Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

Boy with Flowers

Boy with Flowers

By J. Ely Shipley

My aunt loved me, asked me:
will you be the flower
girl at my wedding? But I'm not
a girl, I argued, and she persuaded me:
you'll get to throw rose petals

onto the aisle, walk before me, both of us
crushing them beneath our feet, my gown
dragging over them. I agreed, I wanted
nothing but chivalry.

At the church, my mother and I
waited in the small room. She brushed
my aunt's hair until the dress arrived.
Isn't it beautiful? And I agreed until they tried
to put me in it. I'd seen my father

and uncle earlier, standing in a circle
of other men, smoke hovering over their heads, a halo,
and their voices kind, quiet, and deep. I told my aunt –
I want to wear a suit like them! She promised

if I wore the dress I could wear anything
I wanted after: army pants, a sheriff
badge, cowboy hat, and pistols. My mother shot her
a look in the mirror where we posed, both of them
angelic in white, and me, not yet dressed,

half naked. Today I wake from another dream
in which I have a beard, no breasts
and am about to go skinny dipping
on a foreign beach with four other men.

I'm afraid to undress, won' take off my shorts
so they grab me, one at each ankle, the other two
by each wrist. I am a starfish hardening,
the sun hovers above, a hot
mirror where I search for my reflection.

I close my eyes. It's too intense. The light
where my lover is tracing her fingertips
around two long incisions in my chest. Each sewn tight
with stitches, each a naked stem, flaring with thorns.

Prairie Schooner, Vol. 79, No. 2 (Summer 2005), pp. 135-136


J. Ely Shipley

Ely Shipley's first book of poems, Boy with Flowers, won the 2007 Barrow Street Press book prize. His new chapbook, On Beards: A Memoir of Passing, is forthcoming this summer from speCt! books. Shipley's poems and essays appear in Willow Springs, Florida Review, Phoebe, Greensboro Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Hayden's Ferry Review, Diagram, Gulf Coast, Barrow Street, Fugue, Third Coast, and others. He is an Assistant Professor of English at Baruch College.

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