The Work Ethic of the Common Fly
by Louie Skipper
Louie Skipper’s third book, the verse autobiography The Work Ethic of the Common Fly, is the first selection to be published by Settlement House. What is particularly rewarding about Mr. Skipper’s work—and The Work Ethic of the Common Fly, in particular—is his infinite capacity for wonder as he takes in the world and an uncommon clarity in expressing his response to it.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annie Dillard has called Mr. Skipper “a true poet,” and this memorable effort substantiates that assessment. In revealing epiphany after epiphany to the reader, his gift is evident everywhere. As we come to know him through the spiritual autobiography of a man’s own soul and self, Louie Skipper establishes himself, once again, as a poet who knows his craft as well as anyone writing today. You owe yourself the favor of reading him.
Mr. Skipper is the author of the book-length poem Deaths That Travel with the Weather and a sequence of elegies, The Fourth Watch of the Night. He is an Episcopal priest and college chaplain in Montgomery, Alabama.
Praise for Louie Skipper
“Louie Skipper . . . practices his art out of a great faith. It is rare in
these times to encounter deeply accomplished metaphysical poems.”
—Paul Zimmer, The Georgia Review
“Like John of the Cross’s Dark Night or Julian of Norwich’s Revelations, Louie Skipper’s The Work Ethic of the Common Fly is the work of a struck mystic able to guide me into what it means to be
made in the image of God.”
—The late Charles Furman Stough, VIII Bishop of Alabama
The Work Ethic of the Common Fly
In the work ethic of the common fly
the earth remembers who we are, and where.
Who fears the voice that is never
at rest and always on the run? Who fears
the creatures crowded with wild eyes?
The one I seek has just escaped
where the house of my childhood stood,
and through the small iron gate
that never shook completely free
of my father’s hand. We
cannot choose unless we are first chosen.
Bear with me for now, for telling you
what has befallen me
where the crickets are sewn together in the wind.
A single minute
taking in a memo of the suspicious supervisor
or hearing out
the bill collector on the telephone,
and seven thousand years
of knowing a loving God
become hapless fancy.
What great assemblies must come to order
before summer can begin?
Is there any joy
about the making of love,
the baking of bread,
the falling of rain,
that the dead were not celebrating
long before any of us were ever born?
I hated report cards.
I never had a happy heart
as I handed one over to be signed by my mother.
In their white sealed envelope
the bad grades were already trying to pound their way out
like patients in bed banging platters,
questioning and chattering
over every pill put before them
right up to the moment they died.
Continuing to shout, my mother then hunted for her pen,
zipping and unzipping
a kidney-sized, dark brown purse
that looked as though she dug it out of the ground and killed it.
Yesterday the dogwoods were fresh brides.
Today they are old maids
glaring out the lace curtains of their hot, ancient parlors.
Watch an interview with Settlement House author Louie Skipper, author of The Work Effort of the Common Fly. This conversation between poets Louie Skipper and Dennis Sampson took place in the fall of 1998 at Sweet Brian College in Amherst, Virginia, where Sampson was the Margaret Bannister Writer in Residence. The core of this discussion is Skipper’s sensibility as evident in his poetry and, more specifically, its expression in Skipper’s first full length collection of poems... Watch the interview