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

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Drought Town

This is the summer of red dust. Everything
sucked dry—hollow as cicada husks, wedged
under eaves and porch stairs—waiting
for a wind change. On the road out of town,
empty grain silos loom, perched like headstones
over wheat-field graves. Harvesters sag, tyres
cracked like the asphalt. Rotting carcasses
litter riverless beds—tongues swollen,
flyblown, unslaked. First, a wheeze,
then my pickup spews steam. It dies in a ditch
under a burnt-orange sun. Tiger snake chunks
graffiti the hood’s underside, one blind eye bulging
from the torn head. It must have sought shade
or wiper water—sliding up from the parched earth
miles back. Now it’s just one more dead thing
in a land of dead things. This is the summer
of red dust. It swirls and the road ahead blurs.

– Ryan Stone

first published by Eunoia Review

Green Dream

I’m excited to announce that my flash story Green Dream took out 1st place in the 2019 Flash Memoir Contest at Writer Advice.

To top it off my good friend, Sarah Russell, took out 2nd with her brilliant flash Donny, 1968.

Here’s the link if you’d like to check out all four winning entries: Writer Advice 2019 Flash Memoir Contest

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank editor, B. Lynn Goodwin at Writer Advice for the wonderful job she does hosting a range of great competitions and writing resources on her site.

Green Dream

I glanced around the vet’s office. Minimal. Functional. Sterile. No windows. The only light flickered down from a strobe overhead. The neon globe emitted a low-register hum that battered against the tension already building near the base of my skull. If it was causing my head to ache, I figured it must sound even worse to the sensitive ears of Zeus, the German shepherd sitting on the tile floor beside me.

I lowered a hand to one of Zeus’s ears and began to stroke it. Zeus pushed into my leg in pleasure. “It’s alright, mate,” I said. Which was about as far from the truth as possible.

The single door to the small room opened and a woman in a white coat entered. Tall and athletic, her dark hair was pulled back into a ponytail. From behind expensive-looking glasses, she considered me for a moment before she spoke. “How is he with needles, Officer? Do you want a muzzle?”

I looked down at the six-year-old shepherd, seeing instead the eighteen-month-old pup Zeus had been when we were first partnered together. Those initial weeks before we’d established a bond had been hell. For all his size, Zeus had been terrified of the injections required of all new police dog recruits. Zeus had nipped and scratched and fought to avoid his inoculations—my hands still bore a few faded scars to prove it.

I’d worked hard to desensitise Zeus to the process. After some trial and error, I eventually stumbled across a fix in the unlikely form of a Bic ballpoint pen. I discovered that pressing a pen to Zeus’s neck, nib retracted, and then clicking the end button to extend the nib, resembled the needle experience. Zeus had a high tolerance to pain. It was more the sensation of force on his neck while he was restrained that frightened him.

Over months and years, it became a constant in our life together. Before he was allowed to play with his Kong, Zeus had to lie down and remain calm while I pressed the pen to his neck and clicked the pen nib out and in a couple of times. Zeus soon associated the experience with the promise of chewing his Kong, and the struggles and nips ceased.

“Officer? Would you like me to get a muzzle?” the vet repeated.

I snapped back to the present and looked down at Zeus. “No. Zeus doesn’t mind. Thank you.”

“Are you ready?”

I signalled for Zeus to drop, and went down onto a knee beside him. I wrapped an arm around his neck, conscious of the strong heartbeat pumping beneath thick fur. I nodded, not trusting my voice.

The vet took out a large syringe full of green liquid and expertly found a vein.

Zeus didn’t flinch. I looked into his brown eyes, recognised the implicit trust that existed, the knowledge that we’d done this together a thousand times before. That everything would be fine.

Only this time was different. Degenerative Myelopathy, a progressive disease of the spinal cord, was quickly eating its way through my courageous police dog. Any day now he could wake up paralysed. I wouldn’t let that happen.

Zeus turned his head briefly, looking for his Kong, and then closed his eyes. He rested his head on my hand, deciding he’d hunt for it after a quick nap.

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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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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

The T-Shirt

She stares at the t-shirt draped over her chair. A replica Eames deserves better than Metallica. Of all the things for him to leave behind!

Clasped like Excalibur, a knife thrusts up from a toilet, Metal up your ass written beneath. Who would think of something like that? Who would print it? Worse still, who would wear it? She knows the answer to the last, having argued with him before countless dinner parties, Sunday barbecues, visits from her mother.

She swats at the shirt as she would a spider, gets slapped in the face by Armani as it falls. Now it lurks on the floor, one more dead thing in a week of dead things, until her kick sends it skidding under their her bed.

Hours later she listens to it whisper as sleep refuses her haven. If she lies just so her mind can ignore it, until a stray breeze blows a trace to her nose. She climbs from bed to hunt naked in the fragmented moonlight. The shirt is a cool breath on feverish skin, and she surrenders to heavy metal dreams.

Ryan Stone

The Walk

I wake a full hour early
for the rare gift
of a walk in the woods
with my father.

He is a silent giant
among misty ghost gums.
I tell him, Watch!
See how fast I can run.

He doesn’t yell when I trip
and fall, but lifts me
with unfamiliar,
calloused hands.

At the end of the trail
I study my grazes—jagged
and bloody. He tells me
he’s leaving my mum.

On the walk home
I gaze at the gum trees
and fragmented clouds, thinking
they should look different somehow.

Ryan Stone

first published at Poetry Nook, 1st place Week 185