Joshua Michael Stewart

A Love Letter to the Pioneer Valley January 1, 2020 I spent the last few nights at my parents’ house, my stepmother recoveringfrom a hip replacement, my father’s lymphoma in remission, but he never fully returned after a white-sweat fever turned him into a ricketyand fatigued creature. My grandfather, ninety and deep in dementia, lives with them. He sits in front of game shows unaware his caregivers need so much care. Days before, I canceled an appointment for an oil change due to ice-storm predictions. I intended a New Years’ that consisted of underwear lounging with the phone turned off, but my stepmother called before I powered down and begged me to take my father to the doctor smack-dab during the storm I calculated to avoid. The main streets were salted,but the back roads were slippery, untreated, and the way my father insisted on traveling. “Too many goddamn traffic lights,” he said. With my father’s bad jokes laced with wet coughs in tow, we made it—the last appointment of the day. The doctor with a stethoscope in his ears, chanting like a mantra, “Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out.” We chugged to the pharmacyto get his script filled and had chicken noodle soup my stepmother made from scratch when we got back to the house. I haven’t slept in their home since college. I couldn’t tell you the last time I watched the ball drop wrapped in blankets on my parents’ couch. The next few days I did laundry,vacuumed, made a run to the grocery store. My father rallied enough to take care of his father, help him to the toilet, change his clothes, get him ready for bed, and my stepmother did her PT exercises and gave my father his insulin. Much of the time, I worried about my cats left alone in my apartment, feeling anxious about the poems I wasn’t writing, and about the stiffness in my fingers from not getting their banjo workout. I also wanted to sleep in my bed, eat my food. I wish I wasn’t preoccupied with these things when my family’s having a difficult time. I’m ashamed of my selfishness. A Buddhist monk said, “If people stopped asking the question, ‘what’s in it for me,’ half of their stress and anxiety would fade away.” Ryokan once wrote, “The flower’s gloryis just another form of dust.” I meditate, try to remind myself of these quotes. I forget, but then remember.

Joshua Michael Stewart published poems in the Massachusetts Review, Salamander, Plainsongs, Brilliant Corners, and many others. His books are, Break Every String, (Hedgerow Books, 2016) and, The Bastard Children of Dharma Bums, (Human Error Publishing, 2020).