Ethan Stebbins

Dear Therapists

Before the last time
I got to the bottom
that was not the bottom
of the problem
that was not the problem
I was for a time
your standard brooder.
For years
I explored the dimensions
of a peculiar boulder.
Silence I mistook
for the absence of sound
and not the steady bell
of the brain’s attention.
A vocal crow was my bane
and supervision.
In the end
everything boiled down
to the one conundrum:
I could not without bias
investigate the lunacy
of my endeavors.
After that everything seemed excessive.
I felt if possible
combustibly dumb.
Many were my questions.
How clouds made rain.
What was meant by indemnity.
Somehow busyness
became my business.
The vacuum was my drug.
I vanquished dust.
I grew pious before the trash.
I did not grow wings.
I grew a shell.
At night all was quiet
except the fridge
aping the noise of pain
or happy coitus,
here at last
was something to behold.
Clearly as was dreamed
I was not making love to a star
on a bed of moss
on land preserved
for the free ambulance
of migratory birds.
A weird calm traversed
but would not extend
the experience.
After that everything felt schematic.
I wanted a pool.
I wanted to like sports.
I understood ever less.
What makes metal metal?
In what was I engulfed?
Outside in stealth
December spread
and buried everything
in silver medicine.
What did I know?
I knew how to use a shovel.
I could dig myself out.
I was sure if I wanted
I could get to a place
I was not afraid
to ask for help.



Poem for Mandy

The sky hangs like dented metal.
Like a gray pan
beat in solidarity
with the party faithful
of vastly conflicting forms
of disagreement.
I am wearing my safety-orange earplugs.
I am identifying with
and resisting the impulse
to wake the screen
and watch the child
in the body of a man
in the costume of commander
of everybody
work his mouth into an ass
made famous for its violent
and hazardous flatulence.
I hate that thing in me
I hate in him
that always covets
the dove-colored plumes
left by a rocket
leaving Earth
with his flaming head
on a ballistic mission
into nonexistence.
Citizens of my heart!
inside each of you
parades a vain retarded bull
you will either learn to pity
or threaten to become.
is a big word
I never remember.
When you google
an image of a painting
by the 19th century Spanish painter
Eduardo Zamacois y Zambala
out of thousands of lucent pixels
instantaneously appears.
The painting
is "Return to the Convent."
Note the group of monks laughing
while the lone monk struggles
with the donkey.
Like a very large egg
in the mouth of a very small snake
it makes me capable
of holding in my mind
a fragile orb
of real empathic sadness.
When S. left she left
a mini shampoo in the shower,
like the hospitality industry offers,
because I had none,
and because she is kind,
which destroyed me
in a new and specific way.
Somewhere now forever
our future sulks
like the strange and to us
totally perfect daughter
we never had.
It’s complicated
how much I can’t understand
the love this child
in me engenders.
I feel sure her name is Mandy.
In Mandy I see in me
my great talent for suffering.
I see the emptiness we’re up against.
I want to be there
during this crucial time
of her budding disenchantment.
I want to catch her and protect her,
and be a shepherd of Mandy,
but she’s never not escaping.
She floats out
like a beatific moth
in an experimental wind
monitored by a team
of all male albino vultures.
The team nods.
The team is hopeful.
To see her fail
would confirm a belief
they’ve already decided
they think they know is true.



Ethan Stebbins has been published in Poetry, FOLDER, The Hudson Review, Best New Poets 2008, The Café Review and elsewhere. In 2007 he won a New York Times Fellowship in poetry from New York University, where he received a M.A. in English and American Literature. He works as a stonemason in Maine.