Friday, September 28, 2012

Shelby Stephenson

"I rise because you sink"

I rise because you sink.
I smell the nests of birds I pass where we have walked before.
Give me your hand.

Everywhere I go I see your face.

“Talk to me!”

Let’s go camping: you can play your uke.
We’re a duo.
O I know others might want to see
how we borrow from the angels to keep our living strong.

When you seek out the roads, I’ll be there.
We need no more, now that the best is yet to come.
The selves we have been or become
lived centuries ago in others.

Your mother’s an expression of beauty.
And mine.
No mother or dad climbs above another for the ride.
I am trying to show our best character,
as the poet takes Depression out of its grave
and stands it up and says, “Run!”
And Garbage climbs into the truck.

Past, Present, and Future get up and race, too, looking for a warmer clime.
To be in the middle of something is to hear you say on a cold, February morning,
“You want to walk with me?”

"I say I'm always wanting you"

I say I’m always wanting you; having you makes it easier to face tomorrow,
even those times I can’t touch you,
like lovers in a fog over there in the Nimrod Stephenson Memorial Cemetery,
especially Martha Johnson and Greatgrandpap Manly Stephenson (died 1912),
Civil War Vet and lover, farmer, and friend to July, the slave girl.
Always loving you shuts me out and hurts me too.
So you walk with Cricket and I catch you later,
my intentions encouraging your style.
Behold, the sun itself, and on its visage, slating its breast on yours,
the balances and bends, right here, where the roots of my raising run deep.
See the frosted grass, the white and blue clouds.
Behold, in western Johnston County, far from western New York State,
or in Wisconsin, where we lived in the brittle cheer of ice-fisherman and sailors,
behold, on Lake Mendota, those sail-boats writing smoothly as on glass −
there in Pittsburgh, the trolley and the Cathedral of Learning,
the lake at Canonsburg where we camped and fished and cooked.

Your eyes float out of sweetgum, come to me through that buttermilk-sky
while you lean against the moon and cheese, your hair the breath of rye
tall under stars higher than I can stretch, though I reach for you
and our fingers almost touch dawn.
The sun squeezes light in my face.
An image sweeps before me, how Sunset must come with taste and as much grace.
The rock gathers us around and holds what splendor spins,
an iceberg in our dreams, melting, the sweat and panic, no button to push.
Tell me how you swish and set your body poised to frail and sing?

Could this be a dream?
I sit and look out − away from meanness and pain.
You are the castle of my dreams, my junior and senior highs, prep and graduate,
the in and out, history and varied trimming of discussions,
the balm and the fever.
You are intention set in sprung motion −
hail to rain, blushes in snow hushed −
you are this place, this South
come down from the winter of your birthplace.

I step back to see workings intricate and beautiful −
the thousands of farms we pass,
the surprise and the drama, the once-upon-a-time-ness
we met and came here,
quiet, certain.

"I want to hold your hand"

I want to hold your hand.
Exercise did nothing for me.
My eyes on the lilac in the hedge, I hurry back to you,
noting the lot-well, filled in.

With your father, the lawyer, entrepreneur, marrying Linda Collens (four daughters)
your mother, Newton Center actress, daughter of Charles Collens, architect (Cloisters)
with the Letchworth connection, Mabel, your father’s mother living on Owasco Lake,
with our courtship there lapping and ebbing and camping in Letchworth Park,
with William Prior Letchworth giving the land to the State of New York,
with Letchworth your middle name,
with Glenwood Falls marveling beacon sparkling,
with the slave girl, July, bearing up to show us how to live,
with One The Angel in the grave working us to humanity’s steeple.
I’ve had nothing but pleasure since you’ve been well.
Every day’s a holiday, today, Valentine’s.
To your memory I’m true − including the three sleepless nights soon after our honeymoon,
the valium your dad gave you for sleeping, your yearning unfocused,
your body present though not returning the ritual we celebrated 30 July 66.
Rings of gold will not rust our 50th six years away.
O the magnetic flesh waiting.
Where the soul moves you turn to distant places, your walks along the old house
calling for the hearth to line up our flames, stars shining bright.

Of relatives in “important” positions, ceremonies, recognitions −
all endorsements arrive in spirit so that they appear
shiny and unaligned with expectations
bearing the dawn and the dusk,
the first and last the same ever changeless and changed,
points of view, the edge of the water,
the wonderfulness of bluebirds, feeding in the field, their flights down,
fluttering gracefully as maidens praying.
The delicate curve the moon peals promises prayer,
as you keep your eye on the page, wanting to understand.
Others may wonder; yet friends shall walk in and complete the picture.

My heart’s stripped today.
It’s bulging with push.
The stars twinkle around us.
My feeling unfolds without a goal,
embracing inimitable women of the world.

© Shelby Stephenson 2012

Shelby Stephenson's Family Matters: Homage to July, the Slave Girl won the 2008 Bellday Poetry Prize, Allen Grossman, judge. Find out more at

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