Jennifer Stewart

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Bodie /body/ Island Lighthouse

You are the glory of God.
Ground level
standing on checkerboard tiles
peering up at a sinuous maze:
twisting black metal steps
light-stippled like a tin lantern punched.
The ranger guide tells us to stagger,
ourselves, one body
free floating
per flight of stairs.
You are the dwelling place of God.
Spiraling upward
in this chambered nautilus shell
slightly giddy
pause for the whitewash wall-framed view
and breeze, salty sorrow wiped
by each landing’s window.
A glass ceiling of faceted crystal
crowns the exit door:
interior disorientation
and all is panoramic peace
frog chorus
and birdsong.
You are the home of God.
Welcome home.

More stairs.
The steep trip up and down the dune deck
out to the beach, on shifting sand
and back again
is too hard this year to try again 
for you, trifecta of 
brain tumor / Parkinson’s / Alzheimer’s.
We listen to Bono in the car
on the way home,
croon about the climb 
and going crazy tonight.
Unpacking, on autopilot
I’m halted in gloom
at the bottom of basement stairs
by this body blow: the sight of that 
scratched gray toolbox
you carried to your truck in darkness
before each morning, while your daughters dreamt.
Three stickers adorn its dented lid:
a smiley-face in neon yellow,
“I voted ” with a waving flag,
a fistful of lightning for the IBEW Local 540.

Later today,
I work at relocation,
empty dresser drawers,
sort through piles of
spare change / handkerchiefs / birthday cards / gag gifts
blurred photos / love notes in your distinctive hand
immersed in the levity and gravity
surrounding me in all these personal things
so focused, so lost
you climb the stairs here, to your old bedroom
to ask about my mom, your love of 52 years, 
wife, now caregiver:
“Who is that woman?  She’s an imposter!”
That vein, I have
a reactive fight-flight history with
stands out on your temple.
I yell at you, and swear
words I never said to my dad’s face.

Too late, after you’ve gone, I choose
to pull from the album of my mind
three snapshot memories:
Windblown you with your widest grin,
silhouetted in one beach house door after another
backlit by flashes 
from a night ocean thunderstorm
our very first Outer Banks trip.
The rough-soft feel of your plaid flannel
workshirt in wrinkling waves against my cheek
as I lean into your shoulder.
Your fisted grip on the pickup’s steering wheel
coming to my rescue 
in a blizzard, Willie Nelson on the radio,
driving us home through whiteout
from each ditch
back on the road again.

Jennifer Stewart grew up running wild across acres in the Midwest. She sojourned in cities and now runs somewhat respectably through southwestern desert suburbs. A teacher, poet, wife, and mother, she’s finding her little way through middle life. Her work has appeared in Heart of Flesh and The Orchards. She reviews movies here:

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Photo Credit: “The Climb (Bodie Island Lighthouse Interior, June 2019)” by Jennifer Stewart. All rights reserved.


  1. It’s amazing. I felt every scene. I loved going back to reread portions so that I could feel and understand those moments. It’s remarkable.


    • I’m so glad to hear that the poem let you in, so you could roam around a bit, Jody. Thanks for reading!


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