Vivian Shipley, “A Gift for My Seventieth Birthday”

Barbara Bradley Award, selected by Marjorie Thomsen
Honorable Mention: Vivian Shipley, “A Gift for My Seventieth Birthday”


A Gift for My Seventieth Birthday

The man selling the Sunday New Haven Register
at the State Street ramp could be my oldest son,
drunk, out of work again. If his mother were stopped
by the light next to him as I am on my birthday,
would she also be grateful he is not dead, maybe
buy a paper, tell him to keep the change? Smoking,
door open, elbowing out of a rusted burgundy
Mercury, he leans on his thighs. He does not get up.
His full head of hair brushed back like my father’s,
I can’t stop staring at furrowed cheeks that arrow
my heart back into Appalachian hollers. Orange vest,
his arms are a macramé of faded burns, cuts, welts,
not from barbed fences or baling hay, but overalls sag
with red clay dirt that could have come from suckering
tobacco in Kentucky fields. I picture him walking
Skiff Street probing seams for change in couches left
on the curb. I wish I had clear bags of cans and bottles
I left by Shop Rite for people who need the deposit,
redeeming what they can. He is not my son, I am not
his mother. My light is green; I can drive away.


Vivian Shipley
Connecticut State University Distinguished Professor, Vivian Shipley teaches at Southern Connecticut State University. In 2015, she published two books, The Poet (LaLit Press at Southeastern Louisiana University) and Perennial (Negative Capability Press, Mobile, AL) which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and named the 2016 Paterson Poetry Prize Finalist.