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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The Wind Whispers, The Wind Sighs

– after Longfellow

The wind whispers, the wind sighs,
the dawn light brightens, a magpie cries;
amongst the gum trees tall and green
a girl becomes a faerie queen.
And the wind whispers, the wind sighs.

Morning settles beneath silk skies,
her reign flits by like dragonflies;
deep shadows dress the naked hill
in dusk, as faerie wings fall still.
And the wind whispers, the wind sighs.

Night throws a cloak; a barn owl cries,
another answers, stars blink like eyes.
The queen is gone, won’t come again;
these woods forever will remain.
And the wind whispers, the wind sighs.

– Ryan Stone

first published at Poetry Nook, May 2020

Mother’s Hands

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Advertisement for Myers Gloves, by Margaret Watkins (Canada), 1920s.

Mother’s Hands

Strong enough to lift me
each time I couldn’t rise. Soft
as cotton wool, washing
dirt from scrapes and tears
from eyes. Firm enough
to model clay
and boys, to bowls
and men, yet fine
when stroking ivory keys–
Für Elise and Clair de Lune.
They’d curl through each long evening
around her only vice, in a holder
like Audrey’s, that never left her side.
I’m thinking of her hands now–
strong and wild and free; missing
her hands now, as I watch ashes
blow to sea.

Ryan Stone

Written for the 20 poem challenge at Ekphrastic, September 2016.

First published at Ekphrastic, September 2016

Leaving Violet Town

The boy sits alone
while the carriage fills
around him. It’s a V-line,
a long haul, thundering
into morning.

Barely legible,
a chipped sign fades
and Violet Town falls away.

He retreats to a paperback
kingdom, while oblivious
wheels devour miles.
Sometimes his eyes rise
to watch the landscape
grind from here to there.

Terminus halogen holds the night
at bay as a voiceover calls
passengers awake.

At journey’s end,
crisp air whispers
possibility. Behind him,
doors hiss shut. Ahead,
a turnstile beckons.

Ryan Stone

First published in Writers’ Forum Magazine issue 159, December 2014

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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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