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Sharon Stewart Nov 2011
I don't brush my hair or eat my vegetables.

Really, that's who I am. The tall girl
with the little cousins splashing careless
in the tissue paper leaves of fall
who climbs trees and scratches her bug bites until
they bleed and comes home giggling
with grass-stained knees and dirt in her pockets.
Mom would smile at dinner and say I smell like

The compliment of compliments, untouchable with
innocence revered.

Somehow, with a little west coast living and
men under my belt, I've changed. With pressure to
be domestic and beautiful, ****** and *****,
flourish professional and more successful
than my mother's mother who mothered 6,  
I have forgotten this. I fall short.

I fall
in love with men who quell Outside joys and bike rides
with money and ******* and touch me in the dark,
cooing and cawing and convincing me
I'm happier to throw a pretty penny
around, and here, take this pill, smoke this dope,
to not remember the smells and scabs and stories from
when you gave a **** that made you who you are.

I'm getting my hair done today at some high end place.
I'm waiting for blonde dye to set, reading about
world hunger in my National Geographic. Wait,
that's probably not acceptable.

Okay, I'm reading
about J.Lo's *** in US Weekly, talking numbly to the stylist
about I-can't-believe-they-wore-that, while some yuppie
next to me with her face stretched too tight
is reading something ****** in Vanity Fair and
won't shut up about the Kardashian divorce.
"I mean, not like I know her or anything, but it seems
SO like her to..."

I'm surrounded by flourescent lights and floor length
mirrors and ******* with their caked on makeup
whispering of affairs and debt the way
you inexplicably can to your hairdresser alone.

I look at my face in the mirror,
framed in foil, pop music pounding overhead.
I mean, I'm not as bad off as the rest of them, right?
I couldn't be. I
remember the bug bites, piles of old leaves,
pink-cheeked simple childhood, and I can't
breathe all the sudden.

click my designer heels to the counter
throw my credit card at the $144 bill and
leave, speeding, to get away, don't know where
to go, I just end up at a ritzy bar where I stumble in
and, out of habit, order a martini, clean, straight up with
a twist.

Then I look down and burst into tears because
really, I'm no different from them and
truly, growing up in this town is
such a cruel, long hurricane of loss
that you can try to flee, past tangled hair and untouched
vegetables, all across the great Outside but you
just can't outlast in hide and go seek.
Sharon Stewart Nov 2011
I think Grandpa Stewart developed a stutter
from years of being interrupted.
I've never heard him get out a whole sentence
on his own, without Grandma cutting him off
before tonight. He hobbles over to the kitchen
where I'm doing dishes after dinner.
Expectantly, I look up into the ***** windowpanes
of his old, gray eyes,
his hands are shaking and lips quivering.
When he talks, it's like a secret, and he
tells me, struggling over sequence and syllables,
stories of being a volunteer firefighter. Days
he was the strongest man anyone knew.
He stopped a flaming tractor trailer, once, from
running away all ablaze when its brakeline blew up.
Set his jaw, leaned into the smoke, another time,
and pushed onward in steady strides, putting out
a fire in a nickel and dime store, even when
the hose pressure was pushing his line of
sweaty men backward into the street.

Where the hell is that fighting man? I look
at the hunched, wrinkled one before me and remember
the panic that crippled him when
his second son killed himself 12 years ago.
Knelt down as if in prayer, begging
for forgiveness maybe, put a shotgun under his chin,
and blew his brains out, a different type of fire,
with carbon and sulfur exploding just as deadly.
They said the bullet came out his eye socket.
I don't know how they could tell.
It was a stranger in the casket they pieced together
from chunks of skull found across the basement floor.
Haunted by fires, Grandpa doesn't sleep now,
answers the phone on the first ring, paralyzed
in perpetual anxiety, yelling,
                                                             "Y-Y-YES?! He-Hello?!"
His stutters are a endless seziure convulsing
on his tongue. He's slower, he's somewhere else, he 's
interrupted and doesn't try. He's medicated
and sedated and
smothered into this empty shell of
a man, sleeping, existing on a living room recliner,
****** with colorless eyes,
desensitized to fear and family, broken
in the wake of fire's senseless destruction;
all the charred ashes left in its place.
Sharon Stewart Nov 2011
Driving through the old town
where my father was born,
I'm stunned to silence while
he tells me the stories of houses.
This man I've always feared
who acts like he can't remember
mistakes or childhood,
legends and accidents,
who I'd swear was never born,
just always existed, strong,
who my mother claims
is incapable of memory and
sentiment, tells me, quietly and
unannounced, about an old woman.
Sat on her porch, Sharon,
at that house there on the corner.
He tottered over and talked to her
at four years old.
She had blue and green parakeets.
Took a drag of her cigarette
watching the world pass her by
wearing memories only she
knew the pain of bearing alone.
Sharon Stewart Oct 2011
At the laundromat today,
my stomach flipped
on demand
hearing a familiar chord
on the public radio station.
I panicked, yelled
a curse before
the lyrics even began.
Customers all
grew silent and turned
to look at me.
Which made the song overhead

