Homage by Way of Writing Through the Works of a Mentor

For Ellen Doré Watson

My mother never wished for her sons
to stop painting the world’s moans
and glitters.
You were a blooming brushstroke
to the canvas. Like my brother
I could see the Taj Mahal
in the grain of an oak pew.
Unlike my brother I’m no splinter
inside the smooth wood.

I know my trees.
I know your barn boards and the shed
moving towards ruin.
I know your poems
living in my lungs.

Because of you, I’ll notice
every exploded headlight in the endless parking lot.
The trouble with the space between us
is it’s a sadness made beautiful over time.

The man who loves
my mother’s wonderful dark hair
is all shallow breath and false teeth.
My stepfather says she’s a woman
with an iron mind standing in an ornery river.
Her outbursts are haphazard scattershot
appropriate in a chaotic universe.
She says with each passing day
he looks more and more like a rusty earthmover.
Bless the brain
that never wanted a glamorous job.

He eats her leftover donuts and heartache.
If she were milk, she’d be sour on his breath.
Their ugly intentions grew too big
for the skin of their house.
They’re not allowed to live in the same nursing home.
She wants to know if they broke the things
they thought they could save.

Forgive me if I miss her wild blueberries.

I’ve removed pain by hacking at daylilies unworthy
of a place in the body’s garden.
What are poems
if they don’t flip the switch
from trying to forget to wish to remember?

I’m forgetting how to stutter guiltily
through life. I’m learning how to belong
with clumsy and disobedient crows. 
I refuse to think about the hundred and thirty-eight ladybugs I’ve killed.
My arms are always full of eggshells.
You’ve given me so many dumb
& beautiful

I’ll remember gentle.

You found me a white heap
of dough, and tonight I’m cooking to West-coast jazz
with no thought of waiting out the big storm alone.
Tomorrow promises
the catbird’s nonsense and forbidden love’s sweet birdcage.
It doesn’t matter
who’s upstairs holding Polaroids of my nakedness.
What I bring to bed is a ticket-tape parade.
What I bring to bed is the howling in the chimney.

I’m just another band geek
blaring Ode to Joy, through the car stereo.
I must shape a planet in my hands
and I come to this with only nine good fingers.
Ellen, you said, Try to push back
the tangible. Be properly scared.
Be here first.
Love something.

Joshua Michael Stewart, 2017

Remixed works:
This Sharpening, We Live in Bodies,
Ladder Music, Dogged Hearts, by Ellen Doré Watson

The School of Apocalypse

There’s nothing natural about barbed wire
with a piece of horse’s mane stuck on it.
Or a grizzly bear using a highway overpass.
I don’t know what went wrong. It all keeps
bouncing back and forth. This could be my,
like, shamanistic, right-brain diabetes treatment.
Everyone says it’s unforgettable being
in the path of totality. Give me 10 minutes
so I can think about it more. I’m not really sure
if we could ever discover how to reach God
through exercise. You see charred black bodies
hanging from trees, and white folks picnicking
under them – young children smiling. And then
on the back of the postcard, “Wish you were here.”

Howie Good, 2017

Remixed works:
Hyperallergic article 1
Hyperallergic article 2
Hyperallergic article 3
Rapid City Journal article

After November 8

Her coda is her confession and
her request for absolution,
but also her catharsis.
She has nothing left to lose.
We imagine, as does she,
what it would be like to lose the caution,
to ditch the calculation,
to be irritated and blunt,
to not care too much,
to go out in a blaze
of fury and candor—

Hillary! You are entitled to rage.

Sofia Kwon, 2017

Remixed works:
New York Times article

The Fireworks Galaxy

Go to a farmers market,
buy a new candle,
drive with the windows down.
This is our revolution,
a fast way to get killed.

When I come back the next day,
the office is closed.
Still, through the window,
I sense the atmosphere.
There are holes in the floor,
new cracks in the walls,
a Madonna washing
her clothes in the toilet.

You asked for justice;
they shot you in the face.
It’s hard to believe
it really happened,
and everyone is sitting here
having a good time
and the music is still playing.

Howie Good, 2017

Remixed works:
New York Times article
NPR article

Time Bomb

We didn’t know what it was, whether it was
a train crashing. There were children, blood,

shoes, splattered all over the floor. Everyone
was crying and screaming. I felt so helpless.

A man walked past us, just covered in blood.
This can happen anywhere, at any time.

How can I explain any of this to a 14-year-old?

This is the world we live in now.
Even the police are bandits.
We have to face up to it.
A very horrible morning of death.
Kids were getting crushed.
I didn’t know what to do, where to go.
I didn’t have a phone.
I just kept screaming for Patty.
She needs to grieve.


Backpacks aren’t allowed.
Drinks are taken away from people.

But getting a car or knife is easy.
And it usually involves other people.

To make matters worse,
Senegalese have less and less money.


Everybody’s constantly looking
at the clock. The clock’s ticking,
the clock’s ticking. Got to go, man,
got to go! Otherwise you kind of
get trapped. Yeah, it’s the same
sun, but it’s different everywhere.
Nobody knows which way to go.
Keep on running, keep on running.

Howie Good, 2017

Remixed works:
New York Times article 1
New York Times article 2
New York Times article 3

Hamlet in 15 Seconds

Every once in a while,
imagine life as a hard, rigid,
inflexible caramel center.

If you can help it,
make your way through
a swirling maelstrom
of volatile surprises.

And by all that is holy,
practice a death-defying leap
through a flaming hoop
while reciting Hamlet

in under 15 seconds
when nobody’s around.

People always clap
for the wrong reasons.

Shloka Shankar, 2017

Remixed works:
Chaos Theory: A Unified Theory of Muppet Types, by Dahlia Lithwick
The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger.


I saw a black mass of smoke.
I felt the fire touching me through my window.
I heard a snap or a crackle.
I saw the flames rising.
A bird gave this to me because I freed her wing
from a tangle of balloons.

Stranded between one act and another,
jump, turn clockwise,
cut with the kitchen knife
through the beer belly of the Republic.
The more a visitor is willing
to play in my nightmare,
the more all of us will receive.
The island sinks now, but it’s still there
just beneath the waves.

They came and knocked on the door.
Why didn’t you open the door?
My daughter could have been in there bleeding.
I can’t keep doing this.
The bridge is going to collapse.
They’re saying I have to walk,
but it’s raining and dark.

Whatever happened here,
it was at the wrong time, wrong place.
This place is very dangerous.
I imagined that there might be someone with a gun.
Crowded places, we try to avoid.
Malls, we try to avoid.
So much is coming at us.
It’s like watching your heart outside your body.

Howie Good, 2017

Remixed works:
Hyperallergic article
AJC article
ABC News article
New York Times 1 article
New York Times 2 article