:: Article

Four poems

By Kristen Stone.


The smell of leeks reminds me of Utrecht in November
the three weeks I spent there with a traveling band of American feminists

eating packets of soup in the hostel lobby, and drinking espresso and smoking inside
so cold always and the leaves a bright red against old brick.

I wore a borrowed coat and we all had nervous breakdowns
I was colder than I had words for, and it was only autumn, thin Southern blood

We read Deleuze in a cement lecture hall and the sky felt too close
the church bells rang anarchy, whenever they felt like it.

We ate leek soup, and chocolate bars in purple paper with a cow on the front.
Extra Romig; I still don’t know what that means.

And I slept in Mahina’s bed every night, partly because I was cold
but also because I wanted to be in love with someone, in this foreign land.

I had to feed strange, ugly coins into a public phone in the middle of the night to call my mother
my voice traveling over six hours and an ocean, a distance that requires abstraction
we talked to each other on two different days.

One night I was lonely and trying to wake Mahina up
so she would move her hand over my hipbone
and still asleep she kissed the back of my neck. The thrill lasted for over an hour;

We should have met at fourteen rather than twenty, we would have been in love then
her goth whimsy drew me in anyway, if I couldn’t be warm I wanted poetry

still homesick, in rural Michigan now, today I remember the Netherlands.

Anatomy lessons


If a pepper touches the ground as it grows
its poor bottom will get black and soft
useless for keeping inside and outside apart.

Sad rotten bottoms, Gregory and I sing
as we prepare for the frost, clipping before they’re red,
Solanaceae unable to withstand.


Children’s pigs at the fair are unashamed of their strange human bottoms.
Potbellied 4H dads guide the pigs, lead them out of the pen when they break a rule.
Then back in, like a time out: teach a lesson to a confused pink monster.


The intrinsic sense that the bottom should be kept towards the wall
away from action, noise, and the emotions of others.
Lest something strange happen to it:
it could just fly away, this soft round butter pat of the body.

When the father told all the terrible things they did to him,
his mother and brother, he said maybe they happened to you too.



When a kid is about to die, there is a moment when the straw itches your legs
the heat lamp burns and the horror fades:
Should we try the bottle one more time? No, maybe not.

Neck abrupt punctuation against his thin, thin body:
something effed up in his brain, you say. Semicolon; ellipsis.
This is the death you mourn although six others died from the same bacterial infection,
plus Charlotte with two babies, parenthesis, in her.

(she’s composting behind the barn, now: in rotting straw)


He resembles too many things, no longer glad to be a goat;
returning to pre-mammalian stem cells, he evolves in reverse:
a chimpanzee, then a deer, trilobite posture,
finally just Cambrian hard parts:
the skeleton to store minerals needed for life
blurred lines, fur matted like a map
with shit and piss and the things we try to feed:
Gatorade, milk, the empty promise of name-brand formula

He went away, you keep saying,
after the shuddering moment when his eyes roll back
he stiffens then a gurgle and then, extinguished.
Simple forces take over:
a thing bent out of shape by its temporary inhabitant,
limbs drift back to neutral.

A little more air moves but you keep saying, he went away


You tell Tom we just lost him and he doesn’t hear.
Everything the same? He asks
and you have to repeat yourself.

No matter how many animals you have a loss is still a loss he says
which sounds economic although I think he just means to say a few words
in this barn, which is full of life that needs attention.


We come inside, I make you tea
you lie on the couch, the dog curls on your back
your face smells of milk shit: yeasty and not unpleasant.

Is it safe to live this close to death?
Like a nuclear power plant or toxic waste site
this proximity will distort your features
make you hear things in the night, sprout unnatural limbs
and feel a pulse in organs others lack.

At the Allegan County Fair

The rhesus monkey paces in its cage. The man in the safari suit stands with a brutal posture, hips thrown forward. To conquer. He wanted to be a lion tamer but lions are too expensive. He makes do with a cage full of lemurs, two parrots, a small fox, and a pair of porcupines.

They travel on the interstate in a trailer with glass walls. They can see traffic go by. The same way cows can. On their way to the slaughterhouse. When they stick their noses out at you. Big wet noses, round, like a mushroom.

To get into the fairgrounds we walk between a wall of Pioneer Corn and the Child Evangelism Mission. Even though it’s illegal, sometimes corn volunteers in a field of soybeans. The stalk or two standing tall like the lone Tea Party patriot on a street corner, with his flag. Don’t tread on me.

This is corn country—corn and soybeans. We’ll see soybeans in the exhibition barn, resting on Styrofoam trays. The best of our county’s bountiful agriculture.

A cheerful woman asks Hazel if she wants to see a magic trick. Hazel grimaces. I guess not the missionary says kind of rude and turns her back to us.

Take My Hand, Not My Life implores an enormous baby on a vinyl poster.

Embedded in the ashy soil like a stubborn embryo.

Mari insists we go on the Ferris wheel. The sensation familiar like a dream: the sweep and fall a sick thrill. The view is unimpressive: food vendors with their greasy stuff, as we fly down and around again. The sky clearing as the sun goes down. Over the muddy fair and a loud rendition, in the bandshell, of “Sweet Home Alabama,” though this is Michigan. The animals engorged and sleepy: the prize bull lying on his side like a black, furred elephant, and the chickens who hide their faces.

As we fly around again we note that the rides need to be taken apart and packed up and put back together somewhere new.


Kristen Stone has a degree in anthropology and one in creative writing. She lives near Gainesville, Florida, where she farms and works at a domestic violence shelter.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, July 24th, 2011.