ruth stone | lighter than air | how it is | the porch

30 07 2009

PoetryDispatch No.290 | July 30, 2009


Lighter Than Air

The fat girl next door would give us a nickel
to walk to the old man’s store
and get her an ice-cream cone,
vanilla, of course, the only flavor then.
On Powotan Avenue, Aunt Harriet and I would take
turns licking it all the way back.
It was hot that summer and we longed
to go to Virginia Beach and put our toes in the tide.
[trained every day and the James River swelled
up to our doorsteps.
Aunt Harriet and I wore tight rubber bathing caps
and long saggy bathing suits. How skinny we were.
She was nine and I was six. The lightning flashed
and we hid in the closet; the thunder crashed.
We had straight, bobbed hair and bangs.
Once a dirigible moved above the tops of the trees,
with little ladders dangling down, and we waved.

How It Is

The sensible living
aren’t interested in the dead,
unless there is money in it.
So little you can do with them.
What they say is in your head.
They visit in dreams but turn their backs
when you beg them to stay.
They are never hiding in your closet.
Empty jackets, loose sleeves yawn
on the hangers. Their cold feet
that they rubbed and rubbed
with their long sensitive fingers,
before they put on their socks,
never come back with their fine
fitted bones to warm your bed.

The Porch

Whatsoever comes to the screen,
firefly or moth,
I lean back in the wicker chair,
the porch my fragile skin
between me
and the gorgeous open maw,
the suckling swallowing world.

[from: WHAT LOVE COMES TO, New & Selected Poems, Copper Canyon Press, 2008}

Ruth Stone (born June 8, 1915, in Roanoke, Virginia) is an American poet, author, and teacher.

Ruth Stone is the author of thirteen books of poetry. She is the recipient of many awards and honors, including the 2002 National Book Award (for her collection In the Next Galaxy), the 2002 Wallace Stevens Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Eric Mathieu King Award from The Academy of American Poets, a Whiting Award (with which she bought plumbing for her house) two Guggenheim Fellowships (one of which roofed her house), the Delmore Schwartz Award, the Cerf Lifetime Achievement Award from the state of Vermont, and the Shelley Memorial Award. In July 2007, she was named poet laureate of Vermont. The voice of Ruth Stone reading her poem “Be Serious” is featured in the film USA The Movie. Paintbrush: A Journal of Poetry and Translation 27 (2000/2001) was devoted entirely to Stone’s work.

In 1959, after her husband, professor Walter Stone, committed suicide, she was forced to raise three daughters alone. (As she has pointed out, her poems are “love poems, all written to a dead man” who forced her to “reside in limbo” with her daughters.) For twenty years she traveled the US, teaching creative writing at many universities, including the University of Illinois, University of Wisconsin, Indiana University, University of California Davis, Brandeis, and finally settling at State University of New York Binghamton. Today, Stone lives in Vermont.


  • * What Love Comes To: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2008) – A finalist for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize
  • * In the Dark (Copper Canyon Press, 2004)
  • * In the Next Galaxy (Copper Canyon Press, 2002)
  • * Ordinary Words (1999)
  • * Simplicity (1995)
  • * Who is the Widow’s Muse? (1991)
  • * The Solution (1989)
  • * Second Hand Coat: Poems New and Selected (1987)
  • * American Milk (1986)
  • * Unknown Messages (1973)
  • * Cheap: New Poems and Ballads (1972)
  • * Topography and Other Poems (1970)
  • * In an Iridescent Time (1959)

What love comes to

One of 68 poems, this one begins with, “Look at Eta Carinae”. With this, Stone perceives more than many gardeny poets, noticing not just a relentless snowstorm, but the sunlight that falls through the snow, Stone does not settle for the usual pastoral scene. Instead, she widens the frame to an astronomical scale of eleven, to show us our galactic neighbor, a hypergiant, intensely luminous blue star that seems well on its way to exploding into a supernova. source