At My Brother Paul’s Grave
by Shelby Stephenson

It is November now.  I am home on
Paul’s Hill you farmed with Black and Gray and plows 
Whose sweeps did furrow fields for crops again
With more promises at year’s end:  your sows
Did farrow little piglets for good food
You salted down in the box:  consider your
Barbecue started,1958.
Son Andy runs it now to celebrate.
I hear a dog bark in my sleep alone.
Nin’s a resident at Smithfield Manor,
A skilled-nursing facility.  At dawn,
She says she hears you singing low tenor
To songs she sings and plays on uke and harp.
I play my Martin Backpacker, carry
Away the memories to a real place
To keep you alive, your eyes, music, face.
I know the breeze to warm our heads and hearts.
We shape the things your spirit ever starts.

My Father’s Way
by Shelby Stephenson

I thought that you would go on forever,
Just playing checkers and running the fox.
I will not name those dogs again, never,
As if they were twenty birds choired in rocks.

I see them jumping men across the board
And circling pups in a double corner.
You keep mumbling on to yourself, of course,
Cigar, a special Goodies Corona.

It seemed even after the big C racked
Your body, you lay in the rented bed
In the big room of the ranch house you decked
Out with trophies you won while playing “checks.”

I knew mortality was real at Rex,
When you rolled your clear blue eyes toward me.
You looked as if you had been in a wreck.
And you said, “Don’t you know I am dying.”

I am left to wonder how much one may
Recreate until the very person
Might come back to shake the grief Nothing sways
In words until you appear for certain.


Shelby Stephenson was poet laureate of North Carolina from 2015-18.  His current book is 
Shelby's Lady: The Hog Poem