Issue 25 | Summer 2020

Writing through the Work of Another Poet Named Stewart

For Pamela Stewart




In our house everyone slept on cold floors

in rooms full of chilly faces. No one was taught


how to howl or speak our whirling light

in a raucous world always brightened by fire.


I begged for the family bible’s burning,

unraveling hurt page by page. Hell flickers


in the throats of fallen birds. Dust on tongues,

how long must we wait for ashes?


I was seven when the man who was the father

delved into an icy hole in the lake


and faded from our lives like a sliver of light

adrift in the russet shade of an autumn afternoon.




The mouse behind the stove slowly stirs

in her nest of scrap paper, pine needles,


and dryer sheets. In the corner of the room,

my young bride begins to hum old songs


full of sorrow and desperate hunger.

Slipping off her skirt of winter moonlight,


her mouth opens, darkness breathes

and still blesses everything. I keep losing


her hand beneath the table. I press a hand

against a cold window. How attentive


are the spiders who live in the corners

of the sills. When human touch fails,


buttercups extend their hard luster—

this is what marriage means to me today.




Mama hums Easter hymns in the chicken yard

as she plucks breastbone away from feathers.


She pours bowls of soup at the church supper.

She washes vegetables, peels apples, fills up


the ghost’s mouth with bread. At home, she hides

her first love’s kisses under the doormat,


flings sheets over prayers kept in a room

that no one enters. Up in the attic, she stows away


a handful of men in cardboard boxes, drapes

a blanket over a rocking chair shaped like Father.




Birds sing wet songs smudged by midsummer heat.

Black cows enter the barn, chewing their cuds.


In Hawley, Massachusetts, a Tibetan man told me

Death’s long fingers root through his hair.


Sometimes summer smells like warm, soapy water.

Mama’s thin scent of August dusk drifts downwind


toward the churchyard cemetery. Returning home,

my mind strays into the lullabies we never sang.


A scrabble of tulips bloom on the edge of a plowed field.

A dog runs silently behind Mama’s strained voice.

Filed under: Poetry

Joshua Michael Stewart has poems published in the Massachusetts Review, Salamander,
Brilliant Corners, Talking River Review,
and many others. His first full-length collection of poems, Break Every String, was published by Hedgerow Books in 2016. Visit him at