Monday Dec 04

stephensonshelby Shelby Stephenson's most recent book is a chapbook, Playing Dead (Finishing Line Press, 2011).  His Family Matters:  Homage to July, the Slave Girl won the 2008 Bellday Poetry Prize, Allen Grossman, judge, and the 2009 Oscar Arnold Young Poetry Award from the Poetry Council of North Carolina, Jared Carter, judge.  The work appearing here comes from an unpublished book-length manuscript called Paul's Hill:  Homage to Whitman.  Visit his website here.

[Come down, Word-man, Syllable-shaker]

Come down, Word-man, Syllable-shaker,
Come down here; lie down beside me.
Light up the leads.
The light plays shadows where once cordwood readied the woodbox.
My mother’s lost in the steam of her kettle.
I rub my face, as if parting curtains,
Wonder if I see myself in the rose-blue feathers smeared on the picture-window.
Bliss fades into patterns I’ll ride later, dross and all.
White moon, hold me in your arms.
Bathe my thoughts so wild onions may climb the cold
Sister Night to say to morning, “Hello, again.”
Unveil the pulpit at Rehobeth Primitive Baptist Church.
Let babies cry out the Old Violence.
The Wandering Son comes home at suppertime.
A bi-plane drags the Stars & Stripes.
Blood scatters a gull’s sweep.
Cordwood’s stacked against a magnolia.
Each piece weeps:  amputees hop to dance.
The harp’s sounds widen.
A window draws vines.
Pollen clings like brushes on a snare.
Leaves dance on limbs high and clean.
There is smoke on the water and sap in the enemy.
Waves flap over the oldfield cemeteries.
Kites fly for James David Stephenson
Who made my soul out of newspaper and string,
And flew it high over Pleasant Grove.
I was rich—the people, saluting me,
Promising symphonies playing.
Now I lower my stars to catch solitude,
Using what wind I can to pull me earthward.

[If I had the heart of the moon, constant, full-dimming]

If I had the heart of the moon, constant, full-dimming,
I would let the uncut grass tuft and blue grosbeaks sway on the tops of oats:
J. W. Pope’s cows grazing in the pasture,
The smell of turkey manure in my nostrils,
The bluebirds flashing their rusty breasts and dash a blue
Not even the sky or angels could duplicate.
The ivy in the hedge would tangle all of Nature’s vanities holding on
And the green valley far away make arms of the haw’s fence-posts.
Give the child back the fields, the Five-Acre, the Old Place’s Ten,
The Sweet-Potato Hillside, Plantbed Woods.
Keep dogwoods, too, and the oak with the tea-pot arm,
The tulip-poplars, with their umbrella blooms O
And the privet, started by a bird-dropping somewhere,
And the lightwood stump just tall enough for a pulpit.
The raccoon must paw and sit and wash without danger of chase
And the fox look for what foxes seek—bullaces on little,
Twisting vines I swung to see the other side of Cow Mire Branch.
Rebecca, one of Pap George’s ten daughters, lies in the Higgins Cemetery.
We got to go there sometime.
At the bottom of the hill, Uncle Calvin cut die-does (wheelies) with his mule and buggy.
History cannot erase the world’s visions the graveyards fill with the fallen.
Carnage rises in the mockingbird’s song.
The pilot-flame wafts out of darkness where roadside bombs waver.
I see the enemy I am.
I cover my head with my boots.
I brush a web from my face and disappear into a loneliness I cannot believe.
I live for a song I cannot quite write.
July, on your knees you are taller than history’s tree,
Your rags flashing the sun at the end of the row.
You rope the calf for branding.
I have seen the ones I love leave this world as shadows without wings.
The purple martins that come up every year from somewhere
Leave as easily as they jetted into their gourds in March.
And I have held my father’s hand as he was dying
And my mother’s, lying in her lap like dried peas,
(She was no longer the little girl jumping into a hay-pile).