Jeffrey Skinner

Six Beginnings to a Poem for (shah-day)

There’s pretty, & then there’s

Tall stalk empress of cool, cooing
I’ll do you right.

I have never seen her live.
She’s live in situ—

Direct access
Voice, honey the wet husk hardwood,

Back turned to audience, slow shimmy
Down, instrumental break—O, O—;

I shouldn’t be saying this.
This is private.

Her mouth the red plush
Curtain. I theater.

Is this another white guy thing
Like all my things,
Messed up colonizer?
But look you, she has Eve’s eyes—
I must take her to Pitcairn & make her
Eve’s eyes.

The big ideas lap vinegar at her feet.

My daughter wrote a letter
To Russell Crowe, viz.,
                              "I am only
Eight, but have my own room & a basset named Emma
& two rabbits, please wait would you
Wait for me?”
                              Because what better desire
Than the object beyond reason.

If we were a thing,
you would not be a thing.

Stay famous one
To my infamous none, sweet teasing
Distance, pleasure of pleasure

O Eve, I promise never
To burn you,
But to pay & pay & pay & pay & pay & pay
Whatever price you ask.


The Playwright

Lovers clear a shaded place
& men bargain, shotguns cradled.
I must piece together

The evidence that led
To this moment. Others arrive
& seem to know

I am of a different substance,
Without me
No one lifts a finger.

To each I offer my one
being. No, no, they say, we are not one,
our being is our own

They rise, move, steal,
sing. They scream, throw fire,
Break out of the theater.

And Yes, yes—you’re free
To love, or hide, or kill, I whisper
Into their tiny ears.



When your fist is moving forward it is forward only in relation to a face. Which is steady or moves fractionally away from the fist, but too late. The face and fist are parts of the same system. A fighter hunches to hide his head among the shoulders. The head is conning tower and otherwise useless, a target. The fighter would become all shoulder, if possible. Often the head doesn’t even see it coming. See what coming? Right.

You are the fighter, the fist. For now the face is blank, an oval lozenge. It’s for you to fill in. Go on, name that face.

You want to be good. Why? Someone who fed you gave reasons: firstly, it would increase you—the more good ladled on, the more you. People would notice your enlargement and give way as you approached. Secondly, being good in some obscure but praiseworthy manner would help the planet. The unfortunate others; the air, the water. And so in such service, no longer acting for yourself alone, none could assail you. Thirdly, good works may lead to god’s door, where you are meant to knock in fear and trembling. This hierarchy was once reversed: god’s door number one.

Some guys over there still insist the good involves the willingness to engage in combat. But that isn’t good, is it? Blood out of its container is never good. Only, look how fast the tarp is cleaned, the gloves incinerated. What if it’s your daughter, your face?


Jeffrey Skinner is the recipient of a 2014 Guggenheim Fellowship in poetry. His most recent book of poems, Glaciology, won the 2012 Crab Orchard Open Poetry Award, and was published by Southern Indiana University Press. In 2017, Salmon Poetry (Ireland) will publish his New & Selected Poems. He has published five previous collections of poetry, and the “self help/memoir,” The 6.3 Practices of Moderately Successful Poets. In 2015, Skinner was given one of eight American Academy of Arts & Letters Awards, for exceptional accomplishment in writing. Skinner’s poems have appeared in many magazines, including The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Nation, The American Poetry Review, Poetry, FENCE, and The Paris Review. He is President of the Board of Directors, and Editorial Consultant, for Sarabande Books, a literary publishing house he founded with his wife Sarah Gorham.