This is Not About Birds

On a recent Sunday, I was sitting on the back patio of a friend’s house in Spring Lake Heights, enjoying the last few sunny days of summer, when I decided to check my e-mail. There in my iPhone inbox was a blast from the past—Nick Ripatrazone, one of my high school English teachers. I couldn’t imagine why he was writing to me.

Five years ago, when I was a student at Bridgewater-Raritan High School, Mr. Ripatrazone would give us a break from deciphering Joyce and Hemingway and hand out samples of his own writing—fiction, nonfiction and poetry. He did this less as an ego trip than as a way to encourage us to submit our own work for publication.

During my senior year, Ripatrazone inspired me to write an epistolary novel. I hate to admit it, but what started as a book of letters between friends, over the course of 150 pages, turned into a sappy love story about a long distance relationship. It had an all-too-neat happy ending.

Last summer, when I took a job at the Morristown offices of New Jersey Monthly, I started seeing an unusual number of people walking with Seeing Eye dogs. Soon I discovered that The Seeing Eye is headquartered in Morristown, and that’s where many of the dogs are trained. That reminded me of a story Mr. Ripatrazone told of mowing lawns for Seeing Eye when he was a student at Whippany Park High School. For some reason the story stayed with me.

When I opened his e-mail that Sunday, I discovered that Mr. Ripatrazone was having a book of poetry published. This is Not About Birds, an 88-page collection, is Ripatrazone’s second book of poems to be published by Gold Wake Press.

Here’s a poem I thought was interesting from This is Not About Birds:

Candling
We sit on folding chairs in the basement
and pass the beige eggs down, one at a time.
He pats them with a washcloth
while light spools from the Bell & Howell,
streaming onto the empty wood-paneling behind us.
Last night we watched Santa Fe Trail there, now he
huddles forward and holds an egg in the light.
The first few have black centers with thin threads
purling out, but one egg is nearly translucent
save for dark splotches. We know it will never hatch,
but what a design it projects.

Though Ripatrazone’s poem is quite dark and obscure on a first read, the last line leaves the reader with a spark of optimism.

There are many great Jersey natives that are keeping the arts alive. In fact, Ripatrazone’s work inspired me to submit my own work for publication both in college and at New Jersey Monthly.

Ripatrazone will read from the book at Rutgers-Newark on Thursday September 27, at 5:30 pm.

Along with pre-ordering a copy, I hope to attend the reading.

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