Five Poems by Ray Shea


Compulsion / Shame / The Infinite


  1. Compulsion


It was a boundary

crossed and recrossed

until it was just a habit.


It was the worst thing in the world

until you’d done everything





  1. Shame


The one who looks like Gollum

hovers wide-eyed

and wet in the doorway


the black-light basement shuffle &

party & play &

slip & slide

on spent soldiers


the one who looks

like Gollum works his scaly fingers

trying to get a hand in


silence or acquiescence, a steamed silhouette

of body shame double-wrapped

in a bear size towel but


one more wave-off

from another twink face

and even Gollum starts to look good.


I was once like you, he says

as he reaches under.




III. The Infinite


My God, it’s full of empty

no matter how much death

you spit or swallow

or take lying down.


Think positive no don’t

think positive no don’t think

a little like Vegas oddsmakers


think that they always said they were clean

if they spoke at all and Asian guys,

you know, statistically,

at least you think you read somewhere once


you think preliminary think this is routine

think this is just a sore throat think

this is just another tested-neg to wave

in front of tricks and hookers


but if they close the door

when the timer goes off

you know the blood that drains

from your face is poison.




So much science so close to home

but it still takes three months

for the darkness to reach you.



Sing It For Me



At the Kubrick exhibit

we saw the best

bits of Lolita.


We read the scribbled

script note that all work

and no play makes

Jack a dull boy.


We saw Dave Bowman

unscrew the covers

from Hal’s memory bank.


Stop will you.


That’ll be me

pulling the plug

on your grandpa

one of these days.


I’ve talked about doing it

so many times

I’ve talked it into

a tidy abstraction.


It’s just a thing

I’ll do some day,

a bland fact of life

like trading in my car

or getting a new tattoo.


                                                                        I’m afraid, Dave.


This takes too long.

He shouldn’t have time

to be afraid.

It should be like

flipping a switch.


My mind is going.
I can feel it.


I’ve read

that the shutdown

of the dying body

is like taking a big ship

out of commission.


The engines spin down,

great boilers blow off steam,

parts cool and

creak and



Pumps click off,


then the next,

then the next.


Heating systems

dwindle and fade,


blinker out.


Everything in

its proper order,

in its own time,

til all that is left

is the captain

on the bridge


pausing once more

to gaze down

the length of

the dark main

deck before putting

on his cap

and departing.


He taught me to sing a song.
If you’d like to hear it I can sing it for you.


I’d like to hear it, Hal.


Sing it for me.



Marching in Circles


So I was in AA in France.

We marched around in circles.

Just marching, marching, marching

was all we could do because


the French, they have wine

and they’re giving it away.

They give away cabernet. In bottles.

So all we could do was march, march,


march around in circles, to try

to stay away from the cabernet.


It was the most boring fucking

AA meeting I’ve ever been to.


The French are like Louis the Fourteenth,

the Sun King, like Louis the Fifteenth,

Louis the Sixteenth, the French have a lot

of Louies, they have an awful lot


of Louies, they always get a new Louis,

the French. Every few years or so, every

hundred years they get a new Louis.


This is how the French tell time,

because they count off a century

with another Louis. But then they had

the guillotine, which is why the French


can’t string together any sober days

because they don’t know which Louis

they are on any more and only a couple of

Napoleons is not nearly enough.


We marched and we marched but

when I got back to Texas I ended

up six years back on the whiskey


losing my head over

some goddamn woman.




Things I Learned from the Twilight Zone Marathon



That beauty is in the eye

of the beholder

but not the nose.


That poorly translated cookbooks

are unreliable guides

for living.


That when all the meds

you take still don’t let you

shake the feeling

that you’re in an alien zoo

it’s not the pills’ fault.


That if you feel like everybody

in your world has disappeared

they weren’t ever there

to begin with.


That you should never trust anything

that looks like people,

like dolls, like mannequins, like Satan,

like robots, like people.


That you should always trust dogs.


That if you hate

your life and you think

you will never escape,

jump off the train at Willoughby


(unless you’re in Brooklyn on the G

and then you might as well stay on

till Greenpoint).


That no matter how old you are

your friends will always

run off and play

Kick the Can without you

if they get half a chance


but that if someone thinks

bad thoughts about you,

wish them into the cornfield

and they’ll never break your heart again.


That though your dreams will have

their own nightmares, it’s actually not

too bad here, I mean if you look

real close all the kitchen drawers are fake


but there’s plenty of time to read, Shatner

is still looking hale and boyish,

and if you win at pool then you can play it

until the sands of time run out


of your shoes onto the hospital floor.







Thelonious Monk
(film erasure #3)


A sense of a multitudinous

narrative forgotten

destroying this young woman



I’ve misled you. I’ve given

profoundly complicated

testimony under oath.


In therapy surrounded

by a thunderstorm of things

of oceans and vines

my own expectations.


I have a thousand names

like the cats

like Thelonious Monk spinning,

always spinning.




Ray Shea’s writing has appeared in The Rumpus, The Weeklings, Fourteen Hills, Sundog Lit, and elsewhere. A native of Boston and New Orleans, he lives and writes in Austin, Texas.

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