Today's poetry for today's world

Jim Shugrue


Jim Shugrue is the author of two chapbooks: Small Things Screaming (26 Books), a finalist for the Oregon Book Award, and Icewater (Trask House Books, 1997).  His work has been recognized by the Oregon Arts Commission with a poetry fellowship and by the (New York) Open Voice Award.  He is married to the poet, scholar, and teacher, Lisa Steinman with whom he co-edits Hubbub.  Born in Chicago, Shugrue lives in Portland, Oregon.










We sat in the car,

in the alley behind where we lived,

shivering as the heater did its best

against the Chicago winter

and the torn convertible top.

I tried to convince you

that I really liked the book

you’d bought me in your drunkenness and need

to reach the stranger, growing out from

under you.  A book about cowboys.

“If  it’s too young for you, I’ll take it back,”

you said.  I shrugged an answer, afraid

at your sudden vulnerability,

afraid of the hurt my silence

called up in a face that had gone

the distance with the world.

I read that book a thousand times, and couldn’t

tell you.  Where was it lost?

I’d go there now,

down the maps of all those cattle trails;

learn by heart the language

of symbols seared in living flesh

that tell what belongs

to whom, and where.




"Brands" was first published in Calapooya Collage.   







We have no form of intimate address

            as others do

though the Quakers try

to consider everyone a Friend,


and maybe that’s the answer

            a formal informality that treats

            us all alike and dear, yet still

I’d like sometimes a term to hold


you closer, a gesture of inclusion there

            each time we opened to each other,

            mouth wise, body wise, enough

to overflow and take in everyone we know


close enough to call by their real name

            a way of saying “you” that lets us say

            not “you” as in “hey you,” or as in “you

must, you will, you should,” but only you, dear you.




"Tu" was printed as a broadside in conjunction with a reading

in the Aubrey R. Watzek Library Poetry Series at Lewis and Clark College. 




On A Photograph of a Severed Hand




What is the sound of one hand

lying in the middle of a road

waving good-bye to its lost body?


How has it come this far from a hand

to mouth existence?  How did it earn

its crust of callus?  Is this


the right hand or the left?  I cannot

tell.  This is a photograph of a hand;

they could print it either way.


I’ve never seen a hand, alone,

open and empty in the middle

of a road, and pray to the god


they tell me has us all

in his good hands never to see one.

I know what history is.  Our hand-


me-down bodies are mostly water,

and we spend them in tears and sweat.

Here is my hand.  Take it,


and give me yours, while we

are still attached.




"On a Photograph of a Severed Hand" was first published in Fine Madness.




Writer’s Tip: I read somewhere once that, “The first draft is a calculated

self deception.”  Get the block down on the page then chip away at it. 



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