Sestina for a Powder, poetry by Joshua Michael Stewart

She’s lis­ten­ing to the clock—the heartbeat
that mocks the blood that pumps inside this house.
She clicks her tongue in time with the sound that knocks
against walls, and mim­ics heel-to-toe boots on redwood
floors. There’re knick­knacks to dust
and soapy dish­es to scrub. She waters the plants

to keep her mind from creep­ing back to the goons planted
in graves thanks to the trig­gers she squeezed. She wouldn’t beat
the rap—not a chance. For the two drop­pers she dusted
she’d claim self-defense, but that silk tie she popped in a house
of God, she can’t chin her way out of that. Would
you’ve done dif­fer­ent if a but­ter and egg man offered Fort Knox

to care for you and your men­tal­ly impaired broth­er? Knock
off my com­pe­ti­tion, and you won’t wait­ress again. Plant
six shells into him while he’s on his knees pray­ing, and I’d
give you enough dough you won’t need to mess with deadbeats
who want to toss your broth­er into the nuthouse.
Don’t wor­ry about the bird I want you to drop. To you he’s dust.

To set her mind on more pret­ty things she starts to sing Star­dust.
The screen door in the kitchen knocks
against its frame, and she turns to smile at the man this house
belongs to. The man who spends his days among the plants
in his gar­den. In his hands is a strain­er full of beets.
He kiss­es her check. He smells of earth and fresh­ly cut wood.

It smells like you’ve been saw­ing wood,
she says as she brush­es sawdust
off his shoul­ders. And then some, he says, rins­ing the beets
in the sink. Oth­er men would’ve rat­ted to the cops, and knocked
her out on her ass before she had time to plant
one mur­der­ous paint­ed toe­nail inside their shack.

Instead, he swept the air with his hand and said, Get in the house.
He taught her broth­er how to select sea­soned oak for the wood
stove, and told him all the names of the plants.
He doesn’t talk to him as if he’s a child or deaf. They like to dust
off down the road to watch the heifers in the field, and to knock
tin cans over with rocks. He lis­tens when her broth­er says, Beets!

and says, Beets, again. She knows when to knock
on wood. All that she loves is planted
in this house. Every­thing else can turn to dust.


Joshua Michael Stew­art has had poems pub­lished in Mass­a­chu­setts Review, Eupho­ny, Rat­tle, Cold Moun­tain Review, William and Mary Review, Pedestal Mag­a­zine, Evans­ville Review and Blue­line. Pud­ding House Pub­li­ca­tions pub­lished his Chap­book Vin­tage Gray in 2007. Fin­ish­ing Line Press pub­lished his chap­book Sink Your Teeth into the Light in 2012 He lives in Ware, Mass­a­chu­setts. Vis­it him at www​.joshuamichael​stew​art​.yol​a​site​.com

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