Alison Stone – Mercy

Stone LE P&W July 2023

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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing July 2023

Mercy, poems by Alison Stone.

Henri Rousseau’s “The Dream”

The naked woman’s pointing, but toward what?
Does she covet an otherworldly flower, larger
than her head, and is telling the round-eyed,
pettable-looking lioness to fetch?
Serenely, a dark figure in a striped skirt
plays a tune. Some kind of orange fruit hangs,
round as moons. No one asks who moved a couch
into the middle of a jungle or what the furry,
bird-shaped creature in the background means.
Easy to miss, a small elephant blends into the trees.
Plant leaves gesture like arms. A snake starts to make its way
out of the picture, though I’d rather stay here

than in most of the landscapes I dream myself into –
prisons, train stations, dead-end streets. Always somewhere
I’m struggling to get to — no signs,
my ticket lost. Still, I’d trade Rousseau’s
luscious greens and the pleasure of the unexpected
for a nightly repetition of the fragment I had once,
five years ago, shattered by a workday alarm –
a plain room with bare, tan walls, my mother
in a frilly bed, alive and smiling.


Mercy feels good in the mouth,
even just the two soft syllables, detached
from a specific memory or event.

Mercy, I say, and again, mercy,
sending these sounds into the world,
counterpoint to yet another

Black man murdered
by police. Another village
bombed to flames. Lord have mercy! we lament,

but history shows us
we need to provide
it for ourselves or do without.

My friend’s writing about the Holocaust.
She’s allowed to — Her father survived it.
How much space is there

in hearts, on screens for last century’s atrocity?
Those dead found mercy, or didn’t,
so long ago that I’m free from

pleas to help and guilt if I refuse,
unlike the abused or “to be killed tomorrow”
pit bulls that keep showing up

on my feed. Is it wrong
to mention dogs in the breath
after slaughtered minorities?

So many threads of mercy’s opposite
weave through our lives.
Let’s parry them with mercy

as a greeting, a good-bye.
Good mercy.
That mercy looks great.

They’re predicting more mercy tomorrow.
Would you like some mercy with that?
Thank you. Yes, I would.

Lot’s Wife

Who wouldn’t turn around
when love’s behind them?
It was instinct, honed for decades,
ever since the oldest learned to crawl.
I needed to know where they were
to keep them safe.
What awful deity
would smite a mother
doing what she must?

My new form’s not without pluses.
I improve the taste of food, keep
rot away. Someone remind my husband,
before he lays a finger on our daughters, that I pickle
hearts and one pinch in an open wound
can bring a strong man to his knees.

© Alison Stone

Alison Stone has published eight full-length collections, To See What Rises (CW Books, 2023), Zombies at the Disco (Jacar Press, 2020), Caught in the Myth (NYQ Books, 2019), Dazzle (Jacar Press, 2017), Masterplan, a book of collaborative poems with Eric Greinke (Presa Press, 2018), Ordinary Magic, (NYQ Books, 2016), Dangerous Enough (Presa Press 2014), and They Sing at Midnight, which won the 2003 Many Mountains Moving Poetry Award; as well as three chapbooks. Her poems have appeared in The Paris Review, Poetry, Ploughshares, Barrow Street, Poet Lore, and many other journals and anthologies. She has been awarded Poetry’s Frederick Bock Prize and New York Quarterly’s Madeline Sadin Award. She was Writer in Residence at LitSpace St. Pete. She is also a painter and the creator of The Stone Tarot. A licensed psychotherapist, she has private practices in NYC and Nyack. YouTube and TikTok – Alison Stone Poetry.

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