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G A R Y  S H O R T

6 poems


I will die in Reno or Quetzaltenango in the rain on
A Tuesday or in the sunlight on a Friday or Monday, or...

We say the moon is half-full, not half-empty.
We say this even as it wanes.

In a book you’ve not yet read, there are words waiting
For you. Words that will strike home, written for you.

When my brother Luke died, I phoned our grandmother
& said, Luke is gone. And she said, Where’d he go?

It’s not true that we are strongest in the places
Where we’ve been broken, but I believe it.


In a small cemetery in Tula, Mississippi, is a tombstone
Inscribed Called Back & another marker inscribed Called Forth.

I’m reading an article which says Jobs’ last words were Oh wow, oh wow,
Oh wow
, & I misread it as the Biblical & suffering Job, & not Steve Jobs.

Sometimes, even as it is happening, I am already
Feeling nostalgic for the moment.

Stars as bright as the daisy decals we attached
To Herschel Bernardi’s pale blue VW microbus, 1972.

The question is not so much if the dead communicate with
The living, but if the living communicate with the living.


Sometimes at night, my grandmother would struggle from her chair
& say, I’m going outside to look up at the consolations.

Henri Michaux proclaimed, “A writer to be a writer needs
At least three readers.” If you are reading this, I need only two more.

The silence of the living poet Laura Jensen these past 30 years
Is even quieter than the silence of the dead poet Frank Stanford.

Some days the glass is half-empty. Some days the glass
Is half-full. Seems to depend upon the day, not the glass.

Two small stones on my desk. One from Dickinson’s grave & one from
Beneath the tree where Lorca was killed. I no longer know which is which.


The time-travel seminar will be meeting
In Bondurant Hall, room 211 on Tuesday, three years ago.

Wallace Stevens said he had to finally make up his mind
About God, before God made up His mind about him.

Time makes my head spin. My five-year-old dog is 35 in dog years,
Two in Martian years, but 16 in Martian dog years.

Do couples have more sex after attending
A wedding or after leaving a funeral service?

I’ve been watching a solitary cardinal. His song isn’t pretty
& he shits at random. No wonder he’s single.


I had traveled far before I noticed the sign:
Nearest Exit May Be Behind You.

It was supposed to be, he said, a tattoo of a snake fighting
A mongoose. A wild Vegas night; he never returned for the snake.

I arrived, not at a conclusion, but in Sacramento.
For Lent, I’ve given up mentioning James Franco.

The rich are different than you & me.
They have more money; they have more leg room.

The clock face has pictures of birds: the time is now
More than half-past a cardinal, almost quarter to a finch.


We spend more time imagining
What it’s like to be rich than what it’s like to be poor.

We all have our comb-overs = the bald & vulnerable
Places we try to hide or cover-up. But Trump! WTF?

The white moth, wings spread on the pale blue door, reminds me
Of the small cross placed on Wallace Stevens’ hospital pillow.

If you could be granted the wish to never know sadness again,
Would you take it? No worries, you’ll never have to make this choice.

My favorite anagram = six letters: e-i-l-n-s-t
Rearranged to form the word silent or the word listen.


The stage is set. Bare interior. Grey light.
Left/right back: two small windows, curtains drawn.

“The execution was poorly executed,” the spokesperson
For the state said. “It was an innocent mistake.”

The news about Aleppo. There are three words you
Should never hear in the same sentence—bombs, rubble, babies.

When I see film footage of another massacre, I always recall
Neruda’s simile = The blood in the street ran like blood in the street.

The weirding wail of an ambulance, lights throbbing, speeds past me
On the highway. Someone is tired or broken. Or breaking.


The best book ever written about a thirteen-year-old was written
By a thirteen-year-old: The Diary of Anne Frank.

Hold hands, hold hands, wrote Emily Dickinson in a letter,
So when the birds begin, none of us will be missing.

The bleached body of a drowned three-year-old on the white Aegean beach.
A drowned four-year-old face down in the sand on the bank of the Rio Grande.

We need to be careful about hate & what it does to us; we don’t want
To be like Dick Cheney looking in the mirror & seeing Saddam Hussein.

