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Eric Paul Shaffer

Eric Paul Shaffer is author of five books of poetry, including Lahaina Noon; Living at the Monastery, Working in the Kitchen; Portable Planet; RattleSnake Rider and Kindling: Poems from Two Poets. His poetry appears in nearly three hundred local, national and international reviews and in the anthologies The Soul Unearthed, 100 Poets Against the War, and Earth’s Body. Shaffer received the 2002 Elliot Cades Award for Literature, a 2006 Ka Palapala Po'okela Book Award for Lahaina Noon, and the 2009 James M. Vaughan Award for Poetry. Burn & Learn, his first novel, was published by Leaping Dog Press in 2009. He teaches at Honolulu Community College.





Hōkū Grades My Students' Papers

A Telephone





Hōkū Grades My Students' Papers


The crinkle and tatter of paper as she gyres through pages

is her joy in this assignment.  Metaphors don’t move her,


nor does fancy font on a perfumed, pink page. She rolls

on her back among poems, a wriggle of ecstasy sparked

by sun on her upturned belly. It’s fall, classes are begun,


and windows that don’t admit the summer sun are open

to morning light slanting across the table and the words

my students offer the world.  Hōkū sniffs the tidy edges


of blurred sheets, creasing pages as she rubs herself chin

to chest over the lines.  When the branches outside move,


she leaps and spits at the shadows of leaves, and a rasp

of paper is the only voice Hōkū hears in her ruminations

on Emily’s light verse and Steven’s lax and adjectival ode


to his own broken heart. Before I stop her, Hōkū slashes

a villanelle about chickens and another Bishop-spawned


sestina on grandmothers.  But I’m the one who rips in two

the first page of an odd homage to Ginsberg’s "Howl" as I pull

the paper from beneath her manic, green-eyed symposium.


Her circles as she chases her tail over the sun-warmed table

are comic when our little literature flies in all directions,

but soon, she’s asleep in a litter of verse and scattered leaves.


Beneath her chin, she’s bent one corner of a page as perfectly

as a reader who wishes to remember where to begin again.







A Telephone


I hum in your hand, a tune familiar as childhood chants

with rhymes forgotten. My voice is not the one you wish

to hear. What I can tell you is only what anyone knows.


I am the river of the tremendous and the trivial swollen

with stolen debris, a torrent become a trickle littering

the shocked and sodden land as the startled moon stares


from muddy, root-framed pools. The tragedies I tell are

timeless and new, new, new, new, new as the daily blab,


live, local, and late-breaking, with details petty, pointless,

and accurate as an arc of pain. I’m a dark, unplumbed ear,

faceless, with countless tongues recounting endless tales.


I am blameless and empty as a shell slicing a sole strolling

pathless, printed sand, seeking treasure on the tide at dawn.


In repose, I’m a dull monument to silence sunk in shades

concealing nothing. I am the messenger of a thousand


wings and acts and scenes, unscathed in the denouement,

no question remaining, no revelation unmade. Mine is

not my own, yet I carry voices from arrogant origins


through the sky, sun, and stars to ends I cannot imagine

till I speak. I repeat nothing. I translate every syllable


into an exact language cupped in the claws of sparrows

and squirrels, blazing under sun and clouds, whispering

through trees and ice and hands and wind. My words


leave the fingerprint of speech on the ideal. My ring

is eternal. My power is in the line, electric and current.


©2012 Eric Paul Shaffer



Author Links


Lahaina Noon at Leaping Dog Press

'On the Verge of the Usual Mistake': poem by Shaffer at Terrain.org

Poem by Shaffer in Rattle

More by Shaffer in Southword Journal







©2009 Southword Editions
Munster Literature Centre

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