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from spring 2023 book Higher (Winner Prize Americana)


The Montréal Review, April 2023



  I pass death with the dying and birth with the new-wash'd babe,
and am not contain'd between my hat and boots.

Better today if I had gone home to work
on the wooden gate, which is coming apart,
but the robin has hatched her brood
on the downspout nearby and stares at me
if I get close or make the gate groan, as in a poem
I read recently with the opening line thus:
Would everybody stop dying, please?  Whitman
no longer is contained between hat and boots;
and Roth, this morning announced his silence,
and Pope Francis, himself, says in a movie,
he is not immortal.  The Pope.  So I repeat,
Don’t die, please, and still agree to carry
the casket of my pal Bob, at Jefferson Barracks
National Cemetery, on his way through
the squeaky gate.  I am a realist. 

—From Higher (The Poetry Press of Press
Americana, spring 2023) by Robert Stewart.
Originally published in Salt, a journal.


Image by Ignasi Montreal. (Credit: Gucci /Ignasi Montreal)


I loved Chickenman, ca 1966 ff., of Midland City,
I took for St. Louis, then,
on my ‘50 Ford radio, trumpeting triumphantly,
Buck, buck, buuuuuuk. Chicken-mannn,
as he rushed off in his Chicken Coupe
to rescue the still-single Sayde, or to
his human job, selling shoes in the city of shoes –
first in booze, first in shoes (last 
in the American League) – fantastic fowl
of footwear – He’s everywhereHe’s everywhere
even over Armed Forces Radio, should
the draft board send me to Fort Leonard Wood.

I loved the San Diego Chicken, ca 1974 ff.,
droopy lids and huge beak –
give me a break – a greater physical comic
I rarely have seen, maybe Danny Kaye,
but the Padres got us all through the fall,
as we used to say, of Vietnam,
as the Chicken appeared with Chuck Berry,
Jimmy Buffett, Paul McCartney, then covered
“Do you think I’m sexy?” by another Stewart
on WIL radio, Cardinals fan or not.

I never loved chasing chickens, or the chicken
chasing my three-year-old sister Christine
with its head cut off, spurting blood,
or the smell of boiling water poured
for plucking pin feathers, and never, ever
loved Henny Penny—too chicken—
or maybe just me, in my soul,
Huey helicopters hovering over the trees
on Kingshighway and Florissant Road,
dropping a big hook for the delta,
where my buddies hung in the sky, ca 1968 ff.,
by the neck, like rubber chickens.


—From Higher (The Poetry Press of Press
Americana, spring 2023) by Robert Stewart.
Originally published in Chickenhood (chapbook).


Radish Farmer by L Balombini (Credit: Saachi Art/Balombini)


I want to be down on my knees,
pulling radishes in the garden, raised

bed or spaded dirt; and if a stranger
comes along, I want to point her way

with a radish, or bunch of mustard greens
already tied with twine and lying

in a basket with tomatoes.  I want
to lift the nest lid mornings and trouble

the comfortable, getting pecked,
sure, but that’s what I want.  I want

brown eggs so fresh the shells
hardly crack on the cast-iron ridge

of the skillet, scramble them
in chopped radishes, greens—

you see all this coming together—
over cool slices of those very tomatoes.

It doesn’t sound like much, but
there are so many refugees, I want

also to hold their babies awhile
and let feeling return to their arms,

and I want to say, sometimes
when I was a kid we had nothing
for breakfast but donuts.


—From Higher (The Poetry Press of Press
Americana, spring 2023) by Robert Stewart.
Originally published in I-70 Review.


 Robert Stewart is the former editor of New Letters magazine at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.  His books of essays include Outside Language (finalist for a PEN America award) and The Narrow Gate: Writing, Art & Values.  His forthcoming book of poems, Higher, won the 2022 Prize Americana.


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