Her hands are cramped in the rain
and the air outside is grey as ruined skin.
Her village is eaten by shame.
Four horses stand waiting
in the wet. As they climb the hilltop
they have a readiness
clenched in their shoulders.
She cannot see them very well,
nor smell the breath from their nostrils
as they loom, ready and huge.
Her hands twist through cold water; tonight
they’ll sleep upside-down against her throat.
I share my father’s birthday —
you can call me Gretl, Elena, Amina, Jane;
There’s nothing mysterious about me.
I could sit down next to you on the train
or hand you the foaming cup across a counter.
Conceived at the edge of a cliff, born
into propriety, I was the wrong fish
in tiny denim overalls playing
with that red, wind-up bird which had flown to me
right out of my father.
For Papa? Blue apples and lanterns
to blackmail him out of the fog.
The stained slope has darkened, boot-prints and blood.
Is she ready to walk up another ragged hillside?
Dawn drips honey on the horizon
but the way she travels remains in shadow
and the blue apples barely shine.
I trusted you!
But all you gave me was incessant moonlight —
its syringes, glint,
and a bowl of broth
that had already been bitten through.
Talking to Myself on New Year’s Eve
Let me speak for the horse torn by crows
one horse, no rider. Left foreleg
raised up into those crows which have rushed
at his hide, his mane, his flesh
to eye socket and bone.
Let me tell of the small girl, thumb
in mouth, stepping down the street
as she looks side to side and over her shoulder
hair fringed by blood.
Let me sigh for what lived in the forest
and now is ash.
Let me write for the crash of water into the sheepfold,
for the saturation
where nothing will grow and,
for those drying winds:
the suffocating crust where nothing
sprouts, or rises even an inch
into the shaken air.
Let me find what calls me to sit for a moment,
sift out my tightened, held breath;
let me write so no one’s shadow
crosses the page without soon
moving freely away –
Nothing made the evening more beautiful than memory, not that the memory itself had to be lovely or even pleasant, just that the glow of recognition slid warmly down her throat and settled between the ribs. Outside her window the constant gentleman watched. He was never visible but she could feel the flick of his eyes across her shoulders light as silk and it was a comfort to her.
The gentleman in his long wool coat and fedora kept away from the corner streetlamp. Watching the quiet woman sit with her book was calming as though he’d swallowed a joy so deep it could never leave him.
Some evenings the trees were full of leaves, thick and absorbent. Others, the air was chilled, shiftless – the leaves a bitter brown or even fallen and blown away into the cold season. But the street itself always smelled sweet; it was that sweetness which shaped memory out of its drift of smoke.
The woman knows that sometimes memory is brutal and while the gentleman can never rescue her she will, the next morning, stretch out of her bedclothes—imperfect and alive.
Baby has sweet toes & the boughs
Of the willow drape
gritty with shade. Mum & Dad
swing their knives
through kitchen air while Sister
plucks at Baby’s nose, tickles
her feet. Mum presses at the nick
on her upper arm; Dad’s
flung his knife away. His boot-steps
vanish down the street.
Baby giggles, then wrinkles up her face.
Sister wants to fall asleep
or swim with friends in the boy-flecked lake.
Mum wipes off the kitchen counter,
lifts down bread, jellied meat, mustard
& cheese. She doesn’t want
to call her daughters in, doesn’t
want, but has to.
I had a dove and she was fiction.
As I lay on summer grass
looking up through leaves,
she flew right down to me.
I kept my dove beneath my shirt.
At night she roosted on the bedpost
at the edge of dark pools
only I could slip my body into.
I wasn’t the kind of child
who carried death
like an opened book before her.
I tried to keep small, unnoticed.
I had a dove and she told me
stories; her voice,
low and rounded, comforted the air.
In winter we shared a rocking chair
by the icy like window. I held
her small heartbeat against my cheek.
My dove, who said she never lied,
taught me how to.
The Scent of Phlox
travels with her
ahead . a dark twist of clouds
and stones spinning up off the highway
her windshield cracks
yesterday on the window ledge a dragonfly
caught in a spider web
she touched it with one finger
a moment’s last breath
the purple phlox
lives in the corner of her eye
her windshield shatters
the road is slick and churning
as she peers straight ahead
two hands tight on the wheel
she remembers when she was five
how tall the bright short-lived sunflowers
between house and barn –
a first telling
of light from the earth
Pamela Stewart (known as Jody) is a true “boomer” and New England born and bred. She took up writing in grade school because she couldn’t draw. She received a BA from Goddard’s ADP Program and an MFA (sort of) from University of Iowa. She’s taught creative writing at several universities including ASU, University of Arizona, UC Irvine, and University of Houston. In 1982 she received a Guggenheim and traveled to Cornwall in the UK, where she returned to live for seven years. Jody came back to western Massachusetts in 1990, and in 1994 she and her then-husband moved to a farm at the edge of Hawley. Over the years she’s published in a number of magazines, received three Pushcart publications, and is the author of six full-length books of poems: The St. Vlas Elegies (L’Epervier press, 1977), Cascades (L’Epervier Press, 1979), Nightblind (Ion Books, 1985), Infrequent Mysteries (Alice James Books, 1991), The Red Window (University of Georgia Press, 1997), and Ghost Farm (Pleasure Boat Studio, 2010.) A chapbook, Just Visiting, was published by Grey Suit Editions, London, in 2014. (All of this quite surprised her mother.) Jody continues to live on the farm with seven dogs, a number of elderly sheep, a rescued race horse, a couple of goats, and some old pigs and birds. At some point she intends to tackle a “new and selected” if the dogs let her, but first she’ll arrange and write a forward to some delightful letters sent between the late poet Lee McCarthy and Guy Davenport. She has a lot to be grateful for.