For Ellen Doré Watson
My mother never wished for her sons
to stop painting the world’s moans
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
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.
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.
Joshua Michael Stewart, 2017
This Sharpening, We Live in Bodies,
Ladder Music, Dogged Hearts, by Ellen Doré Watson