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LEARNED

LEARNED


I learned my sense of justice
From reading comic books as a child
I learned girls make me nervous
The first time I held hands
With a redhead with a perfect freckled smile

I learned from my younger sister simultaneously
How it feels when someone looks up to you
And to be kicked out of the cradle
I learned from my younger brother
That Cane and Abel Genesis thing instilled in you
Gathered around the teacher in Sunday School

I learned patience and modesty
From my Mother
Or maybe they are just genes she passed on to me
We share a love of the written word
The desire to be orderly and neat
And an unfortunate ability to hold onto pesky negative things
And difficulty sharing our feelings

I learned from my father how to entertain a crowd
And that it’s ok to wear your heart on your sleeve
A few pints of the Lord’s good brew infused into my blood
And I take on the gift of gab and will spin quite a yarn
My self-conscience genes paused
Half a bottle of red and I confess to the world just how much
I love basically everything

I learned about Carpentry and farming
From working with my Grandfather
And in those calloused cut up hands
As he used his pocket knife to dig out the dirt from unders his nails
How you hide your sin from the World
When you clasp your hands in 
Prayer as you bow your head 
This is just between us Lord
Just between us

I learned about loss and longing
From my Grandfather who passed away when I was three
Growing up with him somehow still all around me though I had only a few memories
His presence still hovering over my Grandma’s farm
And on those long walks to the mailbox when Granny kept me
I learned I had eagle eyes
Spotting the Indian Money and rifle shells amongst the creek gravel drive
One fossilized pieces of my ancestors
The other recent spent metal shells from gunplay of my more recent bloodlines

I learned from you grace and love
And to not be frightened of daring heights
To embrace chaos, sparks and life’s little unseen divine things
To swim with the current of the river’s majestic flow
And to overcome my dna’s urge to always fight upstream
To stop and listen when the October winds blow
That if I can quiet my mind and take a deep breath
I can smell the past, taste time, hear my ancestors
Whispering in the wind “Remember us, but move on”






~Stephen Simmons



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I NEVER DID LIKE THIS TOWN

I NEVER DID LIKE THIS TOWN

I never did like this town
They were our rivals in high school
That of my alma mater
The bigger of the two
In this, my adopted county

I was an immigrant here
Wearing adopted colors
Of red and black
Folded away my burgundy and gold
With a lion on its crest

My first girlfriend was here
I’d wait on her down the street
In my parent’s old buick
Where she’d sneak out her window
To run off into the night with me

Her mother was nice to me
Sitting there in her parlor
But I could feel her judgement
Even at sixteen

I fit in better elsewhere I know
In the smaller country town
With the chip on its shoulder

Who looked down
On my hometown
Every one’s gotta pick on someone
I suppose

I entered my native soil
Among family in utero
Growin up in a familial place
It is easy to embrace everyone
When you are related to half the people of a land

I entered my adopted land as a teen
All my relationships with its people and land
Seen through shy changing eyes
When your peers and your life
Your judge and jury
Suddenly judged by your jeans
And not your genes

I had two kinds of friend back then
Ones who envied those better off
And those who were proud where they were

He was one of the later
He was also one of my best friends
Wearing that heart of his forever on his sleeve
We both believed in the power of rock n’ roll
And loved Tennessee football

On friday nights 
After high school home football games
My friend and I would go the market
That sold us a case of beer 
In our grass stained jersey’s
His was always dirtier than mine 
Like an army sergeant with more medals

With a wink and an anxious nod
“You boys played hard tonight”
“You’ll get em next time”
We would not

When a town dies you can do two things
Fill its veins till properly embalmed
Put makeup on its’ face

Or burn it down
Right then and there
But you can’t do both

You can only freeze a thing so long
Its icy blue flesh 
Demands that of you
Decay if you don’t move

The sun is out today
For the first time in weeks
A January day that could be confused for spring

The highway is lined
All along the way
With memories unique to each
Along most every mile

We buried my friend today
#53
I have attended too many funerals
As of late
And still
I do not like this town

RIP dear brother
Sincerely
#83







~Stephen Simmons
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STONES RIVER NATIONAL BATTLEFIELD, NOVEMBER 21, 2020

STONES RIVER NATIONAL BATTLEFIELD, NOVEMBER 21, 2020

My old river
The Stones
That runs through the heart
Of my home

Home
Whose flower fell
So long ago
In these fields

From its tall magnolias 
Its Pedals 
So trampled upon
So bruised

Yesterday
Yesteryear
Yes
Yet, we are still here

Lichens feeding on faded limestone rows
Of so hard and indigestible a crop to sow

