My Father’s Grief

If in the forest it grew it could carve a door. Could build a bridge to cross the river. Could forget its haunt of snakes. If any eldritch shape could uncoil. If it could fashion a field beyond it. If in that field a dance of wind in the grass. If it could romance the sun. Could harness the stars. A single light an ethereal moment to light the way. If lambent in any season. If at the edge of distant skies. If a hill blue with distance with water with reflection. He might find a tumulus to mourn beside. Because his frayed brush is no talisman. Because he cannot bristle this into existence. Because no coat applied to this house. Because the one before. Because the next—he drags his bucket of black paint through the dark garage. Because this his only paroxysm. Because time and its dead. Because crawling into corners. Because decades of cobwebs. Because memory means frosted breath. Means dust sculptures. Means pills for hills. Means every moment a mote. Decades made of days made of dust. Because my father. Because he shuffles through this. Because again he drags his bucket of black paint through the dark garage. Through the splashing sound in his wake. Through the scraping of speckled boots. Because this dance. Because every dusk. Because no other color exists. Because the bucket. Because what’s inside. Because what he leaves behind. Because it blackens the grass. Because he turns the faucet until it spits. Because it rinses the paint from the brushes but can’t clean his hands. 

Christopher Shipman

3 Questions for Christopher

What was your process for creating this work?

“My Father’s Grief” is a part of a larger project that explores the murder of my paternal grandmother and its tragic aftermath. This particular piece began with its title. As one might expect, such a generalized, all-encompassing title presented numerous challenges. I had no idea how or where to begin. There was no way to tell a single, direct narrative that could embody the range of emotions that led me to want to write the piece in the first place. Instead, I found that focusing on the music of the phrase allowed the images flashing inside me to move naturally toward some sort of end that made sense—that reflected something close to the heart of where my first impulse was born.

What is the significance of the form you chose?

“My Father’s Grief” was one of those pieces that leaped at me from every direction. I felt like I was in a strange alley of strange father-shaped cats, and they all wanted (and deserved) my attention. Sorting them into lines was not an option. They were feral—as undomesticated as grief itself. I had to take them as they came. The significance of the form ended up being its formlessness. The fragmented sentences allowed me to approach a kind of cohesion that otherwise would not have been possible.

What is the significance of this work to you?

One reason the piece is significant to me is because it sprung from a place of pure feeling. When I wrote “My Father’s Grief” my current project had given me many opportunities to be narrative in my approach. Some of the pieces had gotten me close to the rawness that, on some level, the project requires, but this was the first one that felt like I had tapped into what I had been working toward—a place where thought is secondary to feeling. The result was that it gave me an opportunity to focus on the consequences of my father’s trauma in ways that I had never expected. It opened a door for exploration and experimentation that made my engagement with the project more intensely lived.

Christopher Shipman (he/him) lives on Eno, Sappony, and Shakori land in Greensboro, NC, where he teaches literature and creative writing at New Garden Friends School & plays drums in The Goodbye Horses. Recent work appears or is forthcoming in Denver Quarterly, Iron Horse Literary Review, Fence, Pedestal, Poetry Magazine, Rattle, & elsewhere. His experimental play Metaphysique D’ Ephemera has been staged at four universities. Getting Away with Everything (Unlikely Books, 2021), in collaboration with Vincent Cellucci, is his most recent collection. More at

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