Daphnis and Chloe
To soften their mouths they practice kissing
The earth like defectors or popes
Or Raskolnikovs seeking absolutions.
Her face pales like a page
Of deleted sentences.
Her eyes are like wildflower seeds, perfect
For his little catapult.
-- Peter Jay Shippy
from The Antioch Review, Summer 2008, v. 66, no. 3
Note by Judith Hall
The Antioch Review publishes the best available representatives of different aesthetic strategies. Shippy’s poem represents a minimalism that is not shorn of strangeness. Although it devolves as it proceeds and ends in “nothing,” the poem evokes more than its occasion and its titular allusion.
A minimalist poem, if dedicated to simple diction alone or surface effects, may put the reader in mind of Gertrude Stein more than anything -- the Stein who noted, “You don’t know what it is to be bored.” Shippy’s petit love poem, au contraire, is as complicated as it is delicate. Are the lover’s face and her eyes “perfect / [f]or” him, but more so as deletions occur?
The poem benefits from the page: perfect for a letterpress broadside or else lit – “from within”!? – and projected on a washed museum wall.