Jake Sheff

Jake Sheff is a pediatrician in Oregon and veteran of the US Air Force. He’s married with a daughter and whole lot of pets. Poems of Jake’s are in Radius, The Ekphrastic Review, Crab Orchard Review, The Cossack Review and elsewhere. He won 1st place in the 2017 SFPA speculative poetry contest and a Laureate’s Choice prize in the 2019 Maria W. Faust Sonnet Contest. Past poems and short stories have been nominated for the Best of the Net Anthology and the Pushcart Prize. He’s also published translations of poetry and reviews of translated poetry collections. His chapbook is “Looting Versailles” (Alabaster Leaves Publishing). A full-length collection of formal poetry, “A Kiss to Betray the Universe,” is available from White Violet Press.

Difficulty’s Spiel (On the First Day of Spring)

“Greatness in noble songs
endures through time: but to win this, few find easy.” 
-	Pindar, Pythian III

Arise and double-cross another day
as notes of birdsong drizzle drunkenly
at dawn. Internal rhymes outnumber stars / tears / loves
when hatred’s dehydrated. Math itself
can’t hear to think. Dry-hearted heat from stars / tears / loves
collapses type (a type of trap) today. 

Arise and take desire’s rise to fame
more seriously, or for a ride. They ride
the air like horsemen; our hosannas. Champs / Storms / Loves
are defervesced today by tupelos’ 
Platonic imperfections. Bested champs / storms / loves
blame blemishes; a blemish on their blame. 

Arise and take the stage to play your part
as springtime’s hostage: it’s the stage you take
to ply apart two brothers. Memory stars / storms / loves 
in family dramas; brothers look alike, 
but one is so attractive here, the stars / storms / loves
burn out as if to practice the dark art

of a memory good enough to not recall
bad times. No brothers cut their moral code
and hair the same. Spring’s undivided trees / tears / stars
wear strong disquiet; clothes too cool for warmth.
More sisterly than early-onset trees / tears / stars,
to make a spectacle of speech, some fall.

Arise, grindelia; try this on for size:
a minute less minute. Expansive speech,
like spring’s, is richer than what’s real. But hands / streets / trees
spell ‘Wretched, wretched, wretched’ out of sight,
in righteous, inexpensive dust. To hands / streets / trees,
‘once chopped, twice woodsy,’ means ‘democratize.’ 

Former Rains in Pain’s Motel

Your husband scans the meter of your breasts
and lies. The light outside is brain-gray. I
mistook my wife for a BMW. 

A nasty quiet cups your wordy breasts,
but misery’s my worldly mistress. I
saw passion whirled near the VFW,

ousting all you sting the best. Your breasts
out-sing the urban, unborn light that I
saw shipping shapes like “BTW”

from trees in spring. Just like two turbans, breasts
conceal the sunlight’s semi-electric I,
its breath. Undress a www

address – a memory – to double you 
and me. I hate how time’s mastectomy
embarrassed beasts, from stroboscope to starburst.  

Last Train to LACMA

Natalie: “I’m not the one for you!?...So what’s the problem?”
Ted: “Well, it’s just ineffable.”
Natalie: “Oh, so I’m not f-able!?”
Season 1, Episode 4; How I Met Your Mother

I am what I do not believe
before the sculpture of Eve

by Rodin. As much as I say, “I, I,
I think I get it,” by Metropolis II

by Burden, I still cannot forget the baluster
Leger caught with a pencil, its luster

that, somehow, someway, conveys
the very pyrite spirit of ‘Oy vey!’

In LA today, clouds transport construction cranes
as cranes

do the clouds on this wheel-thrown stoneware’s 
dismembered red, the one where

no New Jersey
accent in a Raiders jersey

competes with its floral spray,
the one which involutes to loot and pray

a cigarette the length of time – like Xu Bing’s –
is somewhere for smoking or stabbing

its open sea. When its open sea stretches a miracle mile,
it opens a nautical mile

wider than before. 
One may only enter mounted on light. The deepest height is four

times more glittery with Chinese
catalpa wood’s one thousand bent knees.

