With these poems by Jack Stewart, we continue to highlight original fiction and poetry from writers who either published their first book at 40 or after, or who have yet to publish a book. Writers interested in submitting work should see our guidelines.
PrayerI cross out words so you will see them more. Jean-Michel Basquiat Uneven crown, or maybe a head on fire—if people painted religious art anymore, this would be the pain of Jesus, teeth clenched, body clenched and emaciated—this would be the pain of Peter struggling for faith in his moment of denial, eyes wide in inescapable realization—this would be the pain of Lot’s wife looking back and thinking of friends consumed by the flames running up the sleeves of their screams— Oh, Basquiat, born in poverty, your clothing not as warm as a shroud, if only you had painted a prayer, perhaps one you mouthed when you were a child, and crossed it out, how we would read all we gave up but need, your line separating us from it— line we long so hard to cross.
When Words Fail We have just met, and he is proud of his wife’s recent augmentation and insists my wife “give one a squeeze.” Is there a word that articulates our embarrassment, any syllables to express our reluctance to look at the robin’s egg turquoise pendant nesting in her cleavage? I have to tell this because when words aren’t enough, you have to search for them in narrative, as if they might emerge like characters who save the hero and heroine and bring a moral to the story. Private, incredulous laughter later won’t do it. Neither Latin nor German roots offer suggestions. Perhaps we receive moments such as these to understand what makes us human is knowing some things are unsayable, that we have absences we’d give almost anything to define. Directions in Paris You don’t need a map. No matter where you stand, it is always the same: turn left at the statue and right at the fountain. You will pass a bakery and lingerie store, a wine shop across the street. When you get to the café on the corner, take the avenue that angles to the left. (If you feel you might be lost, ask the woman smoking by the park.) When you hear police sirens, you are getting close. Where you are going is two doors down from the woman walking her little dog. (He is well behaved and does not notice you.) Home is where you live inside several centuries, the buildings not allowed to be built as high as their ambition. Where the river flows through the belt loops of the bridges. In the museums, paintings gossip with the guards. Every morning people hum the national anthem of fresh bread. Don’t you dream a city with few trash cans and less trash, that worships jazz and does not paint lanes on the roads? Everywhere tells you maps are redundant. Everywhere tells you the sky, whether bright or deepening gray, is meant for you.
Petals 1. The constellations are moth-eaten, But I still have enough light To make my way through The dogwood darkness. The cicadas burned out months ago In the drought of their own songs. 2. The grass is black, Soft pavement going nowhere. In a month, We will have enough cold That not even stalks of steam Will rise after rain. 3. Mornings, The air still pulses a little With birds left over from summer. Ducks sit like fat hearts in puddles. 4. We never get snow, Even when winter is fully here, Just a jacket of emptiness Buttoned by nuthatches. 5. So much for the stars, The ancient heroes Now amputees With an empty wheelbarrow. 6. Still. Still. That is a word you can give your heart to. 7. Red candle wax melts Down the faces of the Muscovy ducks. In the moss-gray dusk, The moor hens dip their match-head beaks In the water, searching For grains Of anything. 8. Petals of anything, Even green mold in a crevice of bark, Mean something was flowering Somewhere. I’ll walk in that direction.
Jack Stewart, 62, was educated at the University of Alabama and Emory University and was a Brittain Fellow at The Georgia Institute of Technology. His first book, No Reason, was published by the Poeima Poetry Series in 2020, and his work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including Poetry, The American Literary Review, Nimrod, Image, and others.
(Photos, top to bottom: MJS/Unsplash; Ron Dylewski/Unsplash; author photo by Sherri Stewart)