Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
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SHJ Issue 18
Spring 2018


by Vivian Shipley

A plover with a broken wing flops
on the granite outcropping abutting
my seawall. At my computer, I cannot
avoid seeing it if I look out the window.

I can fold the newspaper on slaughters
in Syria, Kenya, faces of children who can
no longer recognize their unveiled mothers
blown into concrete barricades or wedged under

car tires. To blot out this bird, I must lose
my view of Long Island Sound, my beach.
The bird hops, stumbles dragging feathers.
Closing my blind, I block out not only glare

but thought of the plover like the truck driver
in Laredo, South Texas who slammed rear doors
of his 18-wheeler on 73 illegal immigrants who
had crossed the Rio Grande by raft to stash houses.

Late July, 2017, the trucker knew air conditioning
did not work and the four vents were blocked.
On the interstate, sun-flash of semis, the cab cool,
in the back air was stale as a kiln, motion baked

out of it. The “King of Country,” George Strait’s
“All My Exes Live in Texas” on the radio drowned
heels of hands pounding like ball-peen hammers
on the metal wall. No way to torch the doors open.

Stopping at Walmart in San Antonio to relieve
himself, the driver opened trailer doors to pitch
black. Clobbered by light, bodies were birds that
scattered like a pack of cards thrown up into air.

One man lurched out, ran to a customer to beg
for water. Too late to shut doors, the trucker feigned
surprise at the cargo. Ten people dead, those too weak
to stand, did not leave. I open the blind, my bird

is gone. Then, like the human tide from Mexico,
back over the wall of rock it comes. I can pull down
the blind, but now like the trucker, I can’t shut out
the sight. What if the plover won’t go away to die?

Drawn by its cries, my dog leaps, wanting on the beach.
Knowing what he will do, I’m tempted, but I will not
open the gate. I have a heart. I don’t want to believe 
I’m like that driver who shut his truck’s trailer doors.


—Grand Prize Winner ($1,000 cash prize) of the Steve Kowit Poetry Prize 2017, and first published in the San Diego Poetry Annual 2017-18 (Garden Oak Press, February 2018); appears here with permissions from the publisher and the poet


SHJ Issue 18
Spring 2018

Vivian Shipley

is Editor Emeritus of Connecticut Review and Distinguished Professor of creative writing at Southern Connecticut State University, where she was named Faculty Scholar three times. Raised in Kentucky, she holds a PhD from Vanderbilt and is a member of University of Kentucky’s Hall of Distinguished Alumni, the highest honor a graduate can receive. She was awarded the 2014 Hackney Literary Award for National Poetry in 2014, 2010, and 2007.

Two of her 17 published books (including six chapbooks) were released in 2015: The Poet (Louisiana Literature Press: Southeastern Louisiana University [SLU]) and Perennial (Negative Capability Press). The latter was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and named the 2016 Paterson Poetry Prize Finalist. Her ninth book, All of Your Messages Have Been Erased (Louisiana Literature Press, SLU; 2010), was also nominated for a Pulitzer; it was awarded the 2011 Sheila Motton Book Prize from NEPC, The Paterson Award for Sustained Literary Achievement, and the CT Press Club Award for Best Creative Writing, and was a Milt Kessler Poetry Prize and CT Poetry Book Prize Finalist.

Recipient of a CT Arts Grant for Poetry, Shipley frequently gives national and state readings. In 2014-15, she gave the Soyka Humanities Fund Reading at Misericordia University and did workshops and readings at the Univ. of Central Florida, Alabama Writer’s Conclave, Villanova University, MA Poetry Festival, and The Poet’s Voice (Darien, CT). Prior to 2014, she gave readings at West Point (USMA), Sunken Garden Poetry Festival, Univ. of Hartford, Sacred Heart University, SUNY-Binghamton, West Chester University, and Salem State University, among others. She lives in North Haven, Connecticut with her husband, Ed Harris.

Vivian Shipley on Her Life and Her Poems

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury