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When I Whistled to Robert Mitchum, Wintry Beneath

Peter Shippy

In January the ocean
was linguaceous. A ridge of ice
formed the length of the tall,
monocled men of the North Shore
who lined Scortatory Point
at Whistler Beach. White caps
and freezing spray engendered
fat chewing and null chitchat
about the Galaxy. Celestial
teas were poured into titanium
thimbles. Bearing and icy spew
converted their expert hair
into fright wigs—somehow apt
for these men, for these men
were practiced in the practice
of abiogenesis—
the notion that life, sweet life
can come into verve
from nonliving materials
solely for chassé delights.
I stood back, watching, scared stiff
but rapt, hovering between
vowel gradation and a case
of incurable frondeur.
The tremors I felt were mooning
around the daily practice
of being a solitary vagrant,
out of doors and out of luck.
When I whistled to Robert Mitchum,
wintry beneath life’s foul
balls and slim fizz, he howled
like an incorrigible mutt,
like a dallied revolutionist—
a spinner who must pretend
not to perceive the dark witness
behind each pickled gesture.
Frisbee and bacon frisson
would no longer satisfy us.
At the other end of the strand
the retinal painters were wrestling
with their easels. Plein-air breathing
was all the rage with the unbuttoned
class. When I was a boy
in Haddam I lacked the outwit
of ordinary boys.

         MY OLD MAN
All things crack, but it’s graceless
to render a big squawk. Take it
like a New Hampshire steeple
takes the tipple out of stipple.

         I SAID
The plenipotentiaries
accused me of acute pleonasm
and sent me to Montauk Tech
to learn moraine theology.

We accuse you acute pleonasm
and sentence you to Montauk Tech
to learn moraine theology.

The rest, as they say, carried me
here, here where the eyewear shines
like headlights or those meteors
mistaken for stars that led Captains
to new continents and pilgrims
to incubator factories.

That is the lesson of the sea.

     I bite his ear

As the tall, monocled men
of the North Shore renounced
the beach, Robert Mitchum
pulled my chain and I ran.


It was January. The water
was lingua franca and I ran.

Peter Shippy

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