Poems by Kurt K. Shinian

Monkey on His Back

There is a man in Minneapolis, Minnesota who walks through the metropolitan area with a live monkey on his back. Local legend has it that he started doing this after his young son passed away.

Maybe tonight I will see you sleeping
in your bed, blanket drawn to your chin,
a red moon coming through your drawn
shades. It’s been two years, John
but you’re never in your bed.

I stand here by your dresser
and remember our last days together,
how the monarch took a ride
on your shoulder for half a block.

It moved its wings like birth.

Every time I smell cinnamon I see you
with a waffle dripping syrup
all over your shirt front.

I’m sorry I yelled at you.

You never did like sleeping in the dark.
It scared you.
I can’t help but wonder
what light you see now,
if any at all.

There’s something about standing
here in your room. I think about
the days you’d take my hand
when we went for ice cream,
how you’d eat it on our stoop.
Do you remember how we’d stand
on the landing and race up five flights?
I’d always rest on the third
and let you pass me.

I miss the way you’d look back at me.

We lost each other, John.
I lost you.

Once we waited for the bus to come
while the snow fell on Christmas Eve.
You were so young,
tired, asleep on my back.
Your breath kept my neck warm.

I kissed you on the forehead
and called you my little monkey.


I saw about thirty of them
in a parking lot by the edge
of the woods
all dressed up
in animal costumes –
roosters, rabbits,
horses, bulls.
From what I’ve been told,
they enter the wilderness
for the night
and fuck each other.

It’s a dog’s day to skin a rabbit,
pull its pelt right off,
to be a frog tongue-whacking
a fly from the center
of a rose’s sweet spot,
a bat caught in too much light,
a pony taking the prize,
a little piggy going to market.

The cat can’t help
but slosh the milk
on his whiskers;
the oyster can’t help
but spit into its wound.
There’s something about
turning a bug upside
down until those legs reach
for a wanting sky,
something about
spraying a porcupine
in the face.

It’s a stupid question to ask,
but why not –
How much wood could
a woodchuck chuck
if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
After all, it can’t
toss a boomerang
right into the roo’s pouch,
it can’t pitch wood
quite like a beaver.

The mouse ate the cheese.
The mouse is in the cat.
The dog swallowed the cat.
The dog is in the horse.
The horse is in the cow.

Somebody must have
swallowed the fly.

Phantom NYC Public Library Pooper

I suppose I’d understand it better
if there was blood in his stool,
a kind of last will and testament,
but he squats real quick,
undetected –
it doesn’t ever matter,
he’ll drop a deuce
just about anywhere in the place.

Maybe he feels so alive afterward.

It must be a little
like speaking
God’s language –
the riddle of tongues.

He’s a Houdini who doesn’t
even need to hold his breath.
It’s some didactic statement,
a coalescing decree.

I hear that he coiled
one in a copy
of Pride and Prejudice,
coiled it like a question mark.

Twice now he’s pooped
in the large print copy
of Joyce’s Ulysses.
He hasn’t bothered
with the paperbacks.

Maybe it’s a demonstration
of sincere thankfulness.
Maybe it’s cathartic,
a perfect syllogism,
some words of woo.

Sometimes the most important
messages are delivered with heat,
with a frustrated grunt or two.

Nobody knows why he does it.
It’s like asking the sky
why it sometimes claps.
It’s a little like trying
to read lips in a noisy room.

I have no idea what
he’s saying.

The Man with Over 100 Keys

I can see him there,
a small boy in a big
Victorian house,
a house full of drawers,
a key to open everything.

I can see him there
finding the right one
to open the tall oak bureau,
the one holding
all of grandma’s handkerchiefs,
the ones that smell of her rouge
and taste of dust.

I can see him there
opening the attic door,
him stepping into
light and color.
There’s no need anymore
to peak through mail-slots,
no need to press
an ear to the walls.

But now he tries to open
the front door of the bread shop
just to get an early morning whiff
of something rising.
The back door to the sacristy
is locked too.
He can hear the choir
practicing a higher scale.

The keys, they seem to open nothing.

The street gutter drains
are what really confounds him.
I don’t know what he expects
to find there.
From what I see,
there isn’t even an eye
to be opened.
He kneels on bent knees
and says softly to himself –
“You won’t fit, will you?”
And his expression –
locked lines of good grief.
Sometimes he’ll try two
keys at once, but nothing
ever budges.

Maybe he’s expecting to find
the paper moon
he once cut out for his mother,
a love letter
written in some girl’s
curly cursive,
all the years in between.
Maybe he sees the wrapped
lollipop some kid dropped,
four fallen leaves
with twelve different angles,
Jesus’s thirty-two lashings,
his father’s frown.

You’ll often see him
outside the YMCA,
too many unlocked
bikes at the rack.
He’ll run his finger
over each serial code
and read
the numbers aloud.
The locks with
rolling numbers,
he doesn’t even
bother with them.

I remember the kids
would ask him
for the time.
With a coconut cream
dry mouth,
he’d run every key
through his fingers,
and after
he’d done it three
or four times,
he’d lean real close
and quiet
and say

“It’s locked.”

Donkey Show

I got really drunk one night
on Tequila and Jell-O shots
and found myself crossing
the border into Mexico –
five Mexicans in my minivan –
just some guys
I got chummy with at the bar.
We headed down a dirt road
behind my high beams,
headed toward a titty bar
all lit up with Christmas
lights and globe glow.

I saw some tits,
even some ‘70s bush too,
but what really caught
my attention was this stout
chick crouched like a wrestler
beneath a donkey.
She had cheeks like a blowfish
stretched out like a 30 gallon
drawstring garbage bag
stuffed with junk –
her mouth made a noise
like steps in squishy
riverbank clay.

I could see she was working
him real hard –
a thick film
on his purple
and pink
nerve endings.

She was pulling the bark
from his trunk,
the ash and the soot.

This is so messed up,
I know,
but we were all holding
our breath
to see
if she’d swallow.

She held tight
the cataract tip
between her teeth.
She didn’t even bother
to spit on her palms –
a real champ she was –
you could tell that
she could crush a beer
can with one hand.

What I enjoyed most
was watching the Jesus
freaks holding their
final judgment
with half erections
and wet panties.

The donkey nibbled
a carrot when he came,
then he took a piss that
seemed to last an eternity.

I wore an uncomfortable smile
that reminded me of the smile
I wore as a young camper
seeing the youngest boy’s
nuts tacked to the bunk bed post –
the time I heard the story
of the Dewey girl,
how she cleaned Mr. Potter’s
wooden leg with the back
of her throat,
how he asked her to lick
his grizzled stubble.

I don’t even know
why I’m telling you this.
None of it
really matters
but as we walked
back to the van,
all we could say was

Mi Jésus dulce
Mi Jésus dulce


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