Rumpus Original Poetry: Four Poems by SM Stubbs





Asylum Office

Sometimes I sit at my desk and hum along
            with the lights. I shut my door, breathe air

gridded together by brown carpet and indifferent
            ceiling tiles. I can taste those who killed themselves

before me. In terrible voices they whisper,
            Build us model ships. Each takes weeks to build and

minutes to set aflame. At 5:30 I race to my stop on
            6th Avenue. On weekends I forage at stoop sales

and outdoor markets. Not many people donate
            their best pajamas or everyone’s in love. Perhaps

 you prefer bridges or the home where your parents
            always listened? In the end, I couldn’t ignite things

that never were. It’s raining. The air is heavy
            ahead of schedule. Years ago I was a hummingbird

darting its bill into everything I thought might be
            sweet. I hovered for hours over open cocoons.


Asylum Music

You walk down a street a thousand times,
            one hand in your pocket, the other conducting

the broken chords of traffic lights. Windows
            flush with reflected sky, screens troubled

by the breeze before a front. Your frame
            remains constant: gold & chipped & carved

with measures. We know skeletons falter
            where bone meets socket, where the flutes

of our legs whistle & turn. We are full
            of the many ways bodies breach and trespass.

Note the harm your glances cause, casual
            studies of other peoples’ pain. The first time

you met a burn victim you turned away,
            unable to focus on the face hidden by scars.


Asylum Trial 

These confessions constitute the sum of what
            I have to say. Assemblymen meeting in the old

stone house will have these and only these
            to distract them through winter. Some day

there will be a thaw. There will be a pulpit
            and prayers spoken aloud, after which lesser

entreaties may be whispered. It will be nigh
            unto impossible to convict the perpetrator.

Yet the record must reflect. Specific elements
            of these crimes must be recorded. The more

salacious bits euphemized. The exhibits B-G,
            consisting mostly of graphic photographs,

redacted. The committee may find themselves
            unwilling to fall asleep knowing in their hearts

the evidence doesn’t say enough to convict or
            exonerate or prove anything beyond doubt.


Asylum Report

The report details findings sewn into a binder,
            thread loose as a tongue. It describes a virtual

constellation of nightmares in which a band
            of people perform impromptu surgeries on

their enemies, a scenario Bosch might have
            been afraid to put down on canvas: viscera

knived open, chests stitched to other chests,
            shoulder blades, faces. A team of experts

is building a glossary to explain this specific
            syntax of misery. In this case, agony appears

to be its own reward. The group’s migration
            leads to the coast. After that they may have

drowned. They may have set sail and found
            shores plentiful & serene. We have no means

to verify any of this. We are sorry for your
            loss. There is no further record of the colony.


Photograph of SM Stubbs by Margaret A. O’Connor.

Originally from South Florida, SM Stubbs co-owned a bar in Brooklyn until very recently. Recipient of a scholarship to Bread Loaf Writers Conference, he has been nominated for both the Pushcart and Best New Poets. His work has received several awards and has been the runner-up for several more. Poems have appeared in Poetry Northwest, The Normal School, New Ohio Review, Puerto Del Sol, Atticus Review, Carolina Quarterly, Iron Horse Literary Review, and more, with work forthcoming in December and Crab Creek Review, among others. More from this author →