Poetry from Shelby Stephenson


Fish, a foot long, tail
Forked, that dot a sign:
Horn, will work alone to hurt
Instinct no bar to boy with pole.
He’s daydreaming on the bank,
His shadow a most elemental thing
More than his room at home
A strike might prove no brain. 
More than skin allows the hands
He worries about the size of something
To annoy the threshing out of the marsh
The train-whistle never tells him more. 
What aura the fins experience,
The lightest finger on the line,
Lead-line of fairest less or more
Than one fisherman might stand. 
Quietude’s an elucidation of detail:
One long flail of bones, needle-sharp,
Deep inside something a good deal more
Than gills (must grab them behind). 
If it bites it swallows bait and hook.
A towel won’t work to uplift the headline:
Boy cannot use tweezers or pliers.
All hands and eyes, he stays faithful. 
To create, he says, living is possible.
The table’s set without modifications.
In his heart the channel makes its bed.
The boy sees flicks of the invisible, 
Even as he cuts his cat behind the gills
So that he can pull the skin toward the tail,
Down with the pliers the way a sock
Tends to slide away from the heel. 
The head he tosses into the hedge.
Catastrophe purrs and dances with bees
For a mouth full of whiskers and eyes
Glazed with nature’s gifts in progress.  


Words!  Get on, involved in particulars!
Throw that pallet down in the sand and wait!
Enjoyment’s identity burns pigment.
The girls pass me by for long sleeves, a cap. 
Watch the red fox and possum prance and shine,
Unselfconscious as I would like to be. 
Learning’s variation becomes some rules.
Words may be true as very rotten wood. 
There may be deep streams in your complexion.
There may be light darkness, like poetry. 
Frightening, to be in the sun too long,
Fair-skinned, red haired, freckle-faced, pearly brown. 
Without a lesson-plan, go for the pier.
Lie down under it:  hard at seventeen. 
Body hard, muscles swelling – jumping round,
The Charles Atlas course, come-on, one mag ad. 
Hype charges on before us, though I am
The one blistering in the hot, beach sun. 
Two books in the plankhouse I was born in,
Sears Catalogue and the Holy Bible. 
Peeled skin is the life of apprenticeship.    


Libby Campbell’s a wonderland
In and of herself, her tutelage
Bringing currents warm to Cool Spring Elementary
Because she believes in helping
Young people, third-graders, especially. 

County Iredell’s vibrant with words
And promise when Libby promotes and
Manages the hunger every soul finds in
Poetry:  consider her love of children.
Behold, she volunteers to help them
Easily as she creates an atmosphere,
Leading them to orchestrate their writings for assisted-living                                           residents,
Letting them appreciate the need to remember and create.     


You raggedy flag of July’s minions,
Come higher from the dirt and let waving
Be holiday you salute with plenty
Of hats of straw and maids and men merry.
Let bells ring echoes over the cow-barn
At the Tink and Addie Coats Estate set
Aside this day for things windy and warm,
The Boy Scouts pulling ropes to raise their sweat
Upward the bells many timed tones downward
From full force to the hidden, yet still found
Once more on every summit and sound toward
The sky all the way, the stars, stripes around,
The twinkles rankling up unbottled heat
Nights fill with rockets showering
The Milky Way with swats
On the way to what heavens rise and bear
Fruit and, at last, support discord’s absence,
When light shines on Dame Hymen’s tight lips
To lap and lamp every Tuesday morn,
When I was a boy, before dreams took me
Asleep or awake and left me in bounteous
Recall of wrong numbers and poverty
And wilt in hills becoming mountainous,
Desire lounging big in weather’s bounty,
Rules, too, searing how not to burn biscuits
Lovers miss while singing songs of  sunshine. 
Bring on the brainstorm, then, babe, and remove
The high chair for crowds to lean and pitch in
To tie a ribbon round the old oak, one
Of rainbow’s hues for July, slave girl’s few
Years as full person instead of three-fifths.
Let zippity spout without gagging
On popcorn and beer while boys play nifty
Stobs at horseshoes, one throw, success tilling
Real veins in a town hurting to be born,
Taken over by ones in time seeking
The school for shelter and some unforlorn
Adults on crutches imbibing as chiefs
Mark and swing inside their heads for the score.


There, summer briars sample air hotter than visitors
Can stand.  Buried in the cooler ground
Lies our July.  The blistering
Sun sings along with children,
hey-diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle – fond
Of time they do not understand. 
There is no moral.
Art is not all nursery rhyme, but a sorrowful
Beauty in atmospheres sharp as a razor.
No one comes to mourn what history sent
Bullying its way to bring the slaves here.
Great-great-grandpap George got caught up in what to do, then went
Along with the laws.  Maybe he was that rare
Master who was good to a fault; how will I ever know
The thicket ahead of my mower now
Will spare more than stones and lichen-etchings.
What belies the bellies in their cramped graves?
Rats, the prowling cat, the waves
The sun slants in salty smears to brave
August on?  Today’s news fishes for days
When my country will put its money for the right
And leave economics under the starry night
To long for clear and obvious love.
Leave July to sleep with her family.
Let the possum trail for love as it plays dead.
It needs no mere recognition as North America’s one native marsupial.
Its holdings span country and suburbs,
Where the fox and coyote, too, make their dens
For all to see now and then
To aid Love’s contrast, Hate, toward extinction.

One thought on “Poetry from Shelby Stephenson

  1. Beautiful rhythmic poems from the prolific pen of Shelby Stephenson.

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