Forest trail

Three Poems by Stephen Corey

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The Tick and the Tock

The Tick

You don’t know if the mark on your skin is new

because you can’t tell if it has legs. If, when

you magnify the mark, it does, then you have to

get it out. My mother used to do that with a lit

cigarette by bringing it close enough to burn

my thin skin, and when the legs backed off

she would kill them. Sometimes the pain from

the ashes would wake me. Sometimes I’d dream

red eyes circling my bed, wolves around a tent.


They ask that about a poem—does it have legs?

And if, when you look closely, it does, you’d

best get it all down because if you don’t you

Can come down with what looks like flu but, unlike

flu, will last the rest of your life. Odd, I’d say,

that you never think how those legs emerged,

clinging to a slim blade of swaying grass

at the side of some trail, and how only by chance

did you pass by and sweep them away.

The Tock

You know the mark on your skin is old

because every day it is new at dawn, then

through the hours magnifies, darkens, outs

the loss—yesterday’s, tomorrow’s—close

against your flesh like tiny legs, circling.

My lover used to wake me, her eyes the lit

cigarettes of my dreams, burning and red

with the closeness we needed… feared…

but craved, whether wolf or angel.


They ask that about love—can it stand

and keep moving, have the full body

the heart needs for the rest of your life?

Can a heart have legs, or must it settle

only for itself, for always running on

in place—in those ones, tens, hundreds,

schmundreds—until nothing can hold

it back, unless it holds itself back—

holds back, rests, then becomes nothing?




A Midsummer Night’s Dream

for Aimee

Oberon:  Fetch me this herb; and be thou here again
                Ere the leviathan can swim a league. 

Puck:      I’ll put a girdle round about the earth
               In forty minutes.

Suppose the world were only Puck—
absent all royals and lesser nobles,
absent fools and fairies,
filled by the good heart so good
even its trickery is love and playfulness,
the scheming just innocent dreaming of joy.

But there is no summer, no night, no dream—
a winter’s afternoon, this tale, and true:
a young friend in the part cannot dissolve
the magical line so cannily wrought,
so there she is, before me always,
even when silent and out of sight.

She could cause love, this Puck, to fly
via the purple flower’s juice, laid in any eye
to save a life or mock it forcefully;
she did this with a forty-minute flight
around the Earth, mocking its vastness
to enthrall her school friends, their smugness.

If the same chills rise from Puck’s sweet amends
as from sagging Lear’s quintuple nevers,
where now in this thousand-and-more-page world
do we find ourselves—our footing, our hearts?
Dear Aimee, bosom friend of my daughter,
outshining history and magic seems
so right for you, so nearly right for us.




Why They Are Good

I recall, in sunlight,
a strange angle of your leg
as you lay naked on the ground.
   – The first good lines I ever wrote.


Because arousal gives back
poetry to passion, passion to poetry.
Because five ls are one
antidote to hell.
Because five ns make everything
grow, placing the whole tongue
against the palate and not
merely the leading tip, so useful
so often otherwise.
Because the syllables stepladder—
six, seven, eight—and the accents
swell—three, three, four—to meet
the arrival of nakedness.
Because the full force of the story
lies behind the three lines,
the twenty-one syllables left
to dream of adding the real
tongue, the real legs, the real.




Stephen CoreyThe most recent of Stephen Corey’s dozen books are As My Age Then Was, So I Understood Them: New and Selected Poems, 1981-2021 (White Pine Press, August 2022), in which these three poems are published, and Startled at the Big Sound: Essays Personal, Literary, and Cultural (Mercer University Press, 2017). In 2019 he retired after 36 years of editorial work with The Georgia Review.

Header photo by Simmons Buntin.

Clouds and farm
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