I cannot weep for that which I did not know
Still I’m marked by terrible sorrow
When I think of you

Even these cedars seem sad
And that is no easy task







~Stephen Simmons
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THE FIRST TIME

THE FIRST TIME

The first time I kissed her
It was drizzling rain
Her nose was cold
Her tongue as warm as a hearth

The way it crackles
Sending little amber sparks 
Drifting by her head
Unnoticed with her closed eyes

The second time I kissed her
It was snowing
She had just been robbed
It was the first snow of winter

The third time
Is always the charm
Rattles around in my head
Like some woebegone nursery rhyme

Were it not so
That I can outdo the rain and the snow
And any thief who comes along
Thinking he and not I alone could ruin my own poem







~Stephen Simmons





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THE TRIBES HAVE ALL ARRIVED

 

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The tribes have all arrived
The Simmons
The Brysons
The Elkins
The Odoms
Campbells, Mitchells
Davenports, Todds, Boss’, and Tenpennys
All streaming over the hillsides

Some brought bread, some war
Some brought knowledge and understanding
Always someone brought a guitar

Some brought whiskey, some brought God
Some sought peace
And some fought hard

Some left home in search of land
Some for freedom
Some for debts
And for some there was no choice

Stephen Wade
Son of Milton wade
Son of Hershael Clejoe
Son of Alfred Tatum
I name you, chief of this legion
From the top of the Highland Rim
To the mouth of the Stones River
That flows through the Great Basin

Till you feel the need to bequeath
To those who come after your reign
Will they know?
What we all believed
What were our hopes, our dreams?

During our long days
That lead to hard, short lives
You had to believe in a better place
Fever and Hunger drove our plows
When our backs were too tired
Few moments for melancholy
When empty bellies filled our minds

But life insists upon itself
And though not each newborn survived
More and more did
More sons and daughters
Put their imprint on life
Until you arrived…

We would like you to be happy
But you are too soft and so hard to please
What we need is for you to be fulfilled
So all of this was not for naught
It’s you that chains our ghosts down the hall

 

 

~Stephen Simmons

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MY MYSTERY COMPANION

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I barely remember you
From those first days
Something my grandmother reminds me about
How adamant I was
My imaginary companion
Was real

I heard tales of you
I sought you out
As a foolish child
Little ghost hunter
My friends would chide

I led a posse of my best friends
Loaded to bear our arms
Cases of ammunition
Named Miller and Bud, lite
With a sober driver headed off into the night

Hunkered down in the edge of the woods
We jumped off the train tracks
Oncoming locomotive and the wind blowing hard on our faces
I turned and looked at you
It was there in that moment of foxfire
I realized who was shy

Now I kick the stinkhorn out of the mulch
As I trim the English Laurels in Spring
Inspecting the yellow euonymus for mites
Ides of March arriving

I am as old as my parents were then
That Spring I was eighteen
O’ how my Willow would return now and again
And leave me as quick as a child that Wisp
In summertime the fireflies will always remind

 

 

~Stephen Simmons

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LIVING WITH A VIRUS

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     We’ve been living with an altered reality the past three months. Millions infected, millions jobless, over a hundred thousand here in the United States dead in a very short amount of time. Millions are jobless and some industries may be years from returning, if they ever do. Families and friends not able to hug one another. Wearing masks around one another and trying not to touch surfaces and wondering if we touched our face or not. Trying to be safe rather than sorry has never felt so exhausting. We are undergoing an incredible stress test and it is understandable so many of us are about to crack and are completely overwhelmed by recent events. 

     Last month my cousin had a terrible stroke and had to have surgery to have blood clots removed from his brain. My family’s hearts have been breaking for his two children and his brother and sister. Last weekend my Aunt tested positive for covid and within 24 hours was in an ICU covid unit. She lives in the Woodbury Nursing home and I’ve been worried about her from the start. She is mentally disabled and the thought of her being alone and not understanding is heartbreaking. The disease is brought into these vulnerable populations by healthcare workers. 

     Last Saturday was the first time I’ve seen my parents since the pandemic started. I drove a few hours to sit outside from a hopefully safe distance and visit with them. Technology is great, but it’s not the same as real life facetime. When I got back home on Saturday there were many people walking back to their cars from the protest downtown. And of course by nightfall the people who were there to instigate had begun to begin sowing chaos. Watching the five helicopters in the air from my apartment hover over downtown and listening to the sirens till a curfew was imposed was the ending to another surreal day. 

