One Piece at a Time by David Stephenson

One Piece at a Time

It starts with little things you hardly miss,
taken while you look the other way,
and every year there’s just a little less,

as when a steady, unobtrusive hiss
continually drains air or steam away.
The little things are easy to dismiss

as you are out attending to business,
focused on collecting your day’s pay,
and though you see each year there’s less and less

you’re confident it can’t go on like this,
that someone will step in and save the day
and bring back all the little things you miss—

but you have mis-assessed the whole process,
the things in motion, the advanced decay.
With every year you’ll learn to live with less

until you’re frog-marched into the abyss,
and as the light fades you’ll hear others say
It started with some things we hardly missed
and suddenly we find there’s nothing left.

by David Stephenson

Editor’s Note: The villanelle form lends itself beautifully to this poem’s central theme of slow erosion.