In Hominid Up, Shepard turns a nightmared, insomniac eye on both urban and rural landscapes: from the brassy multitudes of Manhattan, to the lone man standing in a northern stream. At the heart of this book is a darkly political vision of post-millennial America, exploring the tensions and flashpoints of class and race that lead us toward our days of reckoning. Whether examining “the ailments” on a city street where the Haves helicopter above the Have-nots, or the coastal communities from South Carolina to Maine, where the cruise-ship crowds mix uncomfortably with local fishermen, or the pastures of Vermont where developers buy up the hilltop acreage from cash-strapped farmers, Shepard immerses himself in this brazen new century and brings back “the bite and sting that bothers us all.”
I write at night when the old hominid
climbs up to the highest branch of the brain
and crouches there in a leafy crotch
listening to the night-sounds snarling below...
his heart outracing the big cats of the savannah.
He’s glad I’m civilized and live indoors,
far from the tooth and claw. Glad my central
plumbing works, my TP dispenser full,
so he doesn’t have to shit off a limb.
And though he loves roosting with birds,
the wind rocking him, talking through the mouths
of leaves, he loves also how the birds have
been stuffed into the softest down pillows
where he may lay his head and dream. Dreams
are scarce as water-holes where he’s from,
one eye always open for danger, one
for hunger. We’re kin for sure: the old beast
in me sleeps lightly or barely sleeps.
I wake often and watch him scratch himself
with a twig that could pass for a pencil
or poke at a moon-lit line of ants that
resembles this scratched pentameter.
Some nights we almost meet at a forking branch
where he chooses silence, and I, this speech.