     We have been living with another virus for much longer in this country. Our original sin has infected us with racism and like covid, it is never going to be entirely eliminated. Between the pandemic and the economic fallout there are many people suffering now. Some communities were hit harder than others and many were suffering before. I have been a lot quieter lately than normal. Americans have big hearts and big mouths, and that goes for yours truly. I am trying to listen more right now. I am one-hundred percent behind those trying to push for change and social justice. A lot of us want to speak out but we don’t want to say the wrong thing. We don’t want to take up oxygen that should go to others’ voices anymore than we want to steal oxygen from dying patients. We don’t want to stay silent either and have others think we are complacent with the status quo. Do we touch this surface?  

     God, I have so much faith in my fellow man. Many of my dear friends think I’m too idealistic. I just know too much in too many people’s hearts. And I see so many little cracks letting the light in. It’s time to listen. 

 

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RETURN OF THE HAWKS

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There has been a return of the hawks
We clear land for more houses in the fields and strip malls
Driving the small rodents out into the open
Nature’s most fearless and gifted hunters
Population soars

Perched upon highwire lines
Eagle eyed birds of prey
Nervous twitching down below
Of mice and other eyes
Appetizers on full display

I have my father’s enthusiasm
For the small things in life
A cold beer in the yard
Burning leaves in the fall
Catchy guitar lick

As I sit on his back porch
Giving back to the July eve
As my humid birth month pulls out
Excess sugar and salt through my pores
Lined up on my arm in beads

I watch a rabbit cautiously
Get farther and farther out into the yard
Enjoying the fresh cut clover
As a red tailed hawk swoops down the driveway
The rabbit escape back to the bush

The hawk watches me for awhile
I sense he’s suspicious of my interest as he moves on
None of us like to be observed for too long
For some of us
There is always tomorrow

 

 

~Stephen Simmons

 

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CONFEDERATE CORPSE

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We should never think ourselves too busy 
To pay respect for the recently departed
We should always show deference 
While we bury our dead
Always pull over for a funeral procession

The child that plays with plastic rebel flags
And souvenirs with Robert E. Lee’s likeness
Staging battles with his straight stick he imagines as his rifle
Eventually grows up to be a man
Fully aware of the Confederate corpse in his family’s closet

The past is not forgotten
It is not even past
So sayeth the Southern poets
Nothing is truly dead
While it stills roams around in our heads

Headlights passing by
Like slow moving ants
Heading East
An early rising moon
Quiet about what she sees





~Stephen Simmons
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OH SAPIEN

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February’s long cold rains finally slowed

And the mayflies can barely contain their excitement

The earthworms are still quite cautious

More measured lest they be a robin’s breakfast

I’d gage mine as somewhere in between

As the blade of my shovel cuts into the soil

For the first time this April

 

If you live long enough

Life will continue to reveal itself as it comes into focus

Like your rival when you were seventeen

Who had your spot on the basketball team

He will be gone by cancer

Before his fortieth birthday 

Survived by a heartbroken wife and newborn

 

The coach that called you a quitter

That cursed you as he shattered his clipboard

Will be found with a shotgun in his lap

Still sitting in his wheelchair in South Carolina

Before your sophomore year of college

They caught him the first time after the razor

The one time all conference college basketball star

This time did not miss

 

It would not be fair to be able to go back

The mayflies are excited of course

We were too when we first arrived

Before we were burdened with knowledge

But we have years and years of data now

Stored in these big brains

We first used to make those tools and start those fires

We became good at surviving

But we struggle when we slow down

When we do not move

We were not built for this world we accidentally created

Long days with no purpose

 

The moment you stopped and decided

To occupy a piece of land

You committed yourself to a lifetime of pulling weeds

Around the corn stalks

In your garden

Around your home

Your heart

 

Oh Sapien

While you sat in the field playing with the witch hazel and the hawksbane

Drawing circles in the dirt with the bird’s bones

Tracing your fingers over limestone remains

Chasing foxfire ghosts in the evening at dusk

The world slowly slipped away

It did not lie, you just wanted to be deceived

 

The vultures lined up in the loblolly pines

Like a row of judges in the air at the yard’s edge

Stare down at you reminding you nature has no conscious

Somewhere you hope there be a dead rabbit

There will be no hung jury, only what is final

 

You are not on the last road

But you are just beyond a long winding curve

Can’t quite see what lies ahead

But you can begin make out the lay of the land

 

The dust collecting on the floor

The sunlight always hits at 10am

Underneath your favorite chair

Is just you decomposing 

Year after year

With your morning coffee

Reading words and rubbing your chin

 

You do not know what you are going to do

Anymore than you know what you want for Sunday dinner

And that is your greatest sin

Now so burdened with being

That you forget to live

 

 

~Stephen Simmons