Stephanie Cleveland


To survey a man completely, never wake him up,
just lightly tap the right angles, efface the snow heaps
and meander the sweaty back alleys.
If you tweak the alfalfa beneath his dungarees it may provide
a pitted scoring
of obsidian, upon which you too could build this dark place
for sitting down, high walled but for you alone lowered,
bloody to let the rain in;
wildflowers, scented evenings of your own
tender fingerings, or some tessellating earrings.
Dress him in vultures and hillbillies,
an old man with a cane, or even a young man.
Dwell inside this man as a teenager.
Oh the gestures that sometimes inform us, and oh the forms a drawbridge
can take,
just before a moat is risen.
Under the unobserving flutterings of a man’s eyelashes,
the nightly raisings
of his lunacy-inducing eyebrows,
moisten lovingly the membranes
with cocoa butter or some other lubricant.
Mount the ladder at the backdoor of a staccato-based plaza
erected largely for political killings. There the shadows will be
of two fuzzy stones collected inside a fragile scaffolding. These hang
below an acutely timid sparrow that turns upside down some nights,
while the rest of the world sleepwalks, tethered to a Selle Français.
See if you can identify the jumper
in this picture that resembles mine own dark-eyed,
hazel-haired self,
for whom entry equaled agony.
In the depths of a man’s body
a woman rarely imagines herself,
signing in, waiting for affordable housing,
waiting for the lion’s tail and fluff to fall off
and form into this delicate veined child’s hand
that extends from the time of your girlhood,
when inside you there remained an aversion
to engorged reptilians—
this idea of marrying but remaining vivid—
The little table, wooden, yes, but fitted
with sustaining verbiage, casserole dishes and chickens
prepared by him who leans above the kitchen,
allowing suds to drip softly from his skinny forearms,
down onto the linoleum, which,
although it’s been peeled away and painfully absent
all the days of your life, now somehow shines
like the mothering
and tenderness most men never easily utter,
though their rooms open too, onto pavilions
wider than a ranchman’s Cadillac,
who never believed you could enter him also,
if you cocked your head distractedly to the left,
and looked furtively into his pupils before whacking.




A layer of warmth under my body
keeps me fat. Glimpses of the future
touched by techno-waves
grind the sofa of my home town.
As a child, I built shopping centers,
listened to commas and pronouns. A newborn lady
smudged the nature of relationships.
Between condoms, municipal whale towers
choked. Imagine pulling
a revolver on television. Once, I owned a collection
of beautiful men on postcards.
During orgasm each one’s toes pressed together,
like cigarettes. The syrupy ones lived
outside quotation marks.
Don’t freak, but my Tractor is crying,
and then this song came on.




You called me from jail or somewhere else
in the country. I couldn’t answer back.
My swim trunks filled with coriander
while the sandbar over the counter
with its touchtone keypad adhered to me—
Strike and reverse that, the sea
rubbed my body. Wichita never
seemed so lonely as each year we swam past,
planning our community farmers’ center,
toy that consoles. Nissans all look
alike to me. Glad your brother died
in an abortion, and that no tire
on this entire strip mall ever turns.



Stephanie Cleveland is a feminist poet who grew up in rural Georgia and currently lives in Manhattan. Her poems have appeared in Boston Review, Colorado Review, Conduit, Denver Quarterly, jubilat, LUNGFULL!, Women’s Studies Quarterly, Phoebe and others, and her prose has appeared in Gently Read Literature.

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