Gregg Shapiro



You told me it would be easy to get lost
in a city shaped like a fractured diamond.
North and south are just mirages, complicated
by compasses. I never could refold a map
the right way. Landmarks are helpful if

the weather is cooperative. Since it hasn't
stopped raining, I threaten to stand in the middle
of the street, head back, mouth open, and drown.
All I see is black and white. Words on a page,
swimming before my eyes; something magnified

under a microscope. Tourists have never seen
anything so green. Grass that won't die, trees
that refuse to change colors, shed their leaves.
Didn't you notice that block of burned-out
buildings? Look, that used to be the Bible

History Wax Museum. Now it's another gray
area. See those men warming their hands over
a pile of burning newspaper, smoke the color
of ink. When I told you that you'd need eight
arms to hold me, three heads to watch me,

I never imagined you'd chase me with
a dozen legs down this yellow brick road.


My mistake, I guess, trying to convince you
to leave Boston and move to Washington. There
are more men here, I say, eligible bachelors.

Susan shakes her head, violently disagrees.
Disappointment, she says, is a woman's closest
companion. Single women I know are single

because they want to be. I can't hear them crying
into their pillows at night. They aren't the only ones.

Bizzy says the odds are better at Hechinger's Hardware
on Wisconsin Avenue; ten men to every woman.
I wonder how many women know about this or if

there is a network, sworn to secrecy. When word
gets out, they will swarm like bees around the hive,
stinging each other. Once inside, transformed

into spiders spinning webs across the lumber, cable,
tools, nuts and bolts. Salesmen, dazzled by such
a display of beauty, stumble, clumsy as moths.

Michael Gessner
Brown Mars
Rosewood & Wood Construction 14"x11"x 3"
see more work by Michael Gessner



They shoot horse in the window of Roy Rogers'
in Georgetown, don't they? Someone told me
they saw them, poor little rich kids with stiff
mowhawks, bleached hair. Now, I'm stranded
in a Roy's somewhere in Virginia, eating French
fries with Ellen. Ellen, on her second cup

of coffee, worries that the windows of her car
in the parking lot aren't rolled up all the way,
as a storm rages outside. Two tables away,
two men discuss movies. "Godzilla Versus
King Kong" and "The Cowboys" with John
Wayne. "What do I know about cowboys?"

one asks, "I'm from Washington. I only know
about Senators." The other stutters in a drawl,
chain-smokes. Ellen wishes she had a deck
of cards. Wishes she had an umbrella. A man.
She'd settle for a man with a deck of cards,
holding an umbrella. The door opens and

teenage boys with flattops and hickeys, girls
with heavy eye make-up running down their
cheeks come inside for milk shakes, chicken
nuggets. Wet clothes clinging to their bodies
like second skin. I am fidgety, lump in my
throat, as a nicotine fit threatens to make

my hands shake. Sunburned from a weekend
at the beach, I am not thinking straight.
I refuse to ask the amateur film critics if
I can bum a cigarette. I would rather run
through the flooded parking lot to the car
as lightning strikes a telephone pole, sends it
crashing down on me like a hammer and nail.


Planes fly low overhead. We swat
at tiny invisible insects. Unable to
relax, listen to the end-of-summer
air. On a dare, I explore the island

alone. Drawn by bird calls, unseen
footsteps, a song on a portable radio.
The possibility of getting lost,
hypnotic. I have no bread to make

crumbs, no sense of direction, no
matches. My breathing loud, sounds
like speech. A language I have studied,
never grasped. I hum to drown myself

out, to imitate electricity. Twigs, stones,
snap, crackle beneath my feet. Pop
like breakfast cereal. I whistle because
I am afraid, because I hope someone

will hear me. Water scrapes the shore.
I find a familiar path, pick up my pace.
Walk as if I belong, as if I've lived
here all my life.


My next boyfriend won't snore. He'll breathe deep
and easy, restfully. Each lung-filling and emptying
breath, silent as a submarine. He won't have mood
swings, a chemical imbalance or hypoglycemia.

He'll be at ease, as free with expressing himself
as a guy in a Madonna video. My next boyfriend
won't have car trouble or a past. No skeletons, no
closets, no silent brooding moments of inner wrestling.

He won't chew ice cubes, have any addictions or vices.
He won't be tattooed or pierced, scarred or in search
of himself through god. My next boyfriend will arrive
at the dock, a dreamboat, the sturdiest vessel in troubled
waters. My next boyfriend won't be my last.


Entertainment journalist Gregg Shapiro’s interviews and reviews run in a variety of regional GLBT publications and websites. His collection of poems, Protection, was published in January 2008 by Gival Press. His poetry and fiction have appeared in modern words, Bloom, White Crane Journal, Blithe House Quarterly, Mipoesias, and the anthologies Mondo Barbie (St. Martin’s), Unsettling American (Penguin), Sex & Chocolate: Tasty Morsels for Mind and Body (Paycock Press), Reclaiming the Heartland (University of Minnesota Press), and Best Gay Poetry 2008 (Lethe Press). A former DC resident, he currently lives in Chicago with his life-partner Rick Karlin and their dogs, Dusty and k.d.

The poems here are reprinted from Protection, © 2008 by Gregg Shapiro, reprinted with permission from Gival Press. For more information on the book, see:


Published in Volume 10:2, Spring 2009.

Read more by this author:
Gregg Shapiro: DC Places Issue