Jack Stewart was educated at the University of Alabama and Emory University. From 1992-95 he was a Brittain Fellow at The Georgia Institute of Technology. His first book, No Reason, was published by the Poeima Poetry Series in 2020, and his work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including Poetry, The American Literary Review, The Southern Humanities Review, Image, and others. He lives in Coconut Creek, Florida, and works at Pine Crest School.
The Racoon in the Backseat
The attendant at the filling station
Saw the torn floorboard of the back seat
And what looked like jaws and teeth.
We waited in the garage while
He called Animal Control.
Had it crawled into the branches
Of the chassis for warmth? To escape
A dog also nosing around the garbage,
And the sound of the engine sent it
Into panic? A shiny patch of pelt flexed
From under the car when the officer
Carefully looped the capture noose
Around its neck and eased it free.
When I was four, we set out bread
And jelly to coax one to the back door
Where we were almost able to pet it.
This was the unpettable twitch and snarl
Of fear that would not be calmed,
That had tried to gnaw its way
To a shelter it did not understand.
I saw how impossible controlling
A blind need might be—
Its hunched shoulders tensed,
The bared teeth that had to be kept at distance,
The teeth that still might emerge in fury
From somewhere you thought was safe.
Toads at Night
I can only explain that kind of saturation of being and meaning in
everything . . . as a kind of embeddedness in God.
Wet tabebuia blossoms, scattered
From the rain, flex like yellow butterflies
Across the lawn.
The toads have come out and huddle
Next to the house or under bushes
Where my terrier lunges at them when we pass.
They make a few lethargic hops
If he gets close enough, but mostly rest
Where they are, embedded, reminding
How comfortable the earth is.
In a clump,
Like the brown rose heads of a dead bouquet
That does not care it is no longer beautiful
But still remembers what it once meant,
They celebrate the water dripping off leaves.
They never come out in fine weather,
Even at night, only
When the earth has been soaked,
And they rise,
As dark water lilies.
They are not angels demoted for mild infractions
Or saints starting over on another journey,
Just gratitudes the size of a child’s fist.
In the morning, sunlight dapples the lawn,
Puddles thin, the air drifts into itself.
The shadows, empty of their toads, ripple
under the bushes, impatiently waiting for rain.