Five Poems 

Ronnie K. Stephens



I stand stiff as a sparrow, 

cane hard as a tree branch 

in my hand. 

                           Your spine 

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.


We watch

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.




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 commodity

like do not be human

like become your art

like this is all you are


keep playing

until the bow is a bone

until the strings breathe

until its neck is your neck

until its body is your body


keep playing

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


keep playing

keep playing





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

 About the Writer
Split Lip Magazine

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