New Poetry, Fiction, Essay

5 Poems by Stephen Byrne

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Stephen Byrne is an Irish chef and writer currently living in Chicago. His first collection ‘Somewhere but not Here’ won the RL Poetry Award, 2016 International category and was published late 2017. He has been published worldwide in places such as Warscapes, Spontaneity, Indian Review, Tuck Magazine, The Poetry Bus, The Galway Review, RædLeafPoetry-India, The Original Van Gogh’s Ear Anthology and many others. He is the food writer for ‘This is Galway’ website. He writes at http://stephenbyrne.org

All That We Love

becomes a part of us,
carves the lines on our faces,

paints the grays on our hair—
leaves a sour or sweet taste on our lips.

All that we love,
one-day vanishes

& finds a new love,
or the warmth of another’s bed,

or closes its eyes for a night
never to peek or wink again.

All we love & will ever love,
become a cluster of memories

& moments that parade across a room
when we struggle to fall asleep,

& we learn after a while
that love is optimistic, pessimistic,

full of wins & defeats, uncontrollable
in moods & promises, desire, absence,

unshakeable in its hunger for the destruction
of our bodies, our minds, our first love—

the things we grip tight to our chests
that bind us to one another.

It’s in everything that shapes the life we walk,
the people we kiss, the people we miss,

when all we love we leave behind,
falling like rain, smashing to the ground.

Beneath the Gossiping Trees

Your entrance
displays the presence
of a ballerina
oh leaves

with your brown coats
& fine stitching,
swirling as if chasing
around the ground at my feet,
one shoeless, red & naked.

You may have noticed,
oh leaves, my missing toenail,
some outer skin quivering in the wind,
my matrix exposing itself.

I seem to have misplaced it,
this tiny piece of keratin, perhaps
lodged in the wooden leg of my writing
desk, kicked this morning I recall
or at the bottom of my wet sock,

but you ignore everything
oh leaves
tipping the wood of the bench
with your ballet shoes,
leaving me throbbing
beneath the grumbling gossiping trees.

A Dark Quiet Street in Segovia

Today, I wandered down an old street
so quiet, my footsteps whispered
I was being followed.
So I turned around, back
towards the noise, towards
the cafes & restaurants
stuffed full of nattering locals,
to the square where florists
offer fermented perfume,
where the sky’s puppeteer
swings the selfie sticks
of Japanese tourists,
where the stench
of cigarettes & fried food
scratches the tip of your nose,
because, you should always
let your nose lead the way,
away from old quiet streets
where the ghosts of Machado
& Unamuno play chess,
throwing you unwelcoming eyes,
where disrupting
the unsettling silence
reminds you
you are alone,
wandering down old dark streets
you are not supposed to be.

I want to strangle Mick Jagger

for his song ‘Time is on my side’ when it quite clearly isn’t.
Time sits in my back garden, contemplating
the use of a shovel or pick-ax on my ancient bones.

No use trying to beat time off with a stick, to fight the snap
of its hungry gob or run & hide in my dark cave—no use fighting.

To the rocks, time is the sharp tongue of the wind,
an enemy to the swinging hinges of the gate.
Like the sea that nibbles the mast of a galleon,
the slow rotation of times jaws devours all.

Time, you want to pluck all my hair like weeds,
wolf my dreams & memories for breakfast,
present gravity as a gift to muscles
& tell your story in the shape of crow’s feet.

In the beautiful face of the clock, time fools us all—
the melody of the tick, the winding of each second.

Why can’t you relax, chill, hibernate for crying out loud!
Let me introduce you to my father,
maybe one of his stories will bore you to sleep.

I can’t accept your uncontrollable moods,
your snake-like figure, masking death in wrapping paper.

I want to stand like an eternal Greek god,
take to the battlefield, hand-to-hand combat,
gouge times perpetual cunning eye

but I know I have to surrender, accept defeat.
I must embrace the ruthless bite of your teeth.
Yes, I want to strangle Mick Jagger for his song
‘Time is on my side’ when it quite clearly isn’t.

Questions to Love & Death

Why is the hour, later than before?
Why is the minute trying to out-pace the second?
Why do veins like to sleep beneath the warmth of skin?
Why do teeth like the idea of freedom?
Why does hair feel a need to escape, only to lie on a pillow?
Why do crows sharpen their claws in sunlight?
Why are old bones coated in graffiti—tattooed with cracks?
Why does blood like to murmur Old Man River?
Why worry about a failing mind when forgetting can be a blessing?
Why is the left hand, always in the right?
Why are forgotten words, etched on the edge of the brain?
Why is love a combination lock?
Why is fear a reflection in the mirror?
Why is death wearing a funny mask, hiding behind a bush?
Why is the question Why, a thorn in the side of life?
Why do we fish in a pond with no answers?
Why is the word ache, whispered for fear of discovery?
Why listen to the moans of the body when the truth
we seek, hides beneath the covers, naked & afraid?

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