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Matthew Shindell: Three Poems

Jesus and the 12 Opossums | Jealousy Is the Old Horse |
Like My Back Ain't Got No Bone

Jesus and the 12 Opossums

For nearly an entire season they were nothing
but woolly beasts, men and women alike. First it was
his family, and then, with few exceptions, everyone.
A woolly beast hung sheets and towels on the line
in the morning and asked how he slept. On the television,
the evening news and weather report.

He wanted nothing to do with them.
When he went outside after dinner he saw their breath
against the night air they'd romanticized as something
he believed it was not. It is not anything but night air.
"Night air is night air," he said, "the night air is bunk.
Come in off your rockers and you'll see how it is."

Jealousy? Sure. Yes sir. He was sweating so much.
Afraid of the picture in his passport. Had they rented
every ballroom for the New Year? All of South America?

They were on to him. They locked him in his room
for chasing one out of the yard with a shovel. He cried
his eyes out. "It's the principle of the thing," he said.
He told them that the panther was an example of principle:
were it to own a jacket and mittens, and were
the mittens tied to the jacket with yarn, they would hang

from the trees when the panther tried to hide.
They didn't understand. They drove him mad.
"There is a woolly beast at my door," he said, "an ugly
woolly beast at my door who wants me to play
knick-knack on his knee and he is scaring me."
He lived in the hands of beasts then. They dealt with him

in the kindest way. He told them that he might
join the navy or consider matrimony in the spring.
They didn't think that would be necessary.

Jealousy Is the Old Horse

The old sagging one with crooked teeth.
He has, sometimes, an air about him.
He won two races long ago, his name
printed on the green forms. They made
for a handy souvenir. Two races,
two wreaths of roses. Now he pulls
a plow for the man up on the ridge; now,
with the way he stands — sloped —
he cuts the field in the man's idea of earth.
Too old for the plow? He will be kept
inside; he will straighten
the fringe of the rug with his feet.
Ask him. He will tell you
about his brother in the adult movie.
She was beautiful, the young brunette,
the trick photograph. He thinks of her
in the bath, shaving her legs.
When he turned fifty there was a party,
but there haven't been any since
on account of his behavior;
on account of his joke with the punchbowl.

Like My Back Ain't Got No Bone

This day an officer of the law,
troubled by the weight
of something being thrown
in the river, I am turning
into the names of insects.
Danaus chrysippus — the Cyprus
butterfly — I long for someone
to call me Danaus. And when
at five or six a man tells Danaus,
look through the fence
to see your mother coming,
he does. She walks toward
him and away. It's not that
he can't remember why
he's been sleeping in the moss
beneath the fence or why
it makes his vision so gray,
but for how many days?
It puzzles him like the star-badge's
privilege on his chest; his
partner with the Polish name
clipping his toes with his razor.
Danaus taking the razor between
his two lower front teeth.
Splitting his body from there
down into two. The woods
that surround the river are red.
And a key. An old iron key.

Poet's Biography:
  Matthew Shindell is the son of a surgeon and an artist. He has lived in Arizona, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Texas, Iowa, California, and Washington DC. He prefers the desert. He currently lives and writes where the desert meets the ocean in La Jolla, California. Shindell holds two degrees in biology from Arizona State University, both focusing on the social and historical study of science. His work has involved the interplay of 19th Century political movements and concepts of heredity, and more recently the role of traditional geologic exploration and mapping in space-age planetary science on the Moon and Mars. He holds an MFA in poetry from the University of Iowa, and is the author of one chapbook, Were something to happen it would be both funny and interesting, hand printed in limited edition by the Galom Press at the University of Iowa Center for the Book. He also manages the Poetry Postcard Project, which can be seen online at On Sunday afternoons you can tune in online to his weekly poetry radio program, My Vocabulary, on UCSD's KSDT Radio (more information is available at

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