From Our Soundbooth | August 30, 2018

Today, we are so delighted to share with you the sound project named as Runner-Up in our 2018 Miller Audio Prize Poetry category: “Fragments Torn From Sky” by Rob Shapiro. 2018 Guest Judge Avery Trufelman told us that, “This insightful little piece perfectly puts you in Shapiro’s head, as you listen to a haunted piece of tape from his past, mixed with the author’s own careful insights. This is a poem that would be a pleasure to read on paper, but its use of tape and the writer’s own voice augment the experience in a way that lives uniquely in your ears.”

Shapiro, says of his poems:

Years ago, my mother mentioned in passing that she once went to a psychic to have our family’s fortune read, and—better still—had a cassette with the audio of the reading. When she let me listen to the tape (and rip it onto my computer), I was totally blown away by what I heard: it was an eerily accurate portrait of our household, and didn’t discuss the future in broad generalizations the way one might expect, but rather with detailed precision. Ultimately, the cassette felt like a perfect prompt for a poem exploring family and fate, as well as an ideal audio project with the original recording already at hand.

Rob Shapiro received an MFA from the University of Virginia, where he was awarded the Academy of American Poets Prize. His work has appeared in The Southern Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Blackbird, and Prairie Schooner, where his work received the Edward Stanley Award. He lives in New York City.

Listen to “Fragments Torn From Sky” by Rob Shapiro here before reading the full text of these poems below:

Fragments Torn from Sky


When I am six, my mother visits a fortune teller.

With her, she brings our family records—birthdays and geographies—


to have our star-charts made. My father is nowhere


near this place, so the woman calls him

closed-minded and then begins.


As she leaves, my mother is handed

a cassette with our names on it, their voices


running like water through the reel.


On the tape you can hear it: my family


unspooling, our own slow ruin.

You can hear its origin, the spark’s first breath.


I imagine candles and heavy curtains

to hold the dark inside. Gallop of rain on windows.

My mother’s hair cropped short

 the way it was when my parents were still married.


I picture a December morning with clouds so thick


you’d think you entered heaven—you’d think

you were floating in the needle’s eye.


Your dilemma, the woman tells my mother,

is you want a partner and you don’t have one.


There was a time, is all my mother says.


Like Elvis or Jesus, I am born

a Capricorn: ruled by Saturn, solstice-marked.


I’m born like winter,

        a grove my parents try to fill—tempered as morning light


or birdsong after storm.


Two planets in fire, five in earth,

moon in Virgo like my father.


Their relationship is strange, the woman says.


Soft music slips in and out.

Charms rattle against a wrist.


He’s older than his dad

and doesn’t really need him.


Call it destiny. Call it fate. 



But how can I sleep

beneath this map of stars—this burning text—


 that banishes my father again

and again, night after night?


No prayer to bring him closer,

to fill the trees with flowers and birds.


No sure thing except another stubborn winter,

watery blue running back over mountains—


over empty orchards, shapeless with want.


Outside, rows of blue spruce shiver in the cold.

The sun sinks, draws all color down


like a blind. A sound like crickets

as the tape keeps rolling beside them.


Do you want to know what I remember?


Years of shallow skies, my mother

 dressed in black. I remember a silver thimble


outside my bedroom window, the moon

an illiterate scratch in the night.