Shelby Stephenson


Who keeps falling for the sermons

I keep hearing to stop the story

as I whip the cattle in shape to determine

which ones survive the last boring

slaughter, the processing of the meat,

the packaging for the freezer the days

won’t let me forget even as the first feat

imagined lives by standards humans might laze

around until dust collapses waiting to roll

up the mattress, love the romance for sleep

now that schedules come into the fold,

yours, mine, the creatures in snowdrifts,

the winter of scribbles the farmers

make as big as planting crops

to adore waking up to alarms

on bedside tables in Pleasant Grove’s lots

while the tragedy rules; I hold my breath.

The graves do not stop growing for anything.

The truth is:  there is no death

exemplifying friends or enemies, woes or sins.


SHELBY STEPHENSON was Poet Laureate of North Carolina from 2015-2018.  His recent books are 

Elegies for Small Game, winner of Roanoke-Chowan Award; Family Matters:  Homage to July, the Slave Girl, winner of the Bellday Prize; Slavery and Freedom on Paul’s Hill; and More.