Category Archives: Poetry

When the Pendulum Swings

The brief hesitation at the top of the swing

where some things happen

and the swing back

where nothing happens

and the arc between where

some things happen and some things


until the pendulum slowly stops

and the poverty we live through

and the eternity we end in

appears to all of us whether we

want it or don’t

don’t we?


Jack McGuane


A house in a tornado of sound

A spaceship heft with music


Imagine you were hammering

on that house for the first time, hammering

in the basement, on the roof, Thor finding roof

with your hammer, all anti-gravity, finding where

the shingles go, floating loose with your steering wheel ear


Could you imagine if you were

the architect and the carpenter and got

to hold that fucking hammer


What if you were holding

that fucking hammer on your spaceship,

Miles above Earth, banging out the orbit,

inventing the most important work

in the Universe



Christmas Eve Eve

they’re out of egg nog
no holiday drinks tonight
the hipsters are sad


one scary night

off year election
they want their government back
tea bags in the sink


funeral for a young man

so many of those little black
dresses came to your funeral
i don’t think they’d known death
in this way before
i thought about
how many of those cocktail dresses
you must have pillaged
and i couldn’t remember
if it was three
or only two women
whom you’d gotten pregnant
within a few months —
of all the young men
driving their jeeps
through the nineties
you were the most
rocking back and kicking
both feet against the constraints
of this world —
this priest has no conviction
in the dry gravel of his voice
and i have trouble
that you’re folded in the great mother’s wings
until your father tells us
that he asked for a sign
and on the bridge
he found the laminated picture
of the saint who watches over departed souls —
i can’t imagine
you in heaven
where all the spirits
are quiet and well-behaved
i don’t know
where someone who is two hundred
percent alive
when they leave this place;
maybe you’re on your way back
right now
slipping inside the body forming
of a wild colt
getting ready to kick back up
onto your feet again

wendy shaffer

my experience as a teacher

when i was in graduate school, i taught
the short story. once, while my best student
and i were drinking at howard’s, a bar
downtown, i told him that ‘who’s afraid
of virginia woolf’ was originally
written about homosexuals.
after that, he raised his hand at the
beginning of each class, entertaining
us with some bogus homosexual
fact. when he told us that bartleby
was a homosexual, i said,
“class, the reason john is giving us
all these homosexual facts
is because I am a homosexual.”
that shut him up. after that class, all
the students that had sat up front with their hands
in the air, participating the fuck
out of every story, moved to the back
and never spoke again. and all the silent
malcontents who’d sat in the back doodling
moved to the front and began to talk.
that’s when i decided that i was better
at being a waitress than a teacher.

wendy shaffer

the second coming

when jesus comes again
she’ll come with gonads
and breasts

she’ll have a tail
in the middle of her back
and will never remove
her shirt in the company
of human beings

her skin will be rich
deep luminous chocolate
that her earth father will love
too strongly
that her earth mother
will spurn

when jesus comes again
she’ll be a bus driver

the chosen people will pull themselves up
onto her bus with chafed palms
and aching feet,
their hamburger weight jiggling to work
beside small round-faced girls with beaded braids
swinging their legs and pressing
their noses against shiny poles

when jesus comes again
she’ll drive to atlantic city
and walk along the night beach in lingerie
no one will see

jesus will know the love
of the dolphins and the city rats
she’ll talk to the pigeons
and bless their struttings
with day old bread
she’ll pray to the saints of masturbation
and she will never desire
to duplicate herself

when the trumpets come
blaring their wide mouths from the clouds
jesus will sigh and step
out of her flesh
the way a beautiful woman lets
a robe fall from her shoulders
as she steps up to the jacuzzi

jesus was not meant for this world
of dolts and assholes
and she never will be

wendy shaffer

xmas, 2002

latin tyrant sleeps in his christmas recliner
where the baddayatwork no longer punishes
his brood multiplied on the wrapping paper floor
gabriella’s ancient elfin spirit smiles
mischief from green pez lips
she dances as her mother sings
she dances to the chiming clock
oldsoul laughing in her queensized childbody
dancing sparkling red shoes,
the women in the room chant
there’s no place like home
there’s no place like home

every pagan blizzard of toys
it’s the grand mother whose warmth opens
the room into love where adolescent cousins
practice care on babies growing into white shirt & ties
the awkward plaid school pretending mommy evolves
plump with the promise of lipstick sex
the promise of more babies
more barbie doll holidays
spawned from old tyrant seed
engendered in the flesh welcoming
ubiquitous warmth
of the traditional powerless woman
her only strength is love
her only strength is love
it heats up this christmas
as midnight mass bells ring hell’s flaking squall into town

wendy shaffer

i see your hand on the counter

i see your hand on the counter
beside me and i know i can’t touch
your hand i only allow my eyes
to linger moments on your fingers, soft
and white, the shape
of my thwarted longing

i look into your eyes
the irises rimmed in black
i sink into the amber
where i don’t want to be
losing myself
and then i talk

i don’t want to want you
if you don’t want me

i don’t want to listen for your
yes like a flat white stone
dropping into the silence
i don’t want to luxuriate
in the ripples around your simple
yes for me yes affirming everything that is
or lean back into the nothing
as it all slides by i don’t

and then the phone rings
it’s your voice
your voice with no presumption
or expectation i can’t
say no
just follow
the places your voice leads
i don’t know what
this is i don’t call
it love

wendy shaffer


we sat on a bench in the night
behind regulation lit condos
the glimmer of lake past trees
the rigged random lights
of civilization packaged & planted
in simple repetitive

this was as close
as i could be
to ecstasy —
where you refused
to make friends
with the trees,
knowing you’d eventually leave them.
this ecstasy
where the fireflies
surprised you
with the tiny flickering
lights that are summer
in ohio

once, in akron,
on a small square of grass
a romance of fireflies
lit my young poet love and me
under the balmy moon

but i was an asshole
and refused to love
each flickering part of him
the way i couldn’t help
loving you

you were telling me
what the trees would whisper,
the secrets they told you —
to me,
they only explained
the rhythm of life
and now that you’re gone
they won’t even do that.

now that you’re gone,
i’ve made friends with the air conditioner,
my car,
and some mystery novels.
i get my rhythm from the clocks —
one of them fast
and one of them slow.
somewhere in between
is real time.
real time is the place where we loved —
short & incandescent
as the life of a firefly.

wendy shaffer