Ann Stephenson



 from The Poles


The train collapsed at midnight    
made of construction paper
I sleep under thick black lines
advising me to fetch my hat from the lamppost
forgive their words
they were just following orders
a mirage waiting to see you
ribbons streaming out of marble mouths
The city lies dormant
sleep is on the way, the police know about it
a favorite pillow
tapped out of feathers
replaced by air
young earth and its poisonous gases
Before this, a footprint of the South
of the Revival and its closing
the spirited holding spirit back
Lighter elements gather near the surface
outer layers cool and harden
fireworks light the sky, tell the children
not to watch as this is all about you
A cool smile
the swaddled moon  
I'd know it anywhere
this morning my glasses broke (wincing)
I dragged all the furniture into traffic
hitched to the bedpost
ruinous on the Mercalli Scale, some houses
give way, a weak tremor
noticed by people resting
to the highest mountain
eruption is a plausible idea
go away            
feeling the room
a blink in your resolve


The longest river as a wavy blue line, a pictorial twig snapping
chagrin to your salt
night sky with discreet borders
travel earned its reputation without us, not our fault
we gathered for an explanation of exits
The city enclosed in one cloud
will we be okay?
the touch screen between us
it's a picture of mother
in diamonds to repel witches
come along, monitor my behavior
aerating the lawn with our shoes
must return the Braque to the glass room
louvers cast stripes across faces
rooftops sprouting rubber trees
beautiful sunset, polluted cocktail
Is this anything like speech?
water will fill the house
enough to settle the ground
you and your neighbor have a lot in common
you both get lost
in the courtyard
the boy practices his phonics
and a new kind of spelling
there are missing books
let me explain
score one for the little wooden boy
he knows their secrets
a love affair with the work
of the artist in Rome
drop by to talk to her whenever you're in town
she has grasshoppers hopping out of the wallpaper
The boy can't get enough air
dark sky, I'm glad for this beam of light
planes won't stay inside their lanes
Birds motioning to me out the window
that one's picking at a fish wrapper
tree, hill, mound
nest under glass
the riverbank accepts their eggs
nobody is awake yet
consolidating their debts in a dream
Jack picks up fallen limbs
knees know more rain
cranes hammering pilings
add five feet onto the dock
once I find the right view
I buckle my belt
Shrimp in a bucket
an offering to the birds
John drove through the night to Miami
my brother in the wheelchair went missing
someone fed him sugar, punched him in the eye
Katie said, "Jesus is all we need"
don't lie
the casino boat sank, took the dock down with it
we place the mirror on the floor


A recurring dream
horses beating me to the finish line
I've been here before
performed numberless cruelties
that only strengthened my resolve not to give in
to the people cracking jokes in the kitchen
(which I now do quite capably
listening in silence, clearing the room
a dumb smile wrapped around my jaw,
blue lips, blue air)
but anything can be mended, anything forgotten
any doubt withstood
Walk it off
along a sparkling river, if you have one
time moves in curlicues, vortices, tunnels
I want to stop winding my clocks
that shine in the shadows
which is better
to remember things happily or accurately
or not at all, save for the birds
that mimic you with little more than a few notes
I was living through the peoples massacre
when the alarm chirped
to wake the watchman, my neighbor
who chose to leave once and for all
emptying cabinets, ridding the halls of accumulated junk
I repeat what was whispered to me
by the songstress on the second floor
who shimmies up the stairs backwards
smelling of cream and rose
no end in sight, no keepsakes
to be excavated for forgiveness
on behalf of everyone who ever lived here
I packed some air in a bag
fresh from the forest, where a branch cut my cheek
never mind
I was on a roll but the lever jammed
summer in a winter city
lauded as an experiment
theories come and go
still asthma remains a mystery
I'm upstairs where the floorboards pop in the cold
these apparitions are real
you wouldn’t recognize them, they're versions of you
loving them makes them disappear
a blush on the snow
That was a nice thing you said
but words won't carry you
east if the smoke blows west
flowers follow
a rule of thumb


Deer head wreathed in mountain laurel
the crest of an abstemious family
you empty all their bottles
Look at the light, tell me
what letters you can make out
it was their time
the rock in my bed, I kept it there
they told me to leave
leave at sun-up
an empty hole where sky used to be
I could never light a fire
these circular thoughts
all that madness and strain
ends up somewhere
I knew it would
as a girl I hitchhiked
in my own after school special
jail was the safest place for me
a priority switch
I made it through unscathed
a bag of bones
carried over from long ago, it all depends
on how you define a revolution
There is a rush for good seats
under cloud cover
a big rip in thin air
stay away from the teens
who spread myths about horse glue
and rip up flowers
overdue a star
The milliner lost his measurements and the river its levee
the fat raccoon rolled downhill toppling rocks
the corporate minded shut down at two
the exhibitionists hid behind their dominoes
further south fires still burn
our dispassionate pleas are duly noted
in a mock courtroom the size of an ox’s stall
there will be no sagas here
no town square pageantry
we’ll forget everything by morning


The sentimental favorite is out of the running
disappeared into the night
Junior spits up
his dreams have soured
that nightmare again with the turnstile
Can I—May I—go, quietly?
dog paddle to the floating dock
take a look at summer
rework it, saving
only professional grade
A giant nickel outside the bank
titanium roof shaped like a violin
is there an emergency?
diminishing or entering?
growing in the water? underfoot?
hands clasped together, enduring rain
Seed stuck in my teeth
with happy thoughts I can't bear
here's the caretaker of the story
his triangular face
no social graces
meanwhile, I'm indestructible, aptly enough
the center of a bright blue flame
disguising my contentment
I wanted an ending that would repair the middle
my wires crossed, so tired
of endearing themselves to me
I emptied the gun barrel
to settle the score with everyone
for all the wrong things
and people
the sun points at them
making the saddest appear happy
sky is reeling
Please visit me on the web
sickness and oxygen deprivation are common
the artist followed the route of the rails
with a functional flip
nothing was powering the clock
Another thriller on the screen
bring on the whitewash
pour it over everything
bittersweet chocolate
look at all the books
spinning out of control
Corn, squash, chilies, sunflowers
I carry the seeds like a gang member
aperture and caliber of world food supply
sober tenderness is all I ask
but why does it snow only in our town
on our roof
with only one star out the window?
I give up
I'll sing to you
I am no longer winterized
I breathe
I polish my guns
after a long hard day of kindness
but I sleep politely reverent