A. E. Stallings

Four Poems


New Year’s, I fetched a mirror
Heavy, dark, and small,
Across the grey-scale ocean,
And hung it in the hall—

A lesser family souvenir
Nobody would miss,
Swaddled in a carry-on
And carried on to this,

Across the random zones
Of time, into the year,
Into the headlong night.
(It’s always later here.)

I’ve hung it on the wall,
Eye-level, so I can chance
On truth, unflattering,
And meet an honest glance.

The rooms that it has held
In the chapel of its eye,
In houses lost to banks or flood
In a century gone by,

And the visages of kin
Long cancelled, have slid across
This surface, with no ripple
Dilating life or loss,

A stream of oblivion
Pours through its portal, bright
And changeable, or dark
And still—by day or night,

Forgetting, frame by frame,
Moment by moment cast
Like a black stone over the shoulder
Into the backward past.



My son’s been reading about sharks for hours.

He is aglow with facts he must relate
About their habitat, their length, their weight,
About their intelligence, their relative powers.

Again and again, I must prove amazed—
Aren’t they marvellous! Then, down and dazed,
40 million sharks are killed a year!

I swear to never, ever eat shark-fin soup.
There were sharks, he says, before the dinosaurs.
The facts keep ticking on an endless loop

Rattled off like stocks or baseball scores.
Awestruck himself, he preaches awe and fear:
Our wastefulness, Time’s deeps, all that devours.

Consider the shark, more ancient than insects or flowers.



It was the Iron Age. The men had been drinking,
Those two surly brethren, Hindsight and Forethought.
They sent her down to the cellar to fetch more wine
Even though she’d murmured, “You’ve both had enough.”

Forethought, at least, you’d think would eschew a hangover.
But then he was always cocky: he’d filched sparks
From the gods, and hadn’t foreguessed, despite his name,
The prank would backfire. His liver hadn’t yet

Begun to creak as if an eagle tore it each morning.
Hindsight, her husband, of course remorsed their marriage.
He’d said she was a punishment from Zeus,
And that virginity made for a sorry dowry

Depreciating soon as you drove it off the lot.
There was just a dram in the drained keg, and that
She thought she’d just drink herself, dregs be damned.
Broach a new cask? They were huge, a fathom tall,

A man could drown in them, set deep in the floor,
So you could reach the mouth. She pried open
The charactered seal with only her grappling fingers,
But the wine had vinegared, or worse. What fumes!—

Acrid, with notes of brimstone. Flies belched out.
Hindsight would give her a beating tonight for sure.
Ouch: just then the baby gave a disgruntled kick
Right behind where she would have had a belly button

If she’d been born, instead of just made up by poets.
Hindsight hankered for sons, more braces of hands
For his failure of a farm. But if it were a daughter,
She’d have some company, and name her Heather maybe, or Hope.


The last I heard his laugh

The last I heard his laugh, he, not long dead
Still had his sense of humor. I heard the boom
From down the hall, his old department’s floor,
And trailed it through the maze of beige, the laugh
Larger than death. I glimpsed him through a door,
Which, almost shut, grinned open just a chink:
A meeting, maybe, where he shared a joke
With colleagues, as the afternoon adjourned
And made light of some shadows on a graph.
And passing by, I only meant to poke
My head around and wave. But with a wink
That meant, “I see you. Don’t come in,” he turned
Back to the dim agenda of the room,
To matter with which I was not concerned.


A. E. STALLINGS is an American poet who has lived in Greece since 1999. Her most recent collection is Olives. She is completing a verse translation of  Works and Days (Hesiod) for Penguin Classics.