D. E. Steward

They all left perch at the same instant

More than eighteen hundred migrating tree swallows

Three wires between four poles, estimate two hundred on each catenary, plus hundreds more basking in the eight o’clock sun on the low pitch metal raised seam roof of a new sheet metal barn near the fourth pole

For something like a minute they wheeled and wheeled

As they formed into broken flocks

Stupendous in perfect light

Charlie, the dairy farmer I worked for from twelve and thirteen on, used to bend down over burlap bags, find the chain-stitch thread with his teeth and jerk his chin high to open the sack

With any chain-stitched sack, black oil sunflower seed or basmati brown rice, I lean down to it and become Charlie

He sold his farm in the Piedmont when the barn burned and retired to a small condo on Oahu

Working on his farm and others like it as a kid, that those families needed to turn a cash profit seemed alien because the way of life, the living and farming, were what counted

And writing feels the same

Moneycraft being something else off to the side somewhere

On the mountain slopes above the settlement strung along the coast road for miles, with axes, whipsaws, bucksaws, sledges and teams, the men brought in immense quantities of stovewood, mountain maple and paper birch, balsam poplar and quaking aspen

Communally every year to supply each family

Rowdy bellowing horseplay and singing, red-mackinaw socialist practice

Out in the far Maritime’s boreal forest

Everyone there knew everyone else all their lives

Communality for a century of Cape Breton winters before she walked that coastal country road on her way to school

At times as she started home a nun would hurry after her to pin up her blouse

Or the priest would drive by rolling down a window of the only car in the parish, point at her bare ankles, roar admonitions

In the States she fears the quiet, lonely, grayness in her life

First time back in Nova Scotia in more than thirty years she exclaims at the Cape Breton skies, the vastness and the blueness

Bright winter sun in an instant makes the green in her silk scarf nearly match her eyes

Show her in a mirror and she says proudly, “It brings it right out, doesn’t it”

She was very young when soldiers who had been gassed came home from France to Cape Breton to die

Her pity for all victims still wells up with maudlin and intense compassion

And her slow-drip acerbic resentments sift down through a profusion of sardonic memories, singed by a lonely, solipsistic widow’s life

She readily recalls all childhood sorrows

On rare occasion she is still the same cool, selfish, beautiful girl with the level stare that infuriated the nuns

In the same way the bright winter sun greened her eyes so that for that instant she was a girl again

Vida: After she broke down that September, neighbors locked her in a room in their house up the road

Another country road familiar to her as the one that passed her casa materna

After the night she tried to kill both of us, first by fire, then with a kitchen knife

At the neighbor’s place her face came to a window in the afternoon, crazed, eyes red-rimmed wild

Her hands did not go up to her face in any shock of recognition

Perhaps there was compassion in her then for her two terrified, confused, forlorn little boys standing there

Perhaps not

We thought she would never return to us when they came and took her away next day

As though she was dying as surely as our father had died by shooting himself that April

Utter emptiness

It was a tumbling horror, fear, clear and vivid vision of the maw

All his life my brother, regularly, handled it the other way, he forgot everything

He always said he did, and usually with a kind of mock incredulity, when any of the details of those nights and days came up

By circumstance, questions from others, by me trying to talk it through to force him to admit what she had done, and to flush away the most unsettling images

The abandonment by suicide was pat, her act ambiguous

But he never would talk about any of it, was dismissive in the extreme

Would repeatedly say, “The past is dead,” and leave it at that

Once or twice he even quoted Melville’s White Jacket, “The Past is dead, and has no resurrection;… The past is, in many things, the foe of mankind;… In the Past is no hope;”

For him much was litany, secular rituals, and a kind of promiscuous shifting patriotism that swerved around to various identities and from one pole of loyalty to another, Marxisant to Libertarian

He died over twenty years ago and writing about him now is almost writing about myself

“The eulogy is the most autobiographical of forms” –Richard Howard

My brother traveled well and fairly widely, but we rarely went together and when we did there was always the friction of brothers

He is gone but there are the shards still left, a few school friends and now and then recall of one of his tart observations by those who knew him

Once he told me that de Gaulle’s “Call to Honor,” dix-huit juin 1940, was delivered thirteen months after he was born and in his romantic high regard for de Gaulle, he would have been bemused to have known he would die on June eighteenth

It’s fine to be able to speak French but you have to have something to say

Open every chain-stitched sack with a jerk of my chin

Many, many hours in searing bush-veldt sun at Olduvai Gorge

Have been there twice

You carry your own water in

D. E. Steward's "Septambro" is a month in a sequential project that runs month to month, underway since September 1986, bringing the number finished to date at 299 with almost 200 published. The months generally go into tables of contents as poetry, but that is always an editor's call. The months are an attempt to note, and to build on, some of the reality of times. Google or Bing "d e steward poetry" for more than's necessary.