Ethan Stebbins

Two poems from Ethan Stebbins’s Talking to You

followed by a note on the author


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.



Dear Sarah Huckabee Sanders

Your hair is beautiful today.
In an opera that is often
violent and bewildering
your hair precedes you
like a familiar friend
signifying something deliberate
and uninspired is about to happen.
Your hair is always the same.
Your hair is the same
as my sister’s when I was 6
and she was 8 and was by me
unjustly tortured. Daily
into the blue room you march.
Daily the bland discursive crows
attack your face. Your hair
is a helmet made of silk, a brown tarp
protecting a white balloon.
Sarah you are not my sister.
In this memory I’m having
my father who is not Mike Huckabee
is brushing my sister’s hair
the color of mud and certain horses.
We are watching our parents
watch the news. Our clothes
the couch the television
everything indicates the end
of a Reagan-era we’re too young
to understand. Every night
he brushes her hair
and every night the head
of someone named Oliver North
fills the screen for longer
than seems fair. The head
looks damp and cold, like something
packed from wet clay.
I think it’s the boringest head
I’ve ever seen. Later in bed
when I close my eyes
the gray clay head
is burned into my brain.
It floats in the dark like a dead star.
Like an anti-dad it tells me
it will not protect me. That
things will not be ok.
People are full of venom and snark.
The world is going to ask you
many difficult questions
it’s important you learn
how not to answer.



Ethan Stebbins is a poet and stonemason from Maine. His work has appeared in Poetry, The Hudson Review, FOLDER, The Cafe Review, Best New Poets 2008 and other publications. In 2007 he received a New York Times Fellowship in poetry from New York University, where he got a M.A. in English and American Literature. He is at work on a first book of poems.