I-70 Review

Writing and Art from the Middle and Beyond

Robert Stewart

     Robert Stewart is author of Outside Language: Essays (Helicon Nine Editions, a finalist in the PEN Center USA Literary Awards for 2004; winner of the 2004 Thorpe Menn Award), Plumbers (poems, BkMk Press), the monograph On Swerving: The Way of William Stafford (Literary House Press), and others.  He is editor of New Letters magazine, BkMk Press, and New Letters on the Air, a nationally syndicated literary radio program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.  In 2008, he won the National Magazine Award for Editorial Excellence in the Essay category (and was a finalist for that award in 2007) from the American Society of Magazine Editors.  Recent poems have appeared in The Iowa Review, Denver Quarterly, Poetry Northwest, Prairie Schooner, Mangrove, Stand, Notre Dame Review, Literary Review, (and forthcoming, I-70 Review and other magazines).  Anthology editorships or co-editorships include Spud Songs: An Anthology of Potato Poems (with Gloria Vando), Voices From the Interior, and Decade: Modern American Poets (with Trish Reeves).  He co-edited the collection New American Essays (with Conger Beasley Jr., New Letters/BkMk Press, 2006).


       Out of whose womb came the ice? and the hoary

       frost of heaven, who hath engendered it?

               Job 38:29

Transformers explode each side

of State Line, the sky arcing blue

as a jukebox giving up its final song.

The silver maple seems barely

to bear its own weight, an extra

ring of age forming all in one night.

“We're living, but we're dead,”

I hear on battery power from Turkey

after a quake.  Across the world,

it's January.  Each shiver, each

cannon shot, turns us to the window

for what is about to appear.

One block over, repair lights cluster

around a pole.  They revolve

like bouquets of yellow mums.

The top of the maple avalanches

into our yard; lag screws

drop their lines, the meter box

bapping in the driveway –

it ignites a blister of accusations.

Our only sin is melancholy.

At the café on Southwest, cabbies,

a preacher, Angela the waitress,

ask if I have power.  It is this:

Nowhere can the cold escape

our understanding.  A scrim of ice

sanitizes my toilet bowl and frosts

the bathroom faucet, nearly new,

with its silver crane of a neck.

The world coughs, and I cough.

Behind the incompetence of walls,

huddled bodies cannot clear ice

from the tips of their noses.

At the supermarket, ceiling lights

dim on generator.  Each of us

squeezes suspect farmer's cheese,

like mendicant monks who ask only

to understand this world, how ice

gathers on a thing and brings it down.

                      — Originally in The Kansas City Star.


I'd rather lose an hour than gain an hour.

I'd rather be passed than pass.

I see a sign for the Halfway Café,

     too late.

I'd rather turn around than get home.

The one-biscuit order of biscuits and gravy

     has two biscuits.

I swear it's a mistake, but she says, No.

     No mistake.

I'd rather be wrong than right.

I tip too much rather than sour

     someone's pumpkin smile.

Everyone has idle hands.

My computer at home has set its own

     clock to standard time.

Think about what happens in the hour

     that appears one morning.

The hour that flies around the city,

     looking like a bellows.

I'd rather trust than know for sure.

The sky's bright lanes peak through

     chinks in a barn.

Water towers take to the top of the world.

Streets run to the high one-hundreds.

Thus it is I discover I'm behind.

I'd rather go to the seasons than they

     to me.

I'd rather my computer checked before

     it did things.



          — Orignally published in Writing Poems,

                      (Addison, Wesley, Longman, 6th ed.)


I am slow, too.

Here's the wide road--

it's a chance--

and a shell is, so far,

a kind of wing

to escape on.

My house in Waldo, truck,

have no value

in this discussion.

I am talking

how we move east

at about 65, and you move

north, at what –

point zero, point one?

Nothing to distract you

but a smell of water,

or the pool of the moon

on your back

like a dark headlight,

you reckless driver.

          ⎯ Orginally in 90 Poets of the Nineties         

              (The Seminole Press).


Laying myself down in the passing lane

of North Lindbergh years back, by then

Sunday morning, leaving the beer joint so far

past midnight, Bob, my absolute sidekick,

had time to drag my body back to the gravel lot,

big as I was compared to him, and take my keys.

This was after the redhead drove off,

leaving a scrap of paper with a phone number

but driving off, nonetheless; Bud neon

flickered in the window and popped

to black.  You always go for the red heads,

Bob said, as if he knew, as should I, desire

for red hair leads nowhere.  The Red Queen,

herself, said it takes all the running you can do

to stay in one place.  In mid Lindbergh,

facing up and spread eagle, one could fly

to the outer islands, then, their houses

roofed with grass, to hunt and eat whales

and wind-dried fish from the blessed sea.

The dark-haired one really liked you,

Bob would say, friend and counselor,

knowing red heads were impossible to me

in a neighborhood of dark, Sicilian girls;

but among the tables, smoke, and ashes,

arms swinging as the night turned late,

there seemed to appear some signal fire,

a hyacinthine flower of the Faeroes or Finland –

a boreal copper sky swirling among bands

of light in the juke, filling the jar on the bar

with the pale-blue eggs of a gannet, perhaps

like the blouse of Mary.  Forgive me, you girls

and cousins of Italy; so skinny were you

in your short, black, Gina Lollobrigida hair,

I didn't know your beauty or how you loved me.

I wanted to turn toward the sky, myself;

and Bob would say to me, Hair that red

isn't even real, nor, I knew, was the spark

ignited at their phoney ends, good friend

and only purveyor of truth.  So what?

he'd say.  So she drove off in the top-down

Karmann Ghai, the little bottle rocket

of her hair on North Lindbergh going dark

and refiring at each light standard, as far,

at least, as the Shell at Charbonier.

— Originally appeared in The Girl With Red Hair

    (Serving House Books)


We made the northern

Rockies in our sleep,

descended into hemlock

and Douglas fir

on the western slope

of the Cascades.

Everything is just

as I imagined.

I woke once, like this,

on a train to Rome,

and we had made

the Mediterranean

in our sleep.

The sea of Lupo &

Giacopelli raised

its face to the mirror.

No one had told me

there were palm trees

in our family.

The seats here change

into a sleeper

along the window;

and moon on snow lights

the mountain, a shipwreck

in the middle of a dream.

I hate to go to sleep.

When a person moves,

Indians say, it is he

who has changed,

not the land.

Snow-feathered mountains

circle the water.

I see stone-black eyes

of salmon at 5,000 feet

and great green heads

of mallards on the sound.

We are following it in.

Notice how a single

voice can wake us,

how the shaved face

of the Olympics hangs

there in a cloud,

and now, how suddenly

we have this city

built on seven hills.

One hill filled marshes in

for building lots,

while you and I were

doing who knows what.

We are sleeping

and we are traveling

where inlets, windows,

seamless welds have us

coming to attention.

There is room for you, here,

in econo-class with me.

The stones along the shore,

an old chief has said,

are loud with memories.

                      — Originally appeared in The Connecticut Review.