Alan Shapiro

January 28, 2016 Shapiro Alan



Under the cold light of the chintzy white crown chandelier, I’d lean one upright card against
another to form an A without the cross bar. I called it a room but it looked more like a see-
through teepee or a tunnel shaped like an upside down V, or half of a capital M, which
became a real M when I placed another A beside it. I roofed the M, which steadied it, then
put another M in front of and behind the first one, and roofed them too, card overlapping
card becoming shingles on a stout one story ranch house decorated with red and black
kings, jacks, and queens in the beige prairie of the carpet in the middle of the living room.
The bigger it got, the bigger it could get, the more it needed to be enclosed, darkened,
reinforced against the light that shined so harshly down against it. I wanted to stop there
but by then it wouldn’t let me. There was tension in it that it wanted out of. And the tension
grew, the more the walls were thickened, the royal ones covered up under numbers now
that other numbers covered. Somehow I knew if I didn’t do soon what I didn’t want to, the
house would cave in on itself, leaving the darkened rooms inside it suddenly open again to
the light that hated what was in its way. The house made me its helpless instrument. It was
this high, it said, so it had to be higher. That’s when I learned it was never just one thing. Or
the one thing it was was made of parts that weren’t entirely one with what it was. The first
story now demanded a second, but the second wouldn’t take on the slick surface, kept
slipping as if the roof refused to be a floor; or the floor to stare up at another ceiling. All A’s
split, M’s collapsed. And in the sudden wreckage there was just light on carpet, feeling its
royal way between cards into the carpet’s weave, searching for frays, tears, weaknesses to
dig through into what was under them, and under that.

Alan Shapiro is the author of 13 books of poetry, two memoirs, a novel, a book of critical essays and two translations. His awards include the Kingsley Tufts Award, 2 NEAs, a Guggenheim and a Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Award. His newest book of poems, Life Pig, was published in 2016 along with a book of essays, That Self-Forgetful Perfectly Useless Concentration, both from University of Chicago Press. He is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina.