Gary Short

Olive Oil, Purple, The Subjunctive Mood

Blue skies for everyone today. We asked the birds
To sing & they sang. But not because we asked.

Walking past a classroom I overhear the professor ask,
“Who wants to be Ophelia?” No one wants to be Ophelia, I think.

The assertion by Czeslaw Milosz that a choice made today
Projects backwards & forwards & changes one’s past actions.

At the airport she blew goodbye kisses & mouthed “I love you”s.
It looked like she was saying, “Olive oil. Olive oil. Olive oil.”

My favorite book never written: Poems by Larry Levis 1998-2018;
Fav book not yet (& maybe never) published, Letters of Lucia Berlin.


Sometimes I look up at the moon & think from there
Planet Earth is the size of an astronaut’s thumbnail.

Z.Z. Top’s Tres Hombres is best heard after three beers
On a vinyl record that’s a little sun-warped.

“May you make love upside down.” This is supposed to be
An Albanian curse. Maybe it gains something in translation.

I went up on the bridge to watch her plane pass over.
That was all I saw; she was inside it. I was what was left.

Trying to decide if the color of the lilacs is
Prince’s purple or Emily Dickinson’s purple.


Please hold me close in November,
Because it’s going to be a cold December.

Thinking of the imperfect past put me in a subjunctive mood;
If you revealed your secrets would your life fall apart?

The 23rd thousand & 116th morning of my life. You can’t count days,
Said Borges, the way you count dollars. Every day is different.

She interrupts him & says, “What are we not talking about?”
And he says, “We’re not talking about what we don’t talk about…”

On a cold December night the stars are snow that will not
Fall, but will melt away in the morning light.



Traveler, The Supremes, Word by Word

Another mass murder by a wild-eyed
Man with a semi-automatic weapon.

Warm day. I scan the bookshelf. What book to prop up
The window? What book to let in the fresh air?

When I remember that my father named every trout he ever caught,
“Traveler,” feelings toward my old man—that fucker—soften.

If animals are disappearing from your dreams, think about the
Last great auk, passenger pigeon, & Tasmanian tiger.

What do you regret most—that which happened
Or that which never happened?


I love it that when Diana Ross was kicked out of
The Supremes, she was replaced by Cindy Birdsong.

The universe is not on cruise control; it’s speeding up.
Astronomers & NFL quarterbacks tell us this.

My uncle, a WWII vet & lifetime hunter, estimated
That he had killed 12 deer, 3 elk, 400 ducks & one man.

Nine-year-old Lodia says, I will never forget this carrot.
Which echoes a line from Godot. When did she read Beckett?

Walt Whitman wrote, I wanted to be one of The Supremes—
Who did he think he was, Cindy Birdsong?


Like a child learning to read whose finger touches the page
Word by word, so at night I touch her, to hold my place.

Elias Canetti wrote that whenever he wanted to die,
He read the work of suicides & they would die for him.

Late at night I reach for the books on my nightstand—John Berryman,
Virginia Wolfe, Frank Stanford, Sylvia Plath, Deborah Digges, Cesare Pavese.

My grandmother, patron saint of quilts & cookies, is talking about
An “Orphan Well” movie. “Orhan Well, gramma?” “Rosebud,” she says.

Then there’s my grandfather’s advice: keep your tools sharp, keep your dogs
Happy, don’t talk while eating trout, don’t read a murder mystery twice.



Gary Short lives in Panajachel, Guatemala. He is the author of three books of poetry and has received a NEA fellowship, a Stegner fellowship from Stanford, a residency at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and a Pushcart Prize. The London-based band Wovoka Gentle take their name from the titles of two of his poems. He has recent work in American Journal of Poetry, On the Seawall, and Terrain.