Ann Stephenson


French Horn

I wait out the fading siren
& return to sleep
it rains one drop at a time
I try to recall a fragrance
but only come up with dust
I cut a little hole in the poem
& look through it
into the next room
& out at the violet evening
my mind goes everywhere at once
yet everything is the way it should be
flushed then fading
like this instrument


All Systems Gone

Here in the lake of my yard
I must fashion an engine
full service
I won't pretend to know how I got here
the helicopter brought relief, the dead bird got up
and walked away, well okay, best news of the day
doesn’t offset complicated bad news
you can try if you're clever or just awake
squalls, their conspicuous entrances
their music returned me to silence
some bad advice: convey your cravings
quickly and quietly
work in the dirt
to protect, witness, touch
but please stop talking at least sometimes
it's not personal is the dumbest thing people say
the rain snuffs out the light
I'm begging you
for a little history
on these bridges, bays, inlets, islets
their propositions, their poisonings and fires
isn't someone going to write a book called ANSWERS?
water up to my elbows
poverty my rulebook
straight lines from which to dangle
drink from my blue bottle the old man said
blue lake, blue yard
what else


Salt Away

What hums in the flue
Leading nowhere?
Motion lights flash
Not changing people
Springs are a catchall
Begging to be elsewhere
Condescending looks from the elephants
You’re mean and they know it
You’ll get yours in the Year of the Pig
When the falcon gives you back your arm
And the wasps are put to bed
Along with the farmer’s daughter
Her song in the shower floated by
A song of forgetting
Yesterday was stillest, it carried over
Until ice cracked in the eaves
I’d like to pick her brain
Sleep now
In future you’ll be part of me
There hang the nets and the unexpected Dutch words
The sound of engines drowned out by hunger
That’s spring you taste, but it’s early
Distant woodsmoke
The hemlocks have been driven away
Did I say nowhere and forgetting?
Because here she is again without a word
Selling her maps and coins
Making her mark on paper



We attend a secret assembly upstream
looking for a technology
to help us sell more
all future contracts
followed by lunch
someone put a flower on an empty chair
reminding us that we date back
to a different century
cutting new frames
teeth eyes noses elbows
cars shuttle across the river



Due to time constraints
the last speaker at the ceremony
must act out her speech
before steam fills the room
and the vines wrap around her ankles
the trick is to keep real life
reduced to the short form
standing in for the whole
but she's not falling for it
she’s folding a paper napkin into a star
and shamming everyone with a smile
call it a skill set
capacity to take day into night
night into air



Hurray for your poems! 
they bought me extra space for my head
after too many days on the third floor
I crane into the atmosphere
with impeccable balance
ever since they peeled off the roof next door
the air smells funny
like everyone’s kitchens going at once
I tie my hair up, soon I’ll use it for a belt
so I won’t fall in or off or over
not today anyway
when new weather is waiting
in every shade of blue
cast onto the church
but what about turning the world blue— 
to what purpose?
I read about it in your poem

Now there’s a new day
it’s like nothing ever happened
I’ve never read a word in my life
only numbers
but the people are nice
I cross two bridges to get to them


Ann Stephenson is the author of Wirework (2006), Adventure Club (2013),
and The Poles (2017). Her poems have appeared in Across the Margin,
The Brooklyn Rail, Delineator, Ladowich, Recluse,
and Sal Mimeo, as well
as the anthology Like Musical Instruments: 83 Contemporary American
edited by John Sarsgard and Larry Fagin (Broadstone Books, 2014).
She is the founder and editor of Tent Editions.


Published April 2018.