Ronnie K. Stephens
About the Writer
Ronnie K. Stephens is a full-time English teacher and the father of identical twins. He was one of ten poets featured by the Tupelo Press 30/30 Project in April 2015. His first collection, Universe in the Key of Matryoshka, was published by Timber Mouse Publishing in 2014. Individual poems have previously appeared or are forthcoming in Rattle, Paper Nautilus, Weave, and Union Station among others. Find out more about the poet at www.ronniekstephens.com
THE COUPLE STOPS AT A DINER FOR A SLICE OF PIE
I stand stiff as a sparrow,
cane hard as a tree branch
in my hand.
bends back like a bow
hungry for hunting season.
The gears turned over
like cooked apples.
Everything is spectacle.
Everything is lost innocence.
There is a woman
tied at the ankles
hanging upside down.
You put the looking glass
to your eye.
There is a teddy bear
searching for her hands.
the last fifteen years
catch up to you like a penny
at the well of your forgetting.
There is a girl
on a witness stand.
The prosecutor pulls your name
from the case files. Sets it aside.
There is a teddy bear
searching for your hands.
And so it carries her across the dry dirt
of a desert three times the size of Earth.
The ghost heart smoothes itself out
before her. Loses mass until it is round
as an egg. Her arm is a constellation
of cramped tendons and bone.
He looks through the telescope at his bedside
and watches the pinprick hero gallop
across her barren moon.
The days tick by loud and nagging. Soon
she cannot remember the year. The name
of the animal beneath her. The crook of his neck.
She visits once every seven years.
Trades the heavy and wheezing hollow
of his chest for the small planet in her hand.
Her own heart bends and unbends its edges,
learns the gravity of empty spaces.
Fluorescent bulbs blink like fireflies or stars. Hard to say. The whole damn camp is a funhouse. No one comes here to gain perspective. We’re in the business of losing. Abigail holds an elephant in her palm like a moon. The menagerie spins round riderless. Everything has a sun of sorts. Even the Ferris wheel is stuck in orbit, she thinks. The jack rabbit passes by again like an alien satellite and she remembers the shape of an animal she used to chase from the vegetable patch. The long ears stiffening when her toes dug into the topsoil. It was smaller, then. Her lungs burn. She takes a deep breath and knows it is the last bit of air she will taste. Funny, now, to think of it. She'd never really tasted air. It slips over her tongue like an undergarment over skin. The elephant in her hand lifts its trunk. Shifts its weight. She peers into its eyes and sees that each one is a crocus in early Spring. The sky is a hard silence. She thinks of home. Wonders how she ever came to this place, why it feels like returning.
ON THE ROAD
she stripped herself down
to shoulders and collarbone
hair pinned to the clothesline
like an ornament of sound
like a sun dress blooming
like a torso of chrysanthemums
like do not be human
like become your art
like this is all you are
until the bow is a bone
until the strings breathe
until its neck is your neck
until its body is your body
when the show is over
when the train is cold and hollow
when you don't remember what city
when you don't sell a damn thing
when you can't make rent
when the birds come to rest
JOURNEY TO THE WHALES
past the gap in the window panes/past the empty bird feeder/past the broken tree branch/past the helicopter sputtering overhead/past the burnt out forests and towns/past the red river/past concrete highways and black skies/past the nuclear power plant/past oil slicks and the spring breakers/past the mouth of the gulf/past the waves breaking in the wind/past the sea gulls and the fishing boats/past the nets/past the stretched out arm of the sun/past all that is not holy/and into the belly of the song