I hate your ******* music,
your popularity, your effervescent
I hate your stupid songs about the ocean.
Lost respect for you, your
band, your
Resent the fool you've made of me
behind closed doors,
rubbing your fears off
on me in the dark,
a doubting Thomas with

I argued your qualms
at Bible study tonight.
Down to Ecclesiates and
the girls in India.
Remembered buying you a sandwich
in the bookstore
the day I met you.
You were looking through C. S. Lewis,
confounded, almost bewildered,
debilitated by questions I
hadn't ever
thought to ask that
I can't get out of
my mind now.
Like a bad song
stuck in my head that
I can't
seem to shake.
Sharon Stewart Oct 2011
I hear you on the radio,
driving to work.
I swear, I almost get sick in the car
at the rush of memory
I remember firelight flickering
across your face,
a dark corner of a bar you wanted
to get away to
after you played a show,
when everyone wanted a piece
of beautiful you
except me, blushing.

Passion Pit was blaring overhead.
I told you about my family,
we're beekeepers from Ohio.
You watched me as
friends of friends approached me,
flirted, I was sultry.
You asked me
if I was warmed by the beers.
Made eyes
like you wanted
to get the hell out of there.

A customer from work, some
rich investor shmuck,
texts me today.
"What are you wearing?"
I'll tell you.
How many ways can I say "remorse"
before it sounds ****?
It does nothing for me anymore.

But no jokes come to mind,
no evasive, coy replies.
Just a flashing cursor on my
as I remember summer *******
and someone I left behind.

Make outs in a photobooth
that lasted all night
as they swept the floor to
close up shop.
Only our shoes peeked out
under the curtain
threatening to blow our cover.
You wouldn't be thinking about
our cover.
You'd be thinking about what
I was wearing.

You remember
the color of my tights.
You've told me.
The way my sweater fell off my shoulders.
sandcastle collarbones.
The more you were obsessed
with me,
the more I didn't need you.

You placed my
hand over your heart
that night in the photobooth,
so I could feel the butterflies
surging through your chest.
They ruptured in rhythm
with each flashbulb
of light
at the magic, calculated touch
of a girl who had learned
to trust no one.

I didn't want any
Doesn't everyone always leave?
No, recording in Richmond,
touring across the country,
passing through Brooklyn,
sleeping on a friend's
floor in Denver,
You still asked me what I was

A sly grin watching you, breathy and
raw, finish yourself in front
of the camera
late nights when you were away,
listening to you beg for me.
Just the way you'd say my name
And all the words when
we wouldn't speak.
You brought me back honey
from Honduras.
Told me about beekeepers there
and scuba shops on little islands.

I was afraid to start my life
again with someone.
Too young to plan to
run away with you.
The unspeakable distance
I never told you:
I was sleeping with a man I had
loved once
the week before I met you.
He had stopped loving me
long before.

I left you before you could leave me.

It was some cheap hotel off I-75.
A Korean movie with subtitles
was playing in the dark
and we were slushing wine
and sliding bodies
Your sweat was like nectar
and you gasped as you entered me.

I didn't know when I met you
there was nothing left
of me to offer.
Isn't timing half the battle in life?
I never explained it.
Couldn't bring myself
to drive your nice car like you wanted
while you were away.
Drink your honey in my tea
without grimacing at
the bitter taste of grief to it.

