Jennifer Stewart

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crouched at the end
of the flower bed
on hands and knees
open-mouthed garbage bag black at my side
I pick away winter’s detritus:
dun leaves, their cell structure in lacy desiccation, and spikes of brittle canes spent
remains among the emergent, just 
purpling salvia
uncover a sphinx moth, a sleeping beauty flushed
wings flung wide and blushed pink
in role reversal I the colossus
yet reverent will ask it my riddles

summer after summer
my grandma knelt in her flower beds
confessing to toads, all named
a succession of saintly Elmos
received in belly-rubbing communion
fiery guidance

in the limited space
of a one-story rented duplex bordered
site of transplanting and removal
my older sister and I clear away into black lawn & leaf bags detritus
startling: our grandmother’s
false teeth in unexpected places
under a modest layer of paper towel;
the poignant horror of dry skin shed in snowy drifts 
flaked from legs and feet at the bottom of her bedsheets;
dirty jokes, racy riddles on scraps of paper in her handwriting
mixed in with recipes and home remedies and bits of wisdom proverbial;
Jack Daniel’s in the closet by the front door demurely
stashed behind a white plastic rack of shoes
and amid all this litter
the two of us laugh, sweaty
lug load after load to dumpsters
order a pizza and sit on carpet in the almost empty living room
to eat it, legs splayed and ruddy under the ceiling fan

if I hold fast to the only needful thing
all through the night
refuse to let go
will I get answers
whispered in my ear
drawn into the dance so close, so tight
my own trickster tactics used against me
a new name and blessed release
sent on my way

The 13th Station

Young man loading groceries into my trunk
adjusts his mask,
tells me he’s anxious, so anxious
sometimes he wants to end his life.

Follow your heart…
What if it leads here?

In this time of social distancing
how did we two go from chatting
of spicy foods and the Scoville scale
to confessions of despair
spilling his guts like a sea cucumber
to me, a stranger?

You can be anything…
This child has floundered, choked
on half-truths, taken in for a generation.

Eye-to-eye in this parking lot wilderness
once ocean, dried to desert, asphalt gagged
I place my small offering before him.

Unseen connections
between image bearers
like the roots of an aspen grove:
make a subterranean foray over there
and we’re all going to feel it.
The less we engage,
the less we have of You.

Lightning bolt sets York Minster’s roof on fire
liquid lead sobs from the sky
sears the wooden Pietà
Christ-scarred Mary
yet the sculpted upward gestures
of their arms beckon

“The 13th Station,” read by Jennifer Stewart.

Jennifer Stewart ran wild across acres with imaginative sisters, Doberman Pinschers, Rhode Island Red chickens, Quarter Horses, Black Angus cattle, and occasionally, Bigfoot; now, she runs somewhat respectably through her suburban neighborhood. A teacher, poet, wife, and mother, she’s finding her little way through middle life. She reviews movies here.

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Photo Credit: “bagged” by arbyreed,


  1. “Salvage” reminds us that life, even packed full, is truly a vapor! Live it to the fullest!
    “The 13th Station” makes me choke back tears. Beautiful and moving poems!


  2. In “Salvage”, this poet wrestles poignantly for the “only needful thing,” a through-line that banishes meaninglessness in the tasks of gardening and cleaning through the materials of a long life. The imagery of moth and toad, and dentures and Jack Daniel’s complete the link between the mundane and the transcendent.

    The “The 13th Station” is a powerful poem. I imagine the poet’s very openness to the meaning in the “mundane” revealed in the first poem is what drew the young man in, making him feel that it was safe to make the connection in the first place. The images of asphalt, aspen grove, liquid lead, and upraised arms are profound, and the decision to engage is excruciating and powerful. Thank you.


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