The Metro Purple Line’s Wilshire/Fairfax station
thanks its lucky stars, but shuns

the rustic drops of awe
it took to build the ancient bison’s vertebrae 

we owe for art. Floating dresses, from the Joseon dynasty, suspend
our disbelief from chains, the price of awe; upend

ideas of future sites
for rare, exotic and exquisite

episodes of This is Us.
The melted plastic of Gu Dexin hisses

like a thing to put eggs in in the next room
as Lambos vroom-

vroom outside down Wilshire. 
Stella’s Kagu didn’t hire

this bored security guard
inside my ability to disregard


uncalled for sinew-renewers.
You must understand that parrot-shaped ewers,

with eyes like hailstones,
hit me like hail with their sweetmeat tones

which are hard to come by. Edicts
chase the pigeons off. My Eggs Benedict

tastes like summer’s lazy intellect
beneath the jacaranda’s purple cloud and spring’s elect. 

As if the cosmic harmony is on my plate,
I contemplate

this concert’s Latin sounds and two women drawing Bloody Mary
from a book nearby as I draw my Bloody Mary

from a straw. To put the disarray 
in disarray, I can’t just brunch at Ray’s. 

The areca nut cutters prove awe is like
love – independent of dislike 

and like – as one boy chases another by the art class
studying the clock by Adolf Loos. 

Its bronze and brass are reminiscent of the Los
Angeles National Forest through God’s eyes, its glass –

which only on light mounted enter one may – reflects the weather’s pleats. 
Whether it offers more than couplets

to tomorrow’s Pride Parade
or not is up to memories no eyes or time can raid. 

Like everybody on Museum Row
today, I successfully dodge Pissarro’s sorrow-

arrows as I find a way to transplant
my heart on the road again. After my brain transplant –

courtesy the ritual masks
of Sri Lanka – I unmask

hiding in each photograph by The Colombo Apothecaries 

Co., Ltd. Here lying like a spent hen
by the satinwood bridge, then

again, right here by Kandyan temple pillars. Sure,
it’s a lot to ask of pleasure, 

but it isn’t up to me,
it’s up to memory, or rather, the same

me that earlier observed a photo shoot by Urban Light
and suddenly felt too light

with clear glaze to photograph the German tourists
asking me – a single hand with two wrists

around my heart – to photograph
them. It’s what I’m not and what I need to graft

to the white 
heat of oughts and nots; painted by Charles White,

they deliver shock
after shock, until Hollywood is nothing but hollyhocks. 


these wallets, pencil pouches and bandanas in the gift shop

for customers by featuring artwork: The Sheaf,
Matisse’s cutout intonations, seems to say, ‘Jake Sheff,’

while cat’s-eyes
patterns from Central Asian ikats 

offer amber waves of judgment. I feel blessed
inside this wooden, villous, jobless

depot, which on light only may one mounted enter, by Serra called Band. The bada bing
of cigarettes the length of time – like Xu Bing’s –

meets the bada boom
of the construction cranes outside to make a youthful Om

with flattened sides. That man with vitiligo
and a stroller seems to go wherever I go.

Here they are again, this time admiring the Narilatha (“woman-vine”)
pattern, flowers said to resemble divine

women; folk deity or demon, it’s no matter
to the shivers meeting in my pia mater

in the form of two gentlemen greeting. Blue
merle border collies blow by levels feeling blue,

closed for inventory
and packing on a day with free entry

for active duty military, ghosts 
and a whole host

of ancient choices
with jawbones and hipbones colder than ice.

The walls of donors’ names suggest the onus is
on these two Adonises

slow dancing nude on this postcard together;
the onus, that is, of placating the ether’s

half-crazy delegates
delight delegates

originality to. As this book on Frank Gehry cons
me into standing cooler than the last scene of Satyricon,

I overhear a teenage girl – who “drove three hours all the way from Chino” –
call her fart a sonnet and laugh into her Frappuccino.

I can’t help but suspect a repurposed
joke from the inflatable black Buddha’s repose. 

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