Shelby Stephenson





Why do I feel guilt when you say I want to get close, but my back hurts?

Yesterday on our walk I saw a fox turn his tail toward me,
the leaves parting for his body. I kept thinking: the fox is my persistence.
I know the Fate he feels − the roads, the roams,

the way we separate and go for the door opening on another.

I cannot conceive your down will stay like growing
things November beheads and tucks into folds, until January hails New
and we get out our instruments and take the road.

The disease has no beginning, no end.
It goes away without any attention.
It’s a bear that hibernates − then comes back.

Thanksgiving − you pace over the stove.

It’s Friday: the Pillbox groans with seven days.
Shoot! I took Monday’s instead of Friday’s.

Spinning out laughter amid the clime of thoughts gone numbly −
you in your walking shoes,
your blue, pale jacket ballooning,
your doctors all playing horns and tambourines.
Minstrels in black face and white −
and you − sing above your ukulele’s frail,
me, holding my voice.

Critics scrape their shoes and dance.
Editors shred their slips.

My feet on the floor of my study, my pen streaks.
I cannot leave these fields so wide, the rows long and short, planted and unplanted.
The song’s already sung, the poem’s been written a long time −
all that and more I hold onto, waiting for you.



Shelby Stephenson‘s Family Matters:  Homage to July, the Slave Girl won the 2008 Bellday Poetry Prize, Allen Grossman, judge.  Retired from the University of North Carolina-Pembroke, Stephenson served for 32 years  as editor of the international literary journal Pembroke Magazine.


Note: ‘Affection’ is taken from an as yet unpublished, full-length volume called Nin’s Poem:  A Bipolar Memoir.

One comment

  1. Powerful, moving! This poem is a reminder of our mortality, the fleeting time we have to love. I like this one a lot.

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