Brick Road Poetry Press

poetry made to entertain, amuse, and edify

The mission of Brick Road Poetry Press is to publish and promote poetry that entertains, amuses, edifies, and surprises a wide audience of appreciative readers.  We are not qualified to judge who deserves to be published, so we concentrate on publishing what we enjoy. Our preference is for poetry geared toward dramatizing the human experience in language rich with sensory image and metaphor, recognizing that poetry can be, at one and the same time, both familiar as the perspiration of daily labor and as outrageous as a carnival sideshow.

Poetry by Gary Stein from Touring the Shadow Factory

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About Gary Stein

Living Near the Kill Van Kull


It began when your father’s hand tiptoed

from your shoulder. What did you think in the dark?

Remember the whistle lifting off the locomotive

each night, that shrill call from the tracks.

Or the deep horn that warned the ferry from the hull,

plowing fog at the wet curve of earth.

How the warmth of the gone hand fades.


One night he forgot to flick the nightlight

when he went. That’s the way it ends,

the way you learn to trust the solitude.

No lighthouse ever saved a blind sailor; no mother

ever saved a son from what she knows rail

and river bring, bring and take away.



Remembering the Rabbits


Every day at four the rabbits skittered crazy

in the pen for pellets while mother watched

her broken stove buckled in the corner

like a refugee. Every supper multiplied

confusion. Father used to shoot them in the head.


Memory is tricky, though I’m sure they hung

from rafters in the shed, shorn of skin, blue

meat and flies ready for the iron pan

above the oven door he sutured shut with wire.


I used to think it was the slaughtered meal

that stopped her fork. But now I dream Dad’s bag

packed heavy on the porch, the sax slung

in its case, and, leaning on the house,

a rifle with notches on the butt and silent ricochet.


Have you ever heard a dying rabbit scream?

His alto sax could sound like that and make

your spine go tight. Mother didn’t sing

all day, just pinned our laundry to the line.

White clothes, lonely for his jeans and ratty socks—

the space they would have hung from

filled up by the sky and what he didn’t say.



Time Out


The night the clock fell off the wall

seconds ticked across the kitchen tile

like bits of glass and Momma ran them down.

We watched her elbows work the floor,

dress flapping as she broomed

the fractured hands into a bag.

The room came clean and Dad rammed shut

the door with his good arm and fled.

Then she cried and sent us off to sleep.

She took a week to hang another clock.

Remember how we heard electric time

hum and haunt the wall above the stove?

Then the dog we lost barked one night

beyond our sight. But we went back

to school like normal kids. And Dad

walked through the open door again,

his sax beneath his arm as if he’d never left.



Prey


The Oak Road boys pushed the bow into my hands

taunting me to take a life for them.

I aimed the arrow high above the squirrel

but low enough to let them think I wanted blood.


The squirrel stood still and hugged the trunk

steady as my pulse until I bent the bow

and snapped it loose. Then the squirrel leapt up

to meet a point in time and catch it in the back.


We watched it pinned to wood a while,

the way paws beat the bark as if to blame

the tree. Before the sky dropped down to fix

those eyes in cloud, it screamed.


It was the human pitch that scared the Oak Road

boys away, but I was stuck by sound until

it stopped. And when it stopped I stayed

more still and felt the rush of blood

veins arrowed at my heart to make me move.


Once, age four, I fell from bed at night

and lay there wild enough to yell the darkness

white, but no one came to put me back.

I hugged the floor in vain for what was lost

and beat my knuckles raw until at last

in that harder place I came alone to sleep.



What He Gave Up


I was six when the doctor froze his smoke.

So mother burned cartons of Luckies

like leaves in the alley ash can.

And dad’s colors drained—

a brown from deep within his fingers,

the yellow etched into the marrow of his teeth.


I missed the crisp cellophane shards on the sofa

and the earthy autumn smell

rising from the cushions in his chair.

I missed the smoke seeped into his lungs,

how his chest filled at leisure

as the light dropped down the blinds

in the little room

slat by slat.


For months we wondered at his temper,

how he inhaled candy by the bag

until his face, reddened by loss

of that cloudy angel,

nearly burst into fire.


We forget sacrifices a father turns to habit,

a kind of faith:

hiding ashtrays, wiping walls of nicotine.


Thirty years later, when the cancer etched his bones,

he offered up his testicles,

buying time with living coin.

No doctor knew what magic part to cut out next,

and when he finally went

I’ll bet it was his lungs that held

the final pink inside him.


Isn’t it a measured paring down we do

to save a hazy corner of the future:

from our fattest appetite to the final

belt-hole in the leather—a cutting back

to smaller rooms, fewer steps, a slimmer

piece of fish, until there’s little left

to choose between—us and just the air,

just the smoke we’re bound for.



Touring The Shadow Factory


And here we keep the wall animals, ears for the most part

and sharp snouts children favor, formerly cast by hand.

Now we own the tools to put faces on dumb jaws

so mothers and fathers may flick a switch

and sneak from the room, fingers intact.


To the left are the darks of one million negatives.

We gauge the blackest parts to millimeters then,

by careful splicing, fit shadow to actual

buildings and let whole cities hide

from themselves, reduced to snapshots.


The CIA shows interest, but this room serves solely

to promote memory loss. Next are the white shadows

of the dying. Many a man wears one in rain or in his youth

to impress companions. The pope, it is said,

bought a pair to confound assassins,


the press of pious crowds, and pilgrims who claim

to have seen the Holy Ghost at his wake

in a puff of smoke. And finally we give you a souvenir,

the stuffing of dreams. Because of all the ways

you have shed skin, we will elaborate your death


for survivors. First, slip out of your clothes and forget

fifty years of sunlight; you melt without it.

When a puddle forms, we pump it through the lungs

of mushrooms and throw you black and grotesque

on the wall of someone who forgot you.


Stick Shift


Because the girl could who taught you to Watusi

and your father could, too, who knotted


bowties into butterflies. Because your left leg

lay jealous of its strong twin and bored as a day


at the shore, sand-caked and still. The Beetle

faced uphill and you feared rolling back, blind


to the past. Then she said, feel, feel the friction point.

Press ahead, her hand on yours like a manual brain


until the right arm learns to think for itself.

This century forgets the feel of a fountain pen


flowing words, or a foamy shaving brush

on your face. Drive on, like a crusty used car


throttling into summer on Old Oak Lane,

a thruway now, back to that stiff clutch,


its stubborn failure to turn into something

like the lever that moves the world. You learn


to slip the clutch smooth as a heart that hits

high gear just in time to steer through the skid


in the miles that go both ways. Cruise beyond

the dead girl, the dead father and his long reach,


closer to whatever lies just around the bend.