October 5, 2011

Joshua Michael Stewart


Fog wafts up from the cool grass behind rows of tents
in the church parking lot. A lanky teen in basketball
shorts helps a man with a handlebar mustache unload

blueberries and strawberries from the back of a pickup.
A woman wearing pearls and a periwinkle shrug lifts
zucchinis out of pine baskets, rolls their rubbery bodies

in her fingers as if she’s about to tell them their futures.
I love the wetness of greens, the warm bread wrapped
in red cloth, the crunch of biting into an apple, the smell

of dirt on hands. I love how the words food and community
spool off my tongue, and how they belong here. But what
will this place mean to the little boy I saw earlier squealing

with delight as he crawled under a table to pet the black
lab with the graying muzzle, the boy who’s now near
the maple syrup stand where two police officers handcuff

his mother, a woman with bruised arms and sunken cheeks?
What does the boy mean to us? A man in a red ball cap
carries him off as his mother’s lowered into the back

of a squad car. His arms shoot out from his sides, trembling
with war like spears. The whole time spitting knives
from his throat: “Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you!”


Storefronts line the streets like convicts
condemned to a firing squad. A man
sputtering on about the end of days
wraps a scarf around his charred voice.

I was laid-off weeks ago, haven’t told
anyone. Every morning I put on a suit,
walk to the park, and feed the pigeons
breadcrumbs out of my briefcase. Tonight,

on my way home, it begins to snow.
By the time I see our porch light I’m ready
to fess up. I’m in the foyer, blowing
warmth back into my hands. My new bride

descends the staircase wearing nothing
but house slippers and a false beard.


                                —for Kate Hill Cantrill

To the cat, my thigh’s no more than a fleshy
stepladder, a tool for squinting out the window
that’s next to the bed. From my position,
I can see sky and clouds, tops of trees,

the occasional flash of bird and the filthy
underside of drawn-up blinds. The cat
reports on ground activity. His chatters
indicate the return of robins, his yowls

announcing that the calico from the brown
house is reclined like a roman emperor,
sunning itself on a slab of concrete.
There’s the rumble and squeal of the garbage

truck, the urgency of an ambulance siren.
Today there’re no big questions to ask
or answer, only small rituals: the whine
and teething of a bandsaw, the rhythmic

thwacking of a hammer. My neighbor,
always out in his yard with a pencil
behind his ear, driving something
beautiful and strong into his life.


Joshua Michael Stewart has had poems published in Massachusetts Review, Rattle, Cold Mountain Review, Georgetown Review, William and Mary Review, Flint Hills Review, Pedestal Magazine, Evansville Review and Worcester Review. Pudding House Publications published his Chapbook Vintage Gray in 2007. Visit him at www.joshuamichaelstewart.yolasite.com

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