64 Parishes

Poetry

Poetry by DeAnna Stephens

The 2019 Tennessee Williams Festival Poetry Contest Winner.

Poetry by DeAnna Stephens

Main Street Rag Bookstore

Heliotaxis by DeAnna Stephens

DeAnna Stephens is the winner of the 2019 Tennessee Williams Festival Poetry Contest. Stephens earned her MFA from George Mason University. Her poetry has appeared most recently in Helen, Rumble Fish Quarterly, and The Lascaux Review, and her chapbook, Heliotaxis, is forthcoming from Main Street Rag. She makes her home in the Cumberland Mountains of Tennessee with her husband and daughter and teaches writing at Roane State Community College. 64 Parishes is pleased to share the following selection of her work.

Center Line Catechism

for Michelle J.

Past the season of rebirth, a midnight
pilot has slashed the moon

with a billowing contrail, as if to say, no,
forget. Half reminder, half portent,

the moon casts off this caveat as shadow to
mark my way along a wooded path,

newly christened  in this place
of no ambient light,

unlike the streets we roamed  and the
sidewalks that scarred our front yards

and paled beneath a phosphorus twilight that
whispered curfew in our mother’s voices.

Your magic that prolonged the dusk lingers
in that suburb,

down the street where you conjured
fathers out of birthday cakes

and became, at the eleventh candle,
Prince’s protégé, with berry-colored hat

that hid your eyes from me, led your gaze to the
buttercream ruffles and his rice paper face

as you exhaled. You lived on the street’s
only sky-blue house—two stories of azure

the neighbors deemed vulgar for vibrancy,
for whiffs of collie and kielbasa

through the gaping front door, and your mother’s
thin robe as she kissed her boyfriend

outside the house. “Like a zwykla szmata,”
you heard someone say.

Expert in puppies and older sisters, in
the resolve of heat waves and boys,

you mystified the lore I craved:
accidents on bicycles and damaged fruit,

what happened with Ronnie in the tool shed
when you left me standing just outside.

You envied my credulous certainty of second-
hand proof and told me you wanted

to dance, so I lent you a pair of tap shoes,
taught you to clog along hardwood floors,

while we watched for warnings in jet plumes and
in Chernenko’s televised face. We danced

louder to smudge the empty sigh of
missiles surely arcing over Lake St. Clair.
Death,

in its imminence and fullness as heavy as
a satisfied womb, had stranded us

there, inside my room, where our mothers
and sisters could never disclose to us

the answers from bottoms of lingerie drawers,
from the false linings of bras and purses

and our own bodies. Had you waited for dusk to
ask if your dog would enter Heaven,

I could have consulted an acumen beyond
the clamor in my chest,

and the fierce pillar of summer
spotlighting my feet, blinding me

to the undisturbed sky above. I could have said
something other than No, you’ve forgotten

 

how animals don’t have souls.

 

Inscription in a Dead Creek Bed

With pull tabs twisted from soda cans,
Someone scratched fervid verbs into sandstone;

They cracked sheep skull* into fragments
Left inside-up and glistering in August drought

That made the gorge serene
In lack of color—milk-dust powdering boulders,

Pallor of underbellies stalking lizard and leaf
As we trailed the creek and its motion,

Condensed now into risk.
We chased and fondled the notion
That the world could never out-thrive

Our pulses, that boys diving from bluffs
Would feign terror to amuse us, Would
resurface, resplendent and aloof.

 

*another name for a geode

 

Pastoral in Four Seasons

Summer opens as a girl
plucks her backyard
clean of frogs
and bright salamanders.

The mower’s blade thrills at
these flavors of green, the reach
of things that regrow. For
nothing, she mows her own,

unlike suburban boys in movies
earning thirty bucks per lawn
to buy what will take a whole
season to possess.

Unlike those boys who hate the
pet next door, she never taunts
the Rottweiler barking through his
fence of honeysuckle and rot.

Last March brought Dean and his
dog, but unlike the boys in movies, he
could not love the girl next door,
for her yard lacked symmetry,

and black pines mocked the view
between their bedroom windows.
And unlike the girlfriends
of those boys in movies,

Dean’s girl lost her thumb to his
backyard circular saw. Grass girl
hadn’t heard the screams,
never heard the sirens

while shut in her room. She
wished otherwise after seeing the
denouement of stitches,
how it all was growing back,

and beholding Dean’s apologies, relentless
that autumn. After the grass stopped
growing, both girls marveled
at the thumb’s pink hem, at the icy

cuticle of Calf Killer Creek
cleaved wider, and wider still to
raise Dean’s body into spring.

 

Sweetmeats

Nipples are zeroes, data

surging the ventricles  of a

body, barely there  below

snuffed flood lights.

 

The field goal is edgeless

but primed for tuning

darker frequencies. Fanged

electrodes laud the length

of my skirt in your fists

beyond the blush of

crackling street lamps.

 

Their attenuated haloes

imply a hand on a thigh, my

automaton kisses  glazing

your lips.

 

Eyelets of vertebrae open

toward earth;  but you want me spilled star-ward

through a breach of

borrowed losses, want an

extract of revelation

like sap on your tongue.

 

Against my changeling body,

your stories are bone saws

posing as a key, as graceless

as the quilt’s batting that

prods my temple, the blades

of my back, for a latch to

spring angel’s wings.

 

Your kisses are failing

passwords,

but still your fingers

seek the cipher to open

my empathy. You want

me to scorn the father

you hate, the one

I will never meet.

 

Already I forgive

your father’s hands for

circling the neck of a

woman whose blade

channeled sun in her

Viet-Cong village,

tasted his blood, lurid

like the grass stains on

this quilt your mother

will launder fervidly.

 

But on this field of games, I

want to imagine tasting a

man, learning the soundless

vernacular of nerve endings

lit by sighs

 

and transmuted to the body’s

entirety, so that the marrow my

old boyfriends wagered would

glitter like the toothed crystals of

rock candy would dissolve

beneath his kisses,

 

leave me without the longing

to bypass the lo—lo— lo—

 

the 1 and the 0 reckoning love.