The orange butterflies swarming the dead doe looked like
A blossoming bed of wild poppies in the shape of a deer.


I saw a film of a World War II firefight in a cemetery:
Soldiers were ducking behind tombstones for protection.

Along some sections of the Western Front, British & German troops
Would establish morning ceasefires called a Breakfast Truce.

Regarding grief, Stanley Kunitz said, You must wait
& see who you’ll be when it is done with you.

As seen on TV, the bombed-out ward of the children’s hospital
Is nightmarish & unreal = like blood seeping from dolls.

John Lewis writes, We must find a way to lay down the burden
Of hate. For hate is too heavy a burden to bear.


The moment in the argument when you realize you’re wrong.
How many light bulbs does it take to change some people?

Identical twins sitting across from each other in the restaurant;
It looks like a woman having a conversation with herself.

He said that he could quit gambling anytime he wanted to, &
She made a bet with him that he could not.

I am sorry Jenny, if you are reading or listening to this,
But whenever I hear your name I start singing 867-5309.

Did you say you were feeling wistful or wishful?
She brushed a wisp of hair from her face. It's the same thing, she said.


Emily Dickinson wrote 225 poems in 1862 & 1863. Sandy Koufax
Had a comparable hot streak pitching for the Dodgers in the 1960’s.

Good news & bad news. I’m a let’s hear the bad news first person.
No one is at the Help Desk. It sits vacant.

Instead of doing things that make you happy,
Try undoing the things that make you unhappy.

It’s unclear, if before she entered the water, Virginia Woolf
Put many stones in her pockets or one heavy stone.

If you gaze at nothing long enough,
Something will appear.


Wind makes dust, rain makes rust.
Contrary to rust, dust sometimes sleeps.

I don’t read Chinese, but the shadow that the limbs of the lime tree
Cast on the wall seem like the ideograph for “Harmony.”

Pablo Casals, age 93, asked why he still practices three hours
A day, replied “I’m beginning to notice improvement.”

Watching the day & night blend into each other,
The way thought and feeling blur at twilight.

The stars are already there, waiting
For the dark to illuminate them.


I open the book I haven’t yet written
& begin to write on the first blank page.

As when a cardinal inscribes a blue shadow
On new snow as it arrows red from pine to pine.

LiPo at night drinking plum wine & translating
The language of fireflies, crickets & creek frogs.

I have the strange notion that the strangers passing
Through my dreams are actually other dreamers.

Having no stunt-double, I performed this life myself.
“You ́re a poet?” She said, “Say something in poetry to me.”

I walked this path like it's my future, but because
It's a path, it must be someone's past.

Last question of the self interview. Is there something
That you would like to do that you haven’t done?



Once there was a world & we lived in it.

An abacus of starlings on the power lines.

Some lives seem to be officiated by a dishonest referee.

What’s this? Three pink scars scored on the soft inside of her left wrist.

I used to call & talk with my mother every two weeks.

I like words inside words: the love inside glove, the art in heart.

A great liar comes to believe his own lies. Sad.

“Gimmee Shelter” followed by “Little Wing.”

Two friends, my dog, & a poet I cherish have died in the past month.

Does one fall in love or through it?


The hour between 2am & 3am can last all night.

Since my mother died, I talk to her at least once a week.

The dusty moon lifted up like a skull in Hamlet’s hand.

Bad semester at Yale, she said.

Scars are like a diary of pain written on flesh.

The hopeful enterprise of reading seed catalogues in spring.

Stalin feared poets; Putin fears all-girl rock bands.

Life is short, but long enough to outlive most of what we love.

The age inside page & sage, the kin within skin, the ouch in touch.

I remember falling asleep last night, but I don’t recall waking up.

Text Title

Gary Short is the author of three books of poems, including Flying Over Sonny Liston, which won the Western States Book Award. He has received a NEA Fellowship, a Stegner Fellowship at Stanford, a residency at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, three residencies at MacDowell, and a Pushcart Prize. The London-based band Wovoka Gentle take their name from the titles of two of his poems. He makes his home in Panajachel, Guatemala.

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