The Tower Journal

A. E. Stallings

These poems are forthcoming in a new collection due out from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

For Atalanta

Your name is long and difficult, I know.
So many people whom we didn’t ask
Have told us so
And taken us to task.
You too perhaps will wonder as you grow

And blame us with the venom of thirteen
For ruining your life,
Using our own love against us, keen
As a double-bladed knife.
Already I can picture the whole scene.

How will we answer you?
Yes, you were in a hurry to arrive
As if it were a race to be alive.
We weighed the syllables, and they rang true,
And we were hoping too

You’d come to like the stories
Of princesses who weren’t set on shelves
Like china figurines. Not allegories,
But girls whose glories
Included rescuing themselves,

Slaying their own monsters, running free
But not running away. It might be rough
Singled out for singularity.
Beauty will be of some help. You’ll see.

But it is not enough
To be nimble, brave or fleet.
O apple of my eye, the world will drop
Many gilded baubles at your feet
To break your stride: don’t look down, don’t stoop

To scoop them up, don’t stop.

(first appeared in Five Points)

Autumn Pruning

for Evelyn

et spatio brevi spem longam reseces

You’re doing them no favors
Letting them get too tall
Too fast for their own good;
Curtail the sprawl.

They’ll only get leggy and weak
And die faster
If you don’t take things in hand
And show them who’s master.

Pretend you are that leveller,
The wind, unsheathe
Your blades—be the gnawing
Grazer’s teeth.

Fall back, cluck the clocks:
The hour you’re dreading
Comes with time on its hands
For the deadheading.

You water them and feed them
And call yourself a gardener.
You coddle and you pardon:
Be harder and hardener.

(first appeared in Subtropics)


My love, I’m grateful tonight
Our listing bed isn’t a raft
Precariously adrift
As we dodge the coast-guard light,

And clasp hold of a girl and a boy.
I’m glad we didn’t wake
Our kids in the thin hours, to take
Not a thing, not a favorite toy,

And didn’t hand over our cash
To one of the smuggling rackets,
That we didn’t buy cheap lifejackets
No better than bright orange trash

And less buoyant. I’m glad that the dark
Above us is not deeply twinned
Beneath us, and moiled with wind,
And we don’t scan the sky for a mark,

Any mark, that demarcates a shore
As the dinghy starts taking on water.
I’m glad that our six-year old daughter,
Who can’t swim, is a foot off the floor

In the bottom bunk, and our son
With his broken arm’s high and dry,
That the ceiling is not seeping sky,
With our journey but hardly begun.

Empathy isn’t generous,
It’s selfish.It’s not being nice
To say I would pay any price
Not to be those who’d die to be us.

(first appeared in Literary Matters)

First Miracle

Her body like a pomegranate torn
Wide open, somehow bears what must be born,

The irony where a stranger small enough
To bed down in the ox-tongue-polished trough

Erupts into the world and breaks the spell
Of the ancient, numbered hours with his yell.

Now her breasts ache and weep and soak her shirt
Whenever she hears his hunger or his hurt;

She can’t change water into wine; instead
She fashions sweet milk out of her own blood.

(first appeared in Poetry)


I never glimpse her but she goes
Who had been basking in the sun,
Her links of chain mail one by one
Aglint with pewter, bronze and rose.

I never see her lying coiled
Atop the garden step, or under
A dark leaf, unless I blunder
And by some motion she is foiled.

Too late I notice as she passes
Zither of chromatic scale—
I only ever see her tail
Quicksilver into tall grasses.

I know her only by her flowing,
By her glamour disappearing
Into shadow as I’m nearing—
I only recognize her going.

(first appeared in Poetry)

Copyright © 2017 A. E. Stallings

A. E. Stallings, born in 1968, is an American poet who has lived in Athens, Greece since 1999. She studied Classics at the University of Georgia, and later at Oxford University.

She has published three collections of poetry, Archaic Smile (which won the 1999 Richard Wilbur Award), Hapax (recipient of the Poets’ Prize), and Olives, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Her translation of Lucretius (into rhyming fourteeners), The Nature of Things came out from Penguin Classics in 2009, and was called by Peter Stothard in the TLS “One of the most extraordinary classical translations of recent times.” Her new translation of Hesiod’s Works and Days, is also forthcoming from Penguin Classics.

She has received a translation grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (US), and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and United States Artists, as well as a "genius grant" from the MacArthur foundation. She is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

These poems are forthcoming in a new collection due out from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

She is married to the journalist, John Psaropoulos, and has two children, Jason and Atalanta.

The Tower Journal
Fall/Winter  2017