The Farm That Farms New Houses
Beside the poinsettias
Blowing out of the graveyard,
A bull, forsaken,
Suns among the granite.
Fields brown the dozer’s tread.
Wood, nails, cement, a pile of bricks –
With every hammer’s fall, a cul-de-sac.
My farmboy throws up his hands,
Hoes his row, blows his nose, rubs his neck.
Freckles forlorn his shoulders round.
Hill upon hill, ridges, mounds,
He works through hail and hell.
Streetlamps leap his face’s glow.
He roaches his hair.
The sweet surround crowns his scars.
Delusion weighs brick entrances, cars,
Moneyed ease his red neck
They are farming houses right up to the creek.
No more skipperbugs skating and fish rolling in shallows.
The forkedtailed channelcat, pumpkinseed, rockbass, horsefish, suckers − gone –
The upsidedown leaves, limbs surfacing reflections, the little yellow and white
Butterflies bouncing at my feet!
What of this place I keep?
How shall my body
Leave the creek’s throat in my bones?
Published in The Hunger of Freedom (2008)
By Shelby Stephenson
SAYING I NEED AN IMAGE TO MAKE THE WORLD
I went back home and held my eyes on the hill
and it said You need a word deeper than I
so I took the old fencerails the lizards ran
and my family’s tongue came out of the Mouth
of Buzzard’s Branch, the sound of that one story,
everywhere, in the marshes, in the fields
and lowgrounds, and I said Where is the word
that holds All I am trying to say?—
and the cows lowed through their cuds over
and over it is nothing but a song—the long journey home:
Slow Man Barbour rode his Cushman
pooter-scooter and parked it when we played
cow-pasture ball: I used to run in from the hayfield
to see what Ralph Kiner had done that day:
he was my man to break the Babe’s homerun
mark, a chance to have somebody stand up
to bat for me: can I make a motion
for home, motion, the third-base coach might say
is slow, out of time, the squeak and sound of
footsteps—my wife coming home, coming to a place
we call home? The shifting winds catch her voice
full in her breasts; dark-throated locusts
dusk their beasts of sounds—home in the spine
which sitteth uneasily, the body
sensual still, all those mockingbirds
riffling feathers at the first suggested intrusion,
the low footage, getting a toe-hold this place
will be yours someday and here we are, the workers
mostly gone, the Bee Martin
out on the marker at the end of the drain,
catching insects come home to rest: I was
born in that house in the hedge, the dogyard
outback, the mulestables, chickens running
free, the hogpen homey with grunts and
tail-twitches—that’s it, the tall pile of wood
Percy Bolling cut for the stove in the kitchen,
the Home Comfort Range, that’s it, home,
the humming presence of overriding lips
the hymns my mother would sing while stirring
the soup: coming home is a hard row to hoe,
middle to bust, blossom to top, barn to fill,
road to pave, push to shove: the tractor’s
ready for the pasture, the bush-hog levels the field:
the lay is home, the lying down to sleep,
counting sheep, roughshod hooves grazing the top
rail of the fence hum on Percy would say,
Butler and Tony trailing the possum
hum on home, you good dogs you (of all those
thirty-five hounds we never had a dog
named Blue): the cotton’s tied up in burlap
This Place, Their Praise
This place, their praise: hill and house,
Where they have kept the earth for decades −
I am dying for the meadowlark to spill its song
This October day, naming it,
Hoping my mind might ground an image.
The plowman, his sweep spreading
Clods the way a mole might,
And the mule’s neck nodding silence except for trace-chains
Brushing a scab on her side, scrubbing burlap;
The pulling has been so long
A part of the flare her nostrils dribble
Slanting mucous beside the rows,
Closure a drowning
Surrender toward persistence
Preceding this thrusting angle to pen in furrow-time
The way the mule’s eyes weep
One fabric, women and men,
Slaves under unmarked ground
There in the Old Stephenson Cemetery,
Boundless as the ground’s
Silence the slaves were buried in −
Coming here, I cross the stream,
Remember an old woman over a washpot,
Stirring cracklins, unrest brought low,
The tale, untold, still, its bobends
Dobbing at seed-zero
This spot, the sun on my foot,
My seat a November slant of summertime
Holding the ragged one over the cauldron,
Her fires many colors whirling centuries,
Fringes I try to place.
Into the boiling organpipe, what musicale,
Raking the hand that strokes the nostrils −
A run away mule, a beloved child,
Smaller than a Halloween ghost swaddled in leaves
Left out of a trickster’s oven overnight.
Overall the hammer-sun nails the daisies.
The soil breaks for a new house.
Published in The Hunger of Freedom (2008)
Books of Poems:
The Hunger of Freedom. Princeton, N.J.: Red Dashboard LLC Publishing, 2014.
Family Matters: Homage to July, the Slave Girl. Durham, N.C.: Bellday Books, 2008.
Fiddledeedee. Washington, D.C.: Bunny and the Crocodile Press, 2001.
(Reprinted by Press 53, Winston-Salem, North Carolina: 2015)
Plankhouse, with photographs by Roger Manley. Rocky Mount, N.C.: North Carolina Wesleyan College Press, 1993.
Chapbooks of Poems:
Steal Away. Durham, North Carolina: Jacar Press, 2014
Play My Music Anyhow. Georgetown, Kentucky: Finishing Line Press, 2013.
Playing Dead. Georgetown, Kentucky: Finishing Line Press, 2011.
Possum. Treadwell, N.Y.: Bright Hill Press, 2004.
Greatest Hits. Johnstown, Ohio: Pudding House Publications, 2002.
Poor People. Troy, Maine: Nightshade Press, 1998.
Finch’s Mash. Laurinburg, N.C.: St. Andrews Press, 1990.
The Persimmon Tree Carol. Troy, Maine: Nightshade Press, 1990.
(Reprinted by Juniper Press: La Crosse, Wisconsin: 2002.)
The North Carolina Arts Council is a division of the Department of Cultural Resources, a state agency. Susan Kluttz, Secretary; Pat McCrory, Governor