Gregg Shapiro

Four poems



"There's a rat in mi kitchen, what am I gonna do"




When Regan MacNeil’s actress mother Chris heard scratching

in the ceiling, she was certain it was rats in the attic. Scurrying

across beams, chewing through plastic-coated wires and drywall,

pissing on insulation. Pregnant with pups and plague. But she was

wrong about the scraping overhead, on the other side of the wall.

Haunted as a house, eyes wide and watchful; mothering instinct

kicking in at the sprawling Georgetown property at the corner

of Prospect Street and 36th Street NW. Hunted Regan was both

the source and the designated victim. Most of us know how

it all ended, unraveling between jump-scares, trauma of puberty,

horror movie special-effects, flickering and flashing lighting

techniques, destined for classic status and imitation.


Why am I the only one who hears the rasping in the ceiling above

the light fixture, the corners where walls meet? In our Fort

Lauderdale house, less ostentatious than the McNeil’s, more than

a thousand miles south of theirs. Loud enough to wake me nightly

between three and five a.m., but no, not the dog, not Rick, both

tucked under quilts and into dreams. The only one who heard

the muffled and mysterious thud behind the closed louvered

doors concealing the washer and dryer. The only one, mind you,

for whom the swift, slick black rat made a guest appearance, sprung

out from under a tight space with flexible grace, took a bow, then

slammed into and bounced off a cabinet base before disappearing,

quick as sleight of hand, a dark early morning illusion.

Call an exterminator, not an exorcist. Set traps, oversized and cartoony,

cruelty-free, if possible. I swear I am not possessed, although I know

I have too many possessions. Thousands of novels and memoirs, even

more compact discs and albums. Photos and negatives, cloth bags full

of cloth bags, obsolete electronics, pens and unsharpened pencils, tear

sheets and clippings, souvenir ashtrays, correspondence, yellowed report

cards and yearbooks. I winnowed down my vintage trimline phone and

typewriter collection to one each, but is that enough to keep unwelcome

visitors away? To keep from gaining a hoarder reputation? The rodents

don’t care. They have many mouths to feed and foundations to erode.

Is this winter cold snap to blame or is it the high fever, chills and

aches that precede the Trump broods’ exile in West Palm Beach?



November Hurricanes


Where will the peafowl of South Middle River go

during this active and deadly November hurricane

season? I’m thinking of Murphy, the young peacock


with the shimmering, green-feathered neck. The one

who follows us as we walk down the street, at our

heels like a dog. The one Brian hand-raised, named,


when it was abandoned in the rooftop nest by its

mother. The one who perches on Brian’s arm

like a proud, plumed corsage. The one that pecks


at our screen door, causing Rick’s blood pressure

to soar like a bird in flight. The one who has

survived the plump feral neighborhood cats;


the oversized Siamese who likes to torture the brown

and green anoles and the house geckos, Brian’s orange

tabby, the grey twins who never separate when stalking

prey. Murphy avoids the other peacocks and peahens

who have also discovered our street. When a flock, led

by the two albinos, paid a surprise visit, Murphy never


let them get too close, clung to his human kin. None

of this matters to Eta. Drenching Broward County

as a tropical storm, leaving behind a foot or more


of water, snapped branches and other debris, before

continuing on its devastation path. Our street was

spared, allowing Murphy to forage through the few


downed palm fronds. Before we can get too comfortable,

Theta has formed in the Eastern Atlantic, reminding

even climate change deniers that Mother Nature


is a force, far more powerful than any mythological

beings, new or old testament gods, challenged only

by a competitive virus, not looking for a companion.


Disco Dolly


Of course, it’s bright pink vinyl. What other color

could it possibly be? The purple label with her

signature and the irresistible invitation to “Dance

With Dolly” at your own private Studio 54.


The RCA logo makes me dizzy, delirious as it

spins on the turntable and I spin around, dancing

to the song as I have for more than 40 years. I have

blazed many miles, left burn marks on clothing


and furniture, in cities. Smoky trails like Dolly’s

Great Smoky Mountains near Pigeon Forge where

we made a pilgrimage to pay homage to her. Sure,

we were disappointed that there wasn’t a D Cups


ride, but how many people can say they got stuck

on a malfunctioning log flume at Dollywood?

The first of two such events in one summer. “Baby,

I’m Burnin’” always playing in my head like

a broken record. But that 12-inch single never broke,

carefully packed and transported, it transported me

everywhere I lived, in every romantic relationship.

A hymn to him and him and him. Heating up


the coldest winters, the sweatiest summers in Boston

and Washington, DC and Chicago and Fort Lauderdale.

Surviving the Disco Demolition and the AIDS crisis,

drowning out the Bible-beating protestors that surprised


me, Denise, Julie and Angie outside the BB&T Center

before the concert. Once inside, we felt safe, wrapped

in Dolly’s grace, her voice more powerful than prayer,

extinguishing the flickering flames of hatred.

Hurricane Corona

Even here in South Florida, where hunkering down

is an annual occurrence during hurricane season, the main

streets were bustling, not the ghost town drags reported

on the news and the internet in other cities, other countries.

Notoriously bad drivers didn’t suddenly drive any better.

Respect and courtesy remained as out of reach as a COVID-19

vaccine. The man on the forklift obstructing traffic while

talking on his phone was just one example of thousands. What

made you think people who never covered coughs and sneezes

before would suddenly start doing so now? Consider inventing

new methods of killing time without killing yourself. Count

hearses. Calculate the square root of self-quarantine. Divide

by curfew. Stop touching your face; let the tears roll down

your cheeks, pool in your lap until you can see your own

worried reflection. Boredom and loneliness were side effects,

as the Supreme Court delayed hearing oral arguments, religious

services streamed online, and 401(k)s shrunk to the size of Donald

Trump’s hands or vocabulary. Several weeks into the pandemic,

the population of West Virginia was virtually untouched. Maybe

smoking and snorting crystal meth was good for something after all.

Gregg Shapiro is the author of seven books including the expanded edition of his short story collection How to Whistle (Rattling Good Yarns Press, 2021). Recent lit-mag publications include RFD, Gargoyle, Limp Wrist, Mollyhouse, Impossible Archetype and Dissonance Magazine, as well as the anthologies This Is What America Looks Like (Washington Writer Publishing House, 2021) and Sweeter Voices Still: An LGBTQ Anthology From Middle America (Belt Publishing, 2021). An entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in a variety of regional LGBTQ+ and mainstream publications and websites, Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.