Poetry by Travis Stephens


we are comprised of bites

some welcome, some not.

Bites & what is left surrounding

the bite plus some itches.

Appleseed ticks, grossly swollen

grapes of black blood, mosquitoes

so many goddamn mosquitoes

& their cousins, the gnats, the midges.

No good idea goes unpunished.

No good comes out of stagnant pools

criss-crossed by waterskaters &

dragonfly squadrons out for a good time.

Mysterious bite marks

along my waistband

ankle itches

new & gone.

Midday moon like a balloon

of love, veiled in possibility

yet with one contemptuous eye

for rockets & rovers &

other lunar assaults.

On the dark side no one

can see all its bites &

its itches.




I am trying to wean myself

from sugar, butter,

& I will not call you

or to think of you in any way.



I have read that sugar

leads to diabetes & hypertension.

The sweetest memory,

our limbs entwined,

is a second-hand recollection,

empty calories

that lead to distraction, regret &

late night ice cream remorse.

Warm caramel is just sugar

& butter plus heat.

Who needs the double-takes,

double scoops of

heartbreak & fudge sauce?

My teeth are bad.

Who needs honey or dates or

the false promise of strawberry jam?

Give me blackberry.

Full of seeds,

brambles and thorns,

picked from a hedge.

Hands stained with juice,

scratches, dust and August.

“Your love is better than chocolate”,

cooed Sarah MacLachlan

our summer of separation when chocolate

melted & clung to the wrapper.

I was saving it for later.

Now I have a kitchen scale

to measure ingredients;

instead of half cup,

my glass is over a hundred milliliters.

That heap of flour is perfectly,

accurately dumped in.

Today I am not beating

brown sugar,

of 70% dark bars

broken into chunks.

I will not be making cookies,

brownies or cakes.

This is my rebellion.

At best, banana bread made of

fruit that has become mush;

add sour cream & extra vanilla.


Let it cool on a rack

next to the phone so quiet,

so unanswered.




Saturday afternoon

listening to the whiskey

which, truth be told,

sometimes forsakes Kentucky

to speak in your voice.

Sometimes whiskey says my name,

hey this is me.

I look into the glass & see

your brown eyes watching.

Neither of us addresses

the bar mirror nor that day

in San Francisco. The ice swirls

in a clenched tumbler

like how you dance, spin

& slide away.

Even the sky frowns.

There is a bottle almost empty

& nearly gone.

Maybe I shouldn’t

visit so often

after all.





We are driving in the

sometimes rain

sometimes wind

on tree shouldered roads

toward the northwesternmost


of the contiguous United States.

On maps this is important.

On charts there is an island

beyond that point

manned by Coast Guard

weathermen & inland

recruits who didn’t know better.

No signs.

Keep driving.

Why do all reservation dogs

look alike? This one asleep

in the center of the road.

Look, you say, left alone

all dogs are brown.

Is that Twain? Groucho Marx?

Eventually we walk from muddy car

into raven woods, gull bereft,

to where the path ends

into a simple cliff.

No signs.

No guardrail.

Nobody stupid enough to

walk past Need Apply.

The wind is at home,

our eyes water at the sight

of that ragged island,

tree splattered, wave lathered

with a few buildings

trying to hide. Radio antennae.

Radar dish. Red roofs &

rusty white walls.

There is nothing here

to flatter—funny name—

& the original Native name was

probably apt

but unpronounceable to



past the fog

past the rain

that’s Japan.




Lines around my eyes are

from the smooth years,

the years when every bet on

pork bellies

or hard winter wheat made money;

when the swimming pools were

filled with saltwater so we

could float higher, get more

sun into our bones.

She smelled of coconut oil,

of sweat & jasmine

sheets knotted in the afternoon.

Scooters and skateboards rattle as

the ice cream vendor drinks warm

beer, eyes the nannies & the new

aluminum cars.

We are not ready to measure productivity

in sighs, hurried breaths

or pennies

stuck to the sweet syrup left in the jar.

Why not buy dinars

or drachmas or

diamond tennis bracelets

gifted to undependable girls

from Rio or Jo-burg,

who dance all night to

the jingle of trading bells and slot machines.

Heh, heh he said machines,

the way ten-year olds know cars,

the way cloistered nuns know caramel sauce

the way I know the taste of your

necklace, the frown lines on your face.


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