COCK AND BULL
Grandma drowned another litter today;
she always seems to do that when I'm here.
When I was little, I'd get upset
when the mother started mewing and mewing,
looking around for her kittens, but now I know
she'll have forgotten it all by tomorrow.
She'll stretch out in the sun and sleep
until it's time to eat, then sleep again—
if this stupid rain has stopped.
If I weren't stuck here on the farm,
grounded for staying out all night with Ricky,
if I were back home and the sun was shining,
I'd lie beside the Hicks's swimming pool
and take off my swimsuit top to catch some rays,
and then when Ricky'd kiss me, his tongue
would be in my mouth, and his hands,
cold with the water he'd just been swimming in,
would make my skin shiver and burn.
Nothing to do but listen to the radio—
nothing on but shit my parents like,
country folkie stuff. Some guy's whining
about a rooster crowing—he's gonna leave,
and maybe it's better, some stupid crap like that.
I'd leave if I had anywhere to go.
"Don't think twice," the whiner sings to me.
"It'll give you time to think," Dad said.
Well, Dad: at least we used a condom; you
knocked Mom up when she was seventeen.
We woke at six and could have gone home then,
but why go home just to get in trouble?
It's not the same when the farm is punishment.
It's not the same since Grandpa had to sell
the stud bull that brought home all the prizes
from the County Fair. The ribbons are
still hanging on the wall. All he did
was stand in his stall all day and eat and eat.
I'd go look at him whenever I could.
On sunny days, they'd send me out to play,
and Grandpa'd always send me out whenever
other farmers brought their cows around.
As if I'd never heard my parents fuck—
heard the creaking; they never say a thing.
Ricky even asked me if I'd liked it.
And here I am without him, on the farm,
in trouble, thinking fucking twice, three times,
about what I did—and how I'd do it again.
I'd do it again, I'll do it again, goddamn it,
where's Ricky now, I want to do it again.
About the Poet:
Andrew Shields lives in Basel, Switzerland, where he teaches English at the University of Basel. His poems and translations from the German and the English have appeared online and in print in many places over the past dozen years. His band Human Shields plays songs he wrote (and two he wrote with lyrics by A. E. Stallings), as well as a few covers. He also publishes a blog.
On the identity of The Nepotist:
I don't know if I have ever drunk tequila and played Scrabble with the Nepotist, but I suspect it would be fun to do so (although these days I tend to single malts rather than tequila).