The HyperTexts

A. E. Stallings

Alicia Elsbeth Stallings, who publishes as A. E. Stallings, is an American poet and translator. Born in 1968, she grew up in Decatur, GA, and was educated in the Classics at the University of Georgia and Oxford University. Her poetry has appeared in The Best American Poetry (1994 & 2000) and has received numerous awards, including a Pushcart Prize (Pushcart Prize Anthology XXII), the Benjamin H. Danks award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Pushcart Prize, the Eunice Tietjens Prize, the 2004 Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award, the James Dickey Prize, and the Willis Barnstone Translation Prize. In 2011, she won a Guggenheim Fellowship, received a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and was named a Fellow of United States Artists. Her first poetry collection, Archaic Smile (University of Evansville Press), received the 1999 Richard Wilbur Award and was a finalist for the Yale Younger Poets Series and the Walt Whitman Award. Her second collection, Hapax (Northwestern University Press), received the 2008 Poets’ Prize. Her third poetry collection, Olives (Triquarterly), was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2012. Her verse translation of Lucretius' De Rerum Natura (The Nature of Things), is available from Penguin Classics. She lives in Athens, Greece with her husband, John Psaropoulos, editor of the Athens News. She is also an editor with the Atlanta Review. Her work has been associated with the New Formalism school of poetry.

The Catch

Something has come between us—
It will not sleep.
Every night it rises like a fish
Out of the deep.

It cries with a human voice,
It aches to be fed.
Every night we heave it weeping
Into our bed,

With its heavy head lolled back,
Its limbs hanging down,
Like a mer-creature fetched up
From the weeds of the drowned.

Damp in the tidal dark, it whimpers,
Tossing the cover, 
Separating husband from wife,
Lover from lover.

It settles in the interstice,
It spreads out its arms,
While its cool underwater face
Sharpens and warms:

This is the third thing that makes
Father and mother,
The fierce love of our fashioning
That will have no brother. 

The Ghost Ship

She plies an inland sea. Dull
With rust, scarred by a jagged reef.
In Cyrillic, on her hull
Is lettered, Grief.

The dim stars do not signify;
No sonar with its eerie ping
Sounds the depths—she travels by
Dead reckoning.

At her heart is a stopped clock.
In her wake, the hours drag.
There is no port where she can dock,
She flies no flag,

Has no allegiance to a state,
No registry, no harbor berth,
Nowhere to discharge her freight
Upon the earth.

Originally published in Smartish Pace


This empty sky
Stretches out beyond the eye.
In such a sea
Of nothingness
It is a miracle to be,
However small,
At all.

Editor's Note: "Nocturne" is one of Alicia Stallings' early poems, written while she was in high school and published in the Winter 1986 issue of The Lyric. Stallings' bio in The Lyric states that she was "a high school senior in Decatur, GA" and that she had "appeared in Seventeen and Cat Fancy." This was before she began publishing as A. E. Stallings; the bio has her name as Alicia Stallings. In a communication with Stallings, I was able to confirm that she did have poems published in the aforementioned magazines first, but that "Nocturne" was the first poem she had published in a literary journal. Leslie Mellichamp was the editor of The Lyric at that time, so perhaps we can give him credit for being a "discoverer" of one of the brighter stars of contemporary poetry. Also, my thanks to Tom Merrill for bringing this matter to my attention and providing me with the poem, bio and publication details.―Michael R. Burch, editor, The HyperTexts

The Mother’s Loathing of Balloons

I hate you,
How the children plead
At first sight—

I want, I need,
I hate how nearly
Always I

At first say no,
And then comply.
(Soon, soon

They will grow bored
Clutching your
Umbilical cord)—

Over the moon,
Should you come home,

They’d cease to care—
Who tugs you through
The front door

On a leash, won’t want you
And will forget you

On the ceiling—
A giddy feeling—

Later to find you,
Puckered, small,
Crouching low

Against the wall.
O thin-of-skin
And fit to burst,

You break for her
Who wants you worst.
Your forebear was

The sack of the winds,
The boon that gives
And then rescinds,

Containing nothing
But the force
That blows everyone

Off course.
Once possessed,
Your one chore done,

You float like happiness
To the sun,
Untethered afternoon,

Marooning all
You’ve left behind:

Their tinfoil tears,
Their plastic cries,
Their wheedling

And moot goodbyes,
You shrug them off—
You do not heed—

O loose bloom
             With no root
                              No seed.

