“Dirt Clouds,” “Accentuating Florence” and “Saying Goodbye to Florence Is Filled with Mud”

Poetry by Shelby Stephenson

“Dirt Clouds,” “Accentuating Florence” and “Saying Goodbye to Florence Is Filled with Mud”

Dirt Clouds

At my picture window, I raise the blinds

On the graveyard side. And, it’s you, July,

Lovely ghost? Not changed much since you were ten.

That’s how old I was when Pap George sold me

To Seth Woodall. I was thin as a seam,

Fearless, too; Runaway? Not so bold, see?

The politicians locked into bad laws

Your beautiful face; in their rows on rows.

Their fields prospered from preconceived windflaws.

Come to the window; let me see your face.

I died at thirty-three. I must now pause

To wonder why I left the world in haste.

Documents at the Heritage Center:

One of your last names was Stephens, to place

You on Paul’s Hill. That fact marks history’s

Rendering of the closeness of our names.

I wish your family had marked our graves

Here in the back part of the burying ground.

I know: looks like we Stephensons used deceit,

Doesn’t it? Sorry. As a boy I found

I knew slavery was wrong. Economics?

I reckon. I can’t get it straight either.

Color of skin comes in, but not for keeps.

We keep trying to be human beings.

To be considered property’s a thought

I abhor. Your legacy’s a breather

Future families may ponder without.

Yes getting caught up in prejudices.

The whites lie on the road-side, blacks, weed-caught.

I like it back here. The woods I can see.

You were named for the month you were born in.

Each syllable should be stressed with the same

Emphasis, Ju-ly, though I feel your lean –

I lean toward you, too; let’s sing our praises.

You, as spokesman for my life between then

And now: look on my grave next spring: daisies.

Accentuating Florence

Limboed, let me be swept away on water.

Let my last anthem be to sing of Florence,

Her flouncing dresses, blossom-flights; otherwise they

Spirit forgetfulness.

Let me recall what Maybelle Carter sings of

The meaning: the storms ram the oceans, revving

Havoc in their violation of

Their own abandon.

Let me imagine oceans in those diamonds,

Hearing them splash: “Sweet Florence, dear woman, who’s

That playing on Hugo’s lyre?” and lashing,

Hugo’s words: “Damn it,

That Florence, at her purging avocation,

Slams flat the window-trees down, and blows the limbs of

A spleen-child. What Strom Thurmond did to color,

What Thomas Wolfe did

To Asheville, what poor Ben did to timing.”

Let me, okay, give novels some company,

Remembering that brotherly love’s a win when

Wrenched from Nature’s space.

Better than wind is the gathering idle,

The milk’s sour clabbering, the hoagie sandwich,

The froth curdling in the pipes and groaning

In the cleaning up.

For this world, after fall, the winter cold that

Prompts desire wistfully, and fire, the hearthstone,

If not the most flaming of burns, does warm us

Outright, if made good.

Saying Goodbye To Florence Is Filled With Mud

The taste on my tongue

Is the taste of rust on the barn-door’s hinges.

The wind is gone, gone, gone, gone, gone, gone.

How to bring it back – my singing?

Last night I dream I’m sleeping in mud.

The more that I sleep, the faster my song

Sinks up and over my boots in a feud.

My head tosses my follicles frolicking with long

Departed relations, no Mother or Dad or Brother Paul.

So cool he was, like real green cucumber.

He said things like, “You blow me away”; never bored,

He’d rub his fingers over his head as bald

As the blaze on the crown of Native Dancer,

As if he were a comedian poising to stall.

About the Author

Shelby Stephenson

Shelby Stephenson was the Poet Laureate of North Carolina, 2015-2018. His recent book of poems include Slavery and Freedom on Paul's Hill.