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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Wedding Poem

It’s a fleeting moment–
a red sky at twilight,
rushing to the long night;
the last russet leaf
clinging to bough
as autumn inhales,

breathes out.

You know this, you’ve felt it
in the grey light of dawn,
in that pause
between waking and finding.
You’ve heard it whisper
through the dry grass
of summer–a promise
tossed on the wind.

Yesterday’s smoke
blows over fields,
tomorrow hides
inside dreams.
This hand in your hand
is the one, the only
true kingdom

under the sun.

Ryan Stone

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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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Falling Up

You will never fall in love with me.
Don’t try to convince me
That I will always wait for you.
If you really look, you’ll see
I’m not here for the long haul
Don’t imagine
You give me reason to stay.
When things get hard I’ll leave –
Don’t imagine
I’m not like the others,
Goodbye.
I’ll never say
I love you.

(Now read from bottom to top,
my bleeding heart undone.)

Ryan Stone

Click here for audio

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The Weight

One drunken night, he lay on the coach road
and she lay beside him. He pictured a truck
descending–wobbling around corners,
gaining momentum. They spoke about crushes,

first kisses. He told her of an older woman
who’d stolen a thing he couldn’t replace.
He tried to describe the weight of lost things.
She listened until he stopped,
until I stopped

hiding behind he. I felt small,
watching the cosmos churn
while I lay on the coach road
one summer night,
speaking of big things
and nothing.

Ryan Stone

first published at Algebra of Owls, November 2016

Republished for dVerse poetics – Poems That Could Save Your Life – this friendship saved mine.

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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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Spiderwebs

I watch a spider spin beneath the veranda eaves. With care, it weaves the foundation from which its web will spread. Unfazed by the dust that swirls around us and stains everything red, the spider continues. Two years ago, I swore I’d never return to this town at the arse-end-of-nowhere. Now, the dry wind blows that distant vow back in my face. I’m sitting on the veranda in the same rickety rocking chair where my mum nursed me. The woman has gone. The chair remains.

Strand upon strand, the spider’s web grows while I wait. So many layers that even if you manage to slip through one, you’re still trapped fast. I wonder if the spider considers its prey, or the turmoil it leaves behind.

The web covers the entire corner of the veranda in silver now, and the spider has retreated from sight. In my pocket I can feel my sister’s letter crumpled and balled. There’s no need to reread, I know each word from the long bus ride here.

A dragonfly hovers. First near my knee, then higher. Wings drone like radio static as it investigates the web in the eaves. The late afternoon sun makes rainbows dance along its wings, and then it is caught. The web shakes with its struggles, but the spider has cast its net well. With each desperate lurch the dragonfly becomes further trapped, loses a little more fight. Soon, the rainbow disappears and the dragonfly surrenders to its fate. The spider appears and I watch it creep forward, certain that no one will intervene.

Out on the red dirt road, a rusty pickup slows. It pulls into the drive, and I can hear the tappets screaming for oil. My sister’s ginger hair fills the cab, visible even through the scum smearing the windscreen. I drag my knife from its sheath. It isn’t until they reach the veranda that my stepdad finally sees me. He drops my sister’s hand.

Ryan Stone

First published at Flash Fiction Magazine , December 2019

A Capacity for Violence

My shot missed. Dust rose in a miniature mushroom cloud.

Donny drew back his slingshot and held a rock steady. The chicken stood still. Donny released. His rock struck the chook’s head and sent it scrabbling into the red dirt of my yard.

I watched as it rose and tried to escape, hoping it would make it. But the piece of rusted fencing wire Donny had wound round its leg and secured to a star picket stopped it from getting far. Sweltering in the afternoon heat, I wiped my hand across my forehead. Sweat and dust to ran into my eyes. I blinked it away and loaded my slingshot. I missed again.

“You’re fuckin’ useless,” Donny said.

A metal bar lay on the ground nearby, left over from the shed Dad had started to build. Another project that got too hard for him and remained unfinished. The shed leaned to one side and barely stayed upright when the winds howled.

I picked up the bar and advanced on the chook. “I’m not useless,” I said, and swung hard. The chook somersaulted through the air, then sprawled on the ground. Still twisted in wire, its leg pointed like a finger of accusation. I wiped my eyes, then raised the bar for another blow.

“Stop,” my mother said, emerging from behind the half-finished shed. She didn’t yell—she rarely did—but her presence was enough to make me lower the bar, and my eyes.

“Go home, Donny.”

Mother walked to the chicken, still flopping around on the end of the wire. With a quick motion of her hands—a pull and jerk—she ended its suffering. She turned and looked me in the eyes. “Untie it. Bring it into the shed.” Without another word, she walked away.

I entered the shed with the limp, bloody bird, and lay it on the bench my mother indicated.

“Sit down.”

I didn’t look at her.

“I said sit.”

“I can’t.”

She tilted her head to the side. “Turn around.”

I did as she asked.

“Now drop your strides.”

Face burning, I complied, knowing my bare arse was crisscrossed with red welts the same width as Dad’s belt. She placed her hands on my shoulders and turned me back around to face her.

“Please don’t tell Dad about the chook.”

“The true measure of a man isn’t his capacity for violence, but his ability to contain it. Do you understand?”

I nodded.

She handed me a hatchet.

“Cut off its head and pluck it. Then bring it in for dinner.”

Ryan Stone

Runner up Grindstone Literary Flash Fiction 1000, June 2018

Published at Flash Boulevard, September 2019