You can hear the youth of his heart
in the rhythmic pouncing of his block
chords. He’s a kitten when it comes
to his ball of twine. He’s in his ninetieth
year, but that’s not to say his melodies
are arthritic or his left hand falls asleep
in mid-conversation with the right.
The felt-tipped hammers drive each note
into their surefooted place. Harmonies shift,
easy as sunlight progressing across the carpet.
Wisdom’s intertwined with overtones
floating above the whole of music,
and he’s in time with his complete being,
his strengths and weaknesses syncopated
within one opus, the life-energy of jazz.
This is what I hear as I try to tune
myself, questioning my own offbeat
rhythms. Now I know what key I’m in,
what scales I’m going to play.
Tonight, I’ll sleep like a pillow.
The morning glory —
that will never be my friend.
Rain has a way of darkening the bark on trees,
deepening the wood cracks in fences.
Grass appears softer, envious of clouds
that tease with their rootlessness,
their promise of travel and a good night’s sleep.
Normally, I’d have a little Johnny Hodges
playing in the background or Casablanca
splashing silvery-blue against a wall,
but today I’m listening to a vintage radio
broadcast: Bing Crosby banters with Jack Teagarden,
the cool cadence of Crosby’s voice
complementary to the sound of fat oak leaves
pounced by rain. I can see them:
Bing still boyish on the verge of fifty,
placing a hand on the rawhide shoulders of Teagarden,
who periodically grins at the floor,
fidgets with the slide of his trombone.
I smile at the plate I’m washing, the tension
slackens in my neck and my apartment warms
with the admiration in their voices.
Both men have been dead for decades
but somewhere there’s a place, a park bench
looking out over a lake or a table at some café
left vacant, unused since their passing.
Not an homage to where they once had their lunch
but a space that encompassed
what they knew and never knew of each other.
Not heaven or a memory (nothing
we can’t touch or prove), but a room
behind a locked door behind which we can stand,
a spot on a map we can point to.
Somewhere we know exists and leave alone.
— First published in Pennsylvania English
JAMES STEWART’S VOICE
Everybody tries to imitate it, drawling
each vowel as if it were a summer day
spent in a hammock. You come home,
press the button on the answering machine
and there’s Grandpa croaking, Hello. Hello?
This is Jimmy Stewart, I’ll call back in a while.
And at parties, you can count on at least
one drunken ass peeping under skirts —
claiming to search for Zuzu’s petals.
It’s important to soften all the ‘Ss’
and to pucker your lips. It’s always
easier to impersonate someone
more like yourself — not a tough guy
like Bogart or as worldly as Cary Grant,
but someone who’s terrified of heights,
whose closest friend is an invisible
six foot rabbit — a man whose greatest talent
is to appear to have no special talent at all.
Someone who wishes he had never been born,
smart enough to take it all back.
About Joshua Michael Stewart
Joshua Michael Stewart is a Massachusetts Book Award nominee, and the author of two chapbooks, Vintage Gray, published by Pudding House Publications in 2007, and Sink Your Teeth into the Light, published by Finishing Line Press in 2012. He has had poems published in the Massachusetts Review, Worcester Review, Euphony, Rattle, Cold Mountain Review, William and Mary Review, Pedestal Magazine, Evansville Review and Blueline. He lives in Ware, Massachusetts. Visit him at: www.joshuamichaelstewart.com