For Laurie Byro and Laura M. Kaminski
Baptism by fire is more tenacious
than water. It does not run
down skin in tickling rivulets, vanish
as though evaporated from our minds—
it’s a brand that reminds
with an eternal searing. I was
five when christened beneath
the coals. My backside sizzled
with the sound of grilling meat.
It reeked of roast fowl. Even now
I can smell the stench of that day, hear
those embers frizzle in their fount
before toppling onto me. At night
mother would pull my white garments off
as one rips away packing tape.
No ointments or pills numbed me. I’d cringe
from her smiles while she labored
stripping my skin into something she might love.
We used to be fused
simply one shoreline, one
ocean pressing it all in. Years
have wrenched us apart. I may
now drift upon some other sea
but you still wear the scars
where you ripped from me.
The House on Limestone Street
Late at night
he would stumble in the back door
after a hard day at work
turning money into beer
the way Jesus once changed
water into wine. He was
messiah of our household, the real
deal. Just one stroke
could convert happiness to hurt, joy
into fear, bread became starvation
knotting our stomachs
all year. We learned to be
as invisible as the angels
that silently witnessed our suffering—
like them we said nothing
when he stumbled past our beds
into their front room bedroom, listened
to their nightly revival; the creaks
as mother hymned his name:
“Oh God, Oh God”— such praise
heaped on he who reigned
over every part of her being.
I consider you, all
boxed in barbed wire,
owning this field. How your
bowed limbs hold stasis
as December winds whistle
over Ohio’s foothills, browned leaves
whispering—your voice speaks to me
the way aged paper rustles. So fixed
against this altering landscape.
I too stand rooted like you, exiled
from a forest where we’d plainly blend in—
there’d be nothing unique about us then.
I love to hear your breath
whispers like the voice
of shipwrecked sailors
carries across the Atlantic’s
surface, seeks out ears
of some lone beach stroller
under a midnight moon—too soon
it will fade amid the wave
crashes that lap through time, filch it
until I wonder
if you’ve ever exhaled at all.
Walking to School One Morning
For Laurie Byro
Feet crackling across tossed salt, leashed
along by winter’s eager fingers. I listen
as traffic splashes past on snow-coated roads, everything
smells chilled and new. The placard people—
bundles gliding by. My crunches mingling
with theirs is the closest we’ll ever be, together
we navigate these Springfield sidewalks
to make our morning school bells.
I’m coming up to High Street when it happens.
I step right through that glass wall into the road;
new suicide, ignoring the orange hand of God that pulses “NO”
so insistently from the other side.
I plunge into its slush-filled gutter, ice laps
at my right leg like the Devil’s beckoning tongue. I feel
a hand yank me back— once you’ve nearly died it’s never
really the same person that was ripped back from the light.
Shawn Nacona Stroud’s poetry has been published in several print and e-zines journals in both the U.S. and the U.K. including Mississippi Crow Magazine, Eunoia Review, Melancholy Hyperbole, Up the Staircase Quarterly and the Loch Raven Review.