Originally published in Poetry (June 2009)

Jigsaw Puzzle

First, the four corners,
Then the flat edges.
Assemble the lost borders,
Walk the dizzy ledges,

Hoard one color—try
To make it all connected—
The water and the deep sky
And the sky reflected.

Absences align
And lock shapes into place,
And random forms combine
To make a tree, a face.

Slowly you restore
The fractured world and start
To recreate an afternoon before
It fell apart:

Here is summer, here is blue,
Here two lovers kissing,
And here the nothingness shows through
Where one piece is missing.

Originally published in River Styx (Number 80, June 2009)

Fairy-tale Logic

Fairy tales are full of impossible tasks:
Gather the chin hairs of a man-eating goat,
Or cross a sulphuric lake in a leaky boat,
Select the prince from a row of identical masks,
Tiptoe up to a dragon where it basks
And snatch its bone; count dust specks, mote by mote,
Or learn the phone directory by rote.
Always it’s impossible what someone asks—

You have to fight magic with magic. You have to believe
That you have something impossible up your sleeve,
The language of snakes, perhaps, an invisible cloak,
An army of ants at your beck, or a lethal joke,
The will to do whatever must be done:
Marry a monster. Hand over your firstborn son.

Originally published in Poetry(March 2010)

Another Bedtime Story

One day you realize it. It doesn’t need to be said—
Just as you turn the page—the end—and close the cover—
All, all of the stories are about going to bed:

Goldilocks snug upstairs, the toothy wolf instead
Of grandmother tucked in the quilts, crooning, closer, closer—
One day you realize it. It hardly needs to be said:

The snow-pale princess sleeps—the pillow under her head
Of rose petals or crystal—and dreams of a lost lover—
All, all of the stories are about going to bed;

Even the one about witches and ovens and gingerbread
In the dark heart of Europe—can children save each other?—
You start to doubt it a little. It doesn’t need to be said,

But I’ll say it, because it’s embedded in everything I’ve read,
The tales that start with once and end with ever-after,
All, all of the stories are about going to bed,

About coming to terms with the night, alleviating the dread
Of laying the body down, of lying under a cover.
That’s why our children resist it so. That’s why it mustn’t be said:
All, all of the stories are about going to bed.

Originally published in Beloit Poetry Journal


after the words of Penny Turner, Nymphaion, Greece

Our guide turned in her saddle, broke the spell:
"You ride now through a field of asphodel,
The flower that grows on the plains of hell.

Across just such a field the pale shade came
Of proud Achilles, who had preferred a name
And short life to a long life without fame,

And summoned by Odysseus he gave
This wisdom, 'Better by far to be a slave
Among the living, than great among the grave.'

I used to wonder, how did such a bloom
Become associated with the tomb?
Then one evening, walking through the gloom,

I noticed a strange fragrance. It was sweet,
Like honey — but with hints of rotting meat.
An army of them bristled at my feet."

Originally published in Beloit Poetry Journal


Poet, Singer,Necromancer—
I cease to run.  I halt you here,
Pursuer, with an answer:

Do what you will.
What blood you've set to music I
Can change to chlorophyll,

And root myself, and with my toes
Wind to subterranean streams.
Through solid rock my strength now grows.

Such now am I, I cease to eat,
But feed on flashes from your eyes;
Light, to my new cells, is meat.

Find then, when you seize my arm
That xylem thickens in my skin
And there are splinters in my charm.

I may give in; I do not lose.
Your hot stare cannot stop my shivering,
With delight, if I so choose.

Originally published in Archaic Smile, University of Evansville Press

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