Pulling Back the Sheet

It started as a scribble
in my yearbook
and ended
with an apology,
of sorts:
I wish I’d been more,
held your hand
when it mattered

and even
when it didn’t.

Ink lasts longer
than schoolyard buds,
wilted
before their bloom.
Notes we wrote
lend breath
to ghosts,

long after
pens fall still.

In this cold place
I see your face
as it was behind the gym;
where your lips
once tasted

of blackberries
and sunshine.

Ryan Stone

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I’ll not tread lightly

remember school days and how we would play
like there was no tomorrow?
now the castles we made
are the price we must pay
or flounder in oceans of sorrow

roaming wild and free, building houses in trees
as worlds waltzed to discordant tunes
like a zephyr through grass,
gilded summer days passed;
left us flayed under Cheshire moons

wooden sword fights and valiant knights;
pirates, the Pan and his Bell,
faded from dreams,
rowed ungentle streams,
to where the real monsters dwell

I’ve climbed faraway trees, seen fair Honah-Lee,
never never thought I’d grow old
now the pied piper calls —
before the last curtain falls,
leafless, I’ll trip into the wold.

Ryan Stone

First published by Wolf Publishing June, 2015

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Rhyme of the Kingdom

Over the mountains
and down to the sea,
you must come now
if you hope to break free.
No time to mourn
for Autumn’s red bowers;
the light we once made,
now darkness devours.

I can play you
the rhymes of the kingdom,
I can sing you
the songs that you know;
but we must take wing
from this darkened halo –
we must take wing
for a devil wind blows.

Break from your prison
of urban malaise;
run to the ocean,
fly from your home.
I offer no promise
that we’ll make it –
but take my hand
and I’ll never let go.

Ryan Stone

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Tōrō Nagashi

Your flame flickers briefly—
a parting whisper.
Some trick of the river
mimics your laughter.

We stand apart at sunset,
lost in natsukashii,
come together in darkness,
to watch the dead pass on.

Your light has fallen now
to shadow
beneath the bridge.

Ryan Stone

First published on Napalm and Novocain, January 2016

Published at Poetry Nook, October 2018, Nominated for 2018 Pushcart Prize

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Unburied Hatchet

Until I saw those wasted hands,
brittle as chalk, I hadn’t thought
how fast the years make ghosts.

I heard them once called brawler’s paws.
For me, they were always more:
cobras, poised to strike.

But his brawling days are gone now;
I could kill him with a pillow,
if I cared enough to try.

Thin sheets press tightly to a bed
more empty than full, his body broken
like the promises of childhood.

Haunted eyes betray last thoughts
of a dim path, spiralling down.
He hopes to make amends.

“Forgiven?” he croaks,
barely there, as always,
and I’m wishing that I wasn’t.

With the last rays of day as witness,
I turn my back with purpose
and hear the silence roar.

In a late-night bar I catch my reflection
swimming in a glass of bourbon;
but I’m staring at a ghost.

Ryan Stone

Click here for audio

First published in Writers’ Forum Magazine issue 163, April 2015 – first place

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The Journey Home

She tells me her pain is a squall,
sudden and vicious, like a flash

storm whipping in from Bass Strait
to batter King Island.
Do you remember our Island, Garth?

Her doctors build shelters; nurses
batten hatches, but this tempest

won’t blow over. She says her pain is a vulture now,
circling the desert on threadbare wings.
A glass of water if you please, Garth?

With beak and claw, it slashes and rips
nerve endings, drinks color from her eyes.

The pain is no longer squall or vulture,
she whispers, but a flutter of pages.
One last story before bed, dear Garth?

I don’t tell her that I’m her grandson—
not her brother Garth, stolen by war.

She’s a thin sheet stretched over an empty
bed; a gull’s cry on the wind.

– Ryan Stone

first published by Eunoia Review, June 2019

Daybreak

“Not everyone will like you,” she said.

“Why not?”

“That’s the way of things. Never show them it hurts.”

I looked at the iron gate before me and thought of spears. A phalanx of invisible soldiers clutching towering spears.

“When can I return?” I said.

“You cannot.”

“Never?”

“You must always look forward. Behind lies naught but ashes and dust.”

“Once I step through, you’ll be behind.”

She said nothing.

“I’ll miss you,” I said.

“As I will you.”

“You could come with me.”

She smiled. “The price of your freedom was more than I have.”

I looked from her face to the man in the shadows. A glint of gold flickered as he opened his mouth. “Time to go.”

“Ashes and dust,” said my mother, and shoved me into the light.

Ryan Stone

Dull Roar

One month from now,
a dull ache
is all you’ll be
to me.

Six months on
if I hear your name,
I might pause
to remember your face.

Once a year has passed
if I see you on the street,
more likely in a club,
I may smile or give a nod.

But tonight, right now,
a thousand men with knives
couldn’t cause the pain
you have.

Ryan Stone