David Stallings

At the Altar

Low on bucks, I see no other way
to get a present for my mom.
But how would she feel
if she knew I’d snitched it?

My high school friend, Norman,
helps sweep aside such thoughts,
invites me to join him
Christmas shoplifting.
My mom loves the Isis replica
from the Fine Arts Center gift shop.

After the holidays, Norman keeps
slipping things under his coat
from shelves all over town.
He misses lots of school.

Mid-January he invites me downtown
to an upper floor suite of the Antlers Hotel,
where he and his blond girlfriend
have partied for several days
before a growing altar of stolen stuff—
clothes, liquor, electronics. He says,

I’m not sure what I’ll do with it all,
but ain’t it cool?

His father phones me
a few weeks later, says
after a maid busted Norman,
a judge offered the choice of jail
or joining the Army.

Norman left today, he says, and oh,
I’d like to return the transistor radio
my son stole from you.
I’m sorry…it hurts.

I think, Good fucking grief, Norman—
but to his father can only say,

Thanks for letting me know, sir.


You Wanna Open the Diaper?

my grandson asks
as I walk him home after school.
He holds out clasped hands,
fingers laced, palms down.
Sure, I say, and he rolls his hands over
wiggling his free middle finger.
What if I’d said no?
Raising his clasped hands again,
he lifts the outer middle finger—
a rich display
of playground humor

and clear indicator of readiness
to learn thumb removal.
Watch this, I tell him as we walk,
removing my left thumb
from knuckle to thumbnail,
then letting it snap
back into place.
No blood, I say.

Staggered, he says, Do it again.
I comply, again and again,
then share the method.
He practices, asks for more demos
for the rest of our walk
down the sycamore-lined street.

That night my daughter
sends an email—

Tonight as Tavi was falling asleep,
I caught him practicing
with his thumb—
it was pretty cute.

Tomorrow he will be first grade
king of the playground.


The Real Deal

After 9th grade civics class
a scrawny kid named Jimmy
nods at me, stands cool
like he knows what’s going on,
what’s on my mind.
Hey kid, he says, wanna buy
a picture of a woman’s pussy?
Well, hell yes, I do—
‘specially for only a dollar.

Next day he finds me
in a hall after lunch, looks around,
pulls out a picture
torn from a Sears clothing catalog.
Drawn with smudgy pencil
onto a woman modelling underwear,
are butterfly wings
or maybe the lyre
I saw in music class.
But no—from the lame sex manual
I often sneak from my parents’ drawer,
I recognize a sketch
of internal female stuff—
but not the real deal.

His face falls when I tell him,
Thanks, but no thanks,
then walk down the hall
toward my locker, face feeling hot,
embarrassed for us both.


His Kitchen Drawers

much like his parents’,
hold many items
with no kitchen use—
odd lengths of green string,
electrical parts,
WD-40 too.
Screws, nuts and washers,
tiny screwdrivers,
hose parts, a golf ball,
magnifying glass.…
Top items scrape off
onto pots stored below—
until the drawer sticks.

But just this morning
the chaos provides
a short bungee cord—
just what is needed
to fix a bird feeder.
This often happens.
Mystical, he thinks—
helping him withstand
friends’ workshop order—
small labeled boxes
stacked neatly, just so.


David StallingsDavid Stallings was born in the U.S. South, raised in Alaska and Colorado and settled in the Pacific Northwest in the 1970s. Once an academic geographer, he spent many years promoting public transportation in the Puget Sound area. His poems have appeared in North American, U.K., and Swedish literary journals and anthologies. He published a chapbook in 2012, Resurrection Bay (Evening Street Press), and a new full-length collection, Risking Delight (Kelsay Books), will be available mid-2018.

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