By Denton Loving
Hag Stone, Hex Stone, Holy Stone
The farmer enters the mouth of the barn. In shadow
he palms the weathered oak beam above the stable door,
feels for a rusty nail to hang a string of baling twine,
the other end threaded to a rock with an eye in its center—
a natural hole, created by the witchery of water
boring through the stone over time. Hag stone,
hex stone, holy stone to save his cattle from bad dreams
while they’re pendulous with unborn calves.
He bids his cows goodnight, trades barn dark
for the widening maw of dusk. In his own bed,
he counts the years he rifled dry riverbanks, seeking
a stone with enough magic to lock so many perils
in its threshold. And for peace to ease his own sleep,
to wash away his fears of midnight births, of twisted
hooves, of calves turned backwards, sideways,
of umbilical cords wrapped around necks like nooses.
Around this mountain, shepherds drive flocks of goats,
the very young pulled in wagons. I’m given a billy
small enough to hold in one arm. The kid wrestles
alongside the fact of our imminent separation:
I will ferry across the Aegean to another island. You
will keep playing pilgrim, up one mountain, down another.
Before we part, feel the kid still soft from birth.
Feel it tremble, this newly alive thing between us.
Letter to J.
I’ve long feared hearing my name called in a crowd exactly
the way your mother called mine in that coffee shop
on Bloomsbury. She was unrecognizable. But I knew you
even with your hand clamped over your mouth. You sat
beside your kids, silent and still as a viper in plain sight.
It felt like a trick when I looked in your eyes, said your name.
Your staccato hello was wide enough to see the toothless
cavern of your mouth, the unexpected hollow of your life.
Drug guides say self-loathing causes self-destructive behavior.
In high school you called my house so often I invented the phrase
that’s my name, don’t wear it out. We tied up, twisted our parents’
phone lines, pretending we were hella fly, perfecting the practice
of ’90s teen life. Now, I wonder, could I have been kinder?
Dear crank mouth, dear meth head, dear girl I used to know,
you were a smart girl. How did we let this happen? The coalfields
have been burning for decades now, and users sprout in the ash.
We are what anthropologists call a self-contained people,
as if these mountains were islands in the clouds for the condemned.
Please don’t take what I say as pride. Maybe you’ve had happiness
I will never know. I hope you’ll have more. As for me, I have
no children. I’ve only known broken love. I spend most of my time
alone. You prove it’s dangerous to walk around our hometown,
our lives crashing backwards, our choices barreling down
the mountain, the wreckage difficult to ignore.
Denton Loving is the author of the poetry collection Crimes against Birds (Main Street Rag Publishing Company, 2014). His writing has recently appeared in Iron Horse Literary Review, Kenyon Review, The Chattahoochee Review, and The Threepenny Review.