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.

Over the Edge by David Stephenson

Over the Edge

The wind was strong and at our back all day
So we sped merrily across a sea
Awash with floating patches of debris,
Mostly planks and oars and castaway
Crates and sea chests, and sometimes a stray
Capsized lifeboat, thudding sluggishly
Against our hull with tiresome frequency
And spinning and foundering on the ricochet.

The boats they sent to stop us have turned back
And there are no birds trailing in our wake;
We sail beyond the maps and charts alone.
And now the waters swirl and skies grow black
And in the distance vast waves rise and break
And we are doomed. If only we had known.

by David Stephenson

Editor’s Note: This sonnet offers the reader a bleak situation. It isn’t until the closing lines that the metaphor becomes real.

Ex Organ Donor by David Stephenson

Ex Organ Donor

I used to check the driver’s license box
So they could use my organs for transplants,
Seeing it as a good deed without cost,
Oblivious to any consequence.

It’s grim to ponder what might have played out.
Would the person who drew my heart also get
Its foolish impulses? Talk about
A bittersweet, Faustian side effect.

But now I’ve overstepped the age limit
So my heart won’t be making any moves.
It’s stuck where I can keep an eye on it,
In my rib cage, chained with veins and nerves,

Scheming as it beats its one-note drum
And matching wits with me for years to come.

by David Stephenson

Editor’s Note: The clever volta of this sonnet raises a question most of us eventually ask—how much longer do I have?