Alison Stagner


the policeman places
a hand on my knee
& like that the wind
swerves against the yew hedge

to erase its arrangement of berries
& knocks the gateless school & whines
but none come down to us

it, his hand, it pulls me out
like a drawer to the end
of its runners
& says here she is

please says the policeman
keep your legs nice
for the man in your future

as if the future is a wind harp
strung in the yew
waiting to strike up
a nice biting tune—

it, his hand, an indication
of what the diligent mind attempts
to rake into a pile, away, to the tar yard
to the school, to the instants

shifting their weight
the instants rustling with their great jaws
behind the hedge

the instants growing harnesses to hold
themselves, steel fittings with
a dazzling leather belt

look—it’s that human
feeling, our old blood’s name
tugging with its muscled neck
making us suspect—

no, know—that whatever we touch
becomes our own



You go to my head

Knock, knock. Who’s there.
Can you imagine. Can you imagine who.

Can you imagine how my body ends
here at my skin.

Myself, I’m nothing I know
how to look at, so come,

let me feel my own voice in your ear—
your ear like an enigma machine

for whom language means nothing,
as though laid in a wooden jacket,

with little rubber rotors rachet-
ing down on pins and contacts in

sawtoothed clicks, my breaths exiting
the neat automata of my lungs

to meet the keys. Look at me,
clacking at you with my tongue

as if you’re a stupid animal,
not a man whose voice I can’t remember—

Knock, knock. Who’s there.
Who’s there. Who’s there who.

Who’s there who’s there who’s there who—
And now my mind is tired

of my mind—my enigma machine
whirrs me nightly into stupors,

its ghost current flowing
into twenty-six glow-lamps

to light the sequence of all
my love and savageries,

outputs I transcribe here nightly
onto narrow paper ribbons.

This is the one thing I can do.
If I turn, small in the warped window,

to the tree’s reach, I will see
the buckeyes detaching themselves

from their branch-ribbons with
little death knocks—and nightly,

and their half-hewn faces will be
animal in their aspirations—

Knock, knock. Who’s there.
Of course, no one. Of course, no one who.

Of course, no one who’d speak to the living,
when they say only

how could you do this to me? This poem
is like trying on a pair of rotten shoes

and walking. I am trying to send you
anything but silence:

the sounds of lying, of sawtoothed clicks
and living-room panes ringing with knocks

of buckeyes. The sounds will inhabit no room
in your ghost ear I can feel myself

speaking into even now—oh, to be
good for you—make it good—for who—



Alison Stagner is the author of The Thing that Brought the Shadow Here (BOAAT Press, 2019), which was selected by Nick Flynn as the winner of the 2018 BOAAT Book Prize. Her poems have appeared in The Journal, Mid-American Review, New England Review, Poetry Northwest, and elsewhere, and she is the recipient of the James Wright Poetry Award (2016). A graduate of the University of Washington’s M.F.A. in Poetry program, she lives in Seattle with her family.