Three Poems by Sean Kelbley


The truck that steals itself away, 

the pet that lets itself outside and vanishes— 

we didn’t use to have these waking dreams. 

Everything looks wrong: the hallway table 

without keys, the empty doggie bed. 

I read a story once, where one night 

everybody dreamed the things they loved

would disappear. At breakfast they ate

silently, looked only at their plates 

of worms and dust. How long did he stand, 

our neighbor, staring at the sofa where his 

wife had been? The Sheriff made a grid 

of road and woods and pond: Too long, 

too long. Now any place we look there’s 

something lost—a jumpless rope, an outline 

on a pegboard where the saw should be. If 

we could stop. I can’t remember how 

that other story ended, if it did.


The Early Reagan Years

On the front porch at her farm,
I take my Oma’s picture in a sweatshirt
we brought back from Myrtle Beach. 
I drop vacation photos in her lap: 
my parents laughing, me pretending 
to fight off imaginary sharks. 

Oma lifts her eyes across Tymochtee 
Creek, takes in the flatness of the land. 
In Batschka, no one owned a camera.  
And just as well—another thing to lose. 
She doesn’t like the way the neighbors 
plant to water’s edge. She misses 

reeds—their secret conversations with 
the wind, their easy bending.  Too close
she mutters, fussing with her sweatshirt hood.
How do someone hide, when Russians come? 
With cornhusk only can you make a doll. 
From reed, long reed, you make a breathing.   



It would do us good to stand again 
in lavender, to walk 

through vineyards full of ripening grapes. 
Remember how we used to go? 

There was an old stone church
on Leelanau Peninsula, 

a blacksnake melded to its western wall. 
And on Lake Michigan, light butterflied—

too many sparkles lunging in and out 
of waves to count. That stroke! So hard 

to learn, but then the muscle memory’s 
forever. This rusty year of staying put, 

these winter weeks of puttied skies 
remind me how we never needed 

lists of things to see, or what to pack. 
Of how the body always finds 

a way to cling to warmth, and light 
keeps swimming.

Sean Kelbley lives with his husband in a house they built together on a former state experimental farm in southeastern Ohio. He works as a primary school counselor. Since 2017, Sean's poetry has appeared in Rattle, Rise Up Review, Sheila-Na-Gig Online, Still: The Journal, Sugar House Review, Up North Lit, the anthology I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing: Ohio's Appalachian Voices (ed. Kari Gunter-Seymour), and other wonderful places. He is a multiple Best of the Net, Best New Poets, and Pushcart nominee.