I got tired acting confident.
I got bored telling you what I was wearing.
I got angry that you had never been hurt
by someone
not wearing anything.
You were
and easy and
looking for something I couldn't give.

You brought me with you.
I don't know how,
VIP passes and interviews,
always on the road.
We stopped talking,
but you reinvented me
so many times over
different in your mind.

Maybe it was my aire
of not needing you like
the other girls.
Not remarking on
the contour of your jawline,
Your firm muscles,
and pulsing for me, leaving you
crawling, still
what I was wearing.
Sharon Stewart Oct 2011
There was no need to ever
stop and ask
if you were listening
when I was mid-ramble.
But I would anyway.
It's true, you remembered everything,
heard me above a football game,
I'd stop mid sentence, and you
hung on every word on the phone,
attentive to any thought that passed
by my lips.
I think you must have really
loved me for a while.

When you
left me, I never completely
picked myself back up
off the ground.
No one was there to listen.
Things escalated,
I got
lost in my mind,
fell to pieces this summer.
I needed to leave,
run away and brave the
farmlands of America,
get back to where
I started,
find the easy, unassuming
cornfields of my youth
to hide away in for a while.

I called you at the end.
You know how you said
you were always listening?
Feisty and broken and living in my car.
Wild like a cornered animal,
with darting, untrusting eyes.
It was too late for me to talk.
I wonder if you blame yourself.

We got drunk
because a part of you will always
want me, and slept together
in your new apartment that
I was a stranger in.
Do you remember the way my nails
would dig into you?
"Tell me you love me,"
I pleaded that night.
Do you listen
to things I used to say
in your head?
You left me so
long ago, but I know
the voices of ghosts
don't know how
to keep time.

I was ***** a month before.
I don't know any other way
to tell you.
I didn't know him.
Went out with him, hoping to meet
a good listener I guess.
did all the talking.
I was cautious and polite, but
he got angry after a few drinks,
something came over him,
****** and serpentine.
Locked me in his truck and drove.
I couldn't fight back, and that
thrilled him. Made him want it more.
His eyes were brown, the only thing
gleaming in the dark.
Carried me through tall cedars,
pitch black night,
miles from civilization.
His own secret spot, he said.
He was so strong,
hands careless and hard.
Tried to throw me into the water,
rushing loud like dark acid, threatening to hide
any evidence.
Dispose of me easy.

You left with more dignity,
but it felt just the same.
That's why I couldn't tell you.
When I was brave and determined
and set on changing things,
I couldn't.
When I was alone and broken
and begging for it to stop,
it didn't.
How could I ask you for help that night?
You gave up listening
long before he left me wounded
and tattered
on the bank of the Sandy River.

Two thousand miles away now,
I sigh through rolling farms in
perfect solitude,
watching the same stars, fuzzy and far,
that I watched helpless through cedars
on that night that everything looked
so far away.
With practice, I learn to hear
the sound of my own thoughts
and then, slowly and steadily,
begin to explain myself to
the only listening ears
of corn around me.
Sharon Stewart Oct 2011
We were kids.
You shut the door on me in the pouring rain.
You had this wide-eyed, crazy grin on your face
all the time
amused with yourself
and that was enough.
How did I know
how to tell a boy I liked him?
I just knew your breath smelled like
listerine when you got on the schoolbus
in sleepy half dawn
You sat behind me and sometimes,
if I peeked my eye through the crack between
the seat and window, you'd smile
and share your headphones with me,
a simple song or two from The Postal Service.
On brave days, I'd scoot back to be closer
and breathe you in
in tentative girlish awe.
You laid your head down on my lap
to nap the rest of the trip
and I'd watch you, holding
my breath,
slowly playing
with your orange curls
through my fingers like sunlight.
Almost a decade later,
I've forgotten the schoolbus.
We're reunited with a group, eating
sushi, laughing until we cry
at my spicy face and the clumsy
way I can't hold chopsticks taunt.
But reaching past you, I brush
your hair on accident and stop short,
the sensation tingling my fingers,
remembering how
more than once I've
gazed at you in wonder.
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