Shep Ranbom


Chagall would have painted us in blue,
floating above the roof tiles as if we knew
how to levitate by instinct. But love needs
these tin steps and oak rails to be freed
from screaming day, its post-its and bothers
which give no rest, not even in bed.  The painter
was not wrong: partners can be scaffold-wings
who help each other rise above nature. But their dreams
fly mostly in the doomed imagination, the un-scheming
lift of spirit that crashes downward in nervous waking.

I crow from the basement, the cock on the ground,
not the bridegroom. I am followed by the sound
of entertainments: streetnoise, football, stickfights
drowning the day’s dull terrors with lights
that flash with injury or defeat. From this low height,
I calm myself, imagining you leaning against the attic railing
to stand straight like a young girl holding the rink boards,
learning to skate. Each glance upward opens a skybeam.
How gracefully you work, storing summer clothes
in racks that reek of cedar. The naked bulb shows
off your shape, the strong Cuprinoled beams and slats,
the mysterious boxes that house your summer things, and
the wildness of your straw hair, the apex of my dwelling.


As serious as James Naismith, he measured
the exact length of the court, and planted a lead pipe
exactly 10 feet above sea level near a natural rise,
setting chalk to mark the endlines before leveling
gravel from the street to the edge of Mom’s phlox.

Like a bandleader, he motioned his sidemen,
telling them when and where to enter and to dig,
then started the electric jackhammers tamping.
As the earth grew flat, he secured the backboard
to the pole, making an ancient white sail,
and unveiled, from the back of his official blue car,
a bag of leather Spaldings, discards from the Y,
telling me, apropos of nothing, “It’s all perfectly legal.”

The fleet was dispersed to Ludlow. Dad climbed
a ladder onto the rooftop to set two floodlights.
Night after night, we lit up the neighborhood, and for years
went inside only when summoned for dinner or to study
 --on our own terms--the rules of Euclid and Hoyle.

Shep Ranbom

Shep Ranbom lives in Washington, DC, and has just completed a collection of poems called The Infinity of Small Places from which these pieces are drawn. Recently published work includes poems in tribute to the late Irish novelist John McGahern, which appear in Leitrim Guardian 2007, and selections from “King Philip’s War,” appearing in Independent Scholar. He is the founder and president of CommunicationWorks, LLC, a national public affairs firm focused on education, social policy, and cultural issues. 



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