Jack Stewart – Five Poems

Jack Stewart was educated at the University of Alabama and Emory University and was a Brittain Fellow at The Georgia Institute of Technology.

His first book, No Reason, was published by the Poeima Poetry Series in 2020, and his work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including Poetry, The American Literary Review, Nimrod, Image, and others.

 


Flags of Rain

Outside, flags of rain
whip from the streetlights,
a gray hysteria
that demands you bow
if you go for a walk,
if you are crazy enough
to go for a walk
in that kind of despair,
the hollies hunched,
the azaleas ragged,
their petals tattered
across the lawn.

This kind of weather
is like that person you don’t try to stop
as he hurries down the street
not looking right nor left.
You stand under
the awning of a shop that is closed
and let him pass,
fringes of water
running off the scalloped canvas edge.

No one else is around,
and you remember
the time your father left
in the middle of the night
on an errand that couldn’t
be put off,
someone dead
whose kidneys would be packed in ice
in the light of the patrol car
and rushed to another
who would die without them.
You have never felt that
kind of urgency,

like this weather that has no
time for you
or anyone,
and when it stops
you stroll on, puzzled
by how you feel both
happy and a little empty,
the streetlights
that turned on automatically
now confused by the returned light,
the glass of uncovered windows shining,
bright water running into the gutters,
and the lessening wind
that suggests you turn your collar back down.


The Blackboard Constellations

I hate whiteboards, all their smug
Cleanliness, their empty-headed blankness.

Give me a blackboard with its cloudy admission
It often gets things wrong, its love

Of uncertainty and confusion,
The failure that gets on your hands.

I like that it must be cleaned with water,
The tray shining and ready for the talcum

That dusts important information.
Knowledge should be written with

Something extracted from the earth.
All of my teachers then are now dead, but I

Remember their letters and numbers
Like the shapes of constellations on that black space

And so name them here: Desilva, Schafely, Lee,
And the future they told, the outlines I still

Locate for direction, because eventually
We all learned that purity does not last,

And vacant skies are avoided
By every helpful god.


Kyiv

The city now neutral colors,
sky dingy from smoke,
buildings beheaded, faces torn off
apartments. A charred
living room, stained from fire
hoses, a sofa slumped, askew.
On the curb in front, two cars
burnt black as darkling beetles.

The streets are in rubble, as if
someone bulldozed sentences
and dumped the syllables.
When it’s all carted away,
the dust of echoes will remain.

Sing a song loud enough to match
the sporadic metronome
of gunfire. Sing an epic
for the dead who lie soft
as mattresses by the side of the road.
For the women, determined
as callouses, who cart
belongings and carry children.
For the saplings whose future
leaves will not be covered in blood.

The poem can only end
with someone casually giving
directions to his home again.
Someone carrying a meal to a table
and saying a blessing over the food
without the windows suddenly
rattling, or the flickering
of lights that might go out.


Vision at Sainte Chapelle

Better with glass than stone,
Window-walls fifty feet high with only
The pressure of lead holding
The roof up, colors bleeding
One into another, story folded
Single image into need
Of another image,
Red, blue, green saints in triage

Of faith, grace fragile as light
Streams through branches outside,
Composing a story
That grows from itself. I hold
My breath, the weight of doubt
That has grown century by century
Paused, the holy held
Up by light and the history of light.

I come out to the brightest
Sky, knowing constellations tonight
Will not impinge as frames
Of absence but perhaps
For once the darkness of a dream
Shining on the Seine, rippling
As a fingertip of moonlight runs
Through the water, which flows

Away like doubt undone.
Pont Neuf is a cross’s beam
On the river dark as wood, the bridge-beam
Of Pont au Change another cross,
Then Arcole, lovers like nails
At each end, cross after cross,
The base diminishing until
It is planted firmly in

The horizon. Then it rises,
Vertical, a huge shadow-cross
Looming above towns, spires
Of pines on mountainsides,
But empty of pain, empty
Of arms, just a cross,
Not even clouds crucified,
To bless the stars.


Rising, Falling, and Rising Again

The chandelier of the fountain,
Though it rises and falls
From itself, rises and fails,
Still centers the park,

Or, melting like a candle
Down its own sides
But not getting smaller,
It mesmerizes the dark.

Whatever spends itself
But isn’t spent—these are
The angels Adam knew.
They still hover here,

And I have prayed to them.
There is nothing holier
Than something you need to hear
Again but fear you won’t.

The dead rise in reflections.
All hands tremble eventually.
The groves in Eden are aflame
In blossoms this time of year,

But we talk of autumn’s colors
Far more than spring’s.
We bury our children
In their names.

 

 

 

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