September 13-19, 2004: Robert Earl Stewart and Cynthia Atkins

week of September 13-19, 2004

Robert Earl Stewart and Cynthia Atkins

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Robert Earl Stewart

Bio (auto)

Robert Earl Stewart received a B.A in English from the University of Windsor and an M.A in English from McGill University in Montreal, where he also assisted in teaching 20th Century American fiction In the spring of 1999, he returned to Windsor to work as the editor of a sports newspaper. Later, he spent two years as a reporter and photographer for The Windsor Star He has also worked as the marketing director for a live arts theatre, and owned and operated illuminati Freelance Concern, a one-man for hire journalism, editing, photography and private investigation firm
In February 2004, he received an Ontario Arts Council grant for his novel-in-progress. He lives in Windsor, Ontario, Canada with his wife and young son.

The following work is Copyright © 2004, and owned by Robert Earl Stewart and may not be distributed or reprinted in any form whatsoever without written permission from the author.

Cinema du Parc

I laugh all the way
through The Garden of the Finzi-Continis
during Passover
in the second row at Cinema du Parc

Upon entering the men’s room
slits for eyes and mellowed to the point of having kittens
there was a Japanese woman in her house shirt
washing her hands at the sink speaking at me
through the mirror, something I couldn’t handle, and not
just through the roar of the hand dryer, but through the
language barrier created by her insisting on speaking Japanese
me shouting “Is this the men’s room?” before disappearing
into a stall, ghost urinating, and planning my escape
into and through the crowded lobby
of my tightwhipped contemporaries

People come to visit me Drinks are served My studio apartment in The Ghetto is hotboxed beyond it’s dimensions We walk from there to see The Exorcist, one midnight only Met at the top of the 1970’s stair gallery by
a tendril of starch of life exploded and a wick
of hot grease
and la securité

In my chronic condition, it was apparent
the movie was too evil for the venue To say nothing of the eccentric seats and giant hairs
jerking in the grain of the screen, the warm tubular pop of the sound system,
the stoners counting breaths in the flicker–

Covered in hickory sticks
after a first row snoring clinic brought on
by an afternoon at the Peel Pub on the
Red Cross tab, I high step out of Brazil
and have an as-of-yet unfinished jeremiad addressed
to Terry Gilliam buried in the walls of 3450 Durocher #4
where I no longer live

And then, one night post-Halloween
after rewatching L.A Confidential
three empties left neatly in the aisle at my ramshackle seat,
on Milton beneath a parked car

I find a cache of someone else’s photos


I’ve been thinking of smoking again

Twice in the preceding pack-full of nights
My dreams have waxed tobacconist
and I wake up smelling it in air around us,
ropey rings loosed on the room as if blown
by the stain of my head and torso on the sheets
–The most depressing: I am propelled
to the counter A non-descript counterman awaits my signal “One pack of duMaurier Lights, flip-top,” I entreat I am in possession of the cigarettes I pay exactly four
forty-five I wake up, wondering why I went back to my old brand,
given the chance to start a new love affair, with new
–The most frustrating: I am in a Montreal
pipe shoppe It’s the kind of place that should be selling cuckoo
clocks, only they deal in a universe of pipes
with all the charm of a Sears-Roebuck
credit department The pipe I want says all you need to know about me I am surrounded by my high school crowd,
naturally urging me in the ways of out-cooling
rival factions But the pipe I want keeps moving,
relocating like a praying mantis amongst other stick
insects, and we’re running out of time,
and I still have to weigh carefully what flavour
of smoke is most befitting an alternative celebrity
of my stature You only get one chance to impress someone with
your impeccable éclat and élan
when it comes to burning things a few inches from
your lips I am familiar with the snobbery of pipes
–The most telling: I’ve been to Cleveland, again
but not as an extra drinking companion
at a rugby tournament This time, I am home already, and have an ebony
cigarette holder with me And I treat it like a small Chinese boy,
cleaning it and tucking it in a small case,
explaining to you–
the only thing we need to know about you,
is that you’re a girl, and you’re smitten with
my dishevelled, rakish, reformed matinee idol
all anyone could possibly want to know
about the Venturi tube within the holder,
that eliminates untold percentiles of
high temperature tars
flak, flak, flak–
But look at me there, in some wicker
chair, holding forth or gassing on,
whichever you prefer:
it looks like I’ve lost the forty
pounds of pastry since my last cigarette
And where’d I get that silk shirt?
My chest hair
Shirtless in the pool–
I’ve been doing some of my best idling here”
it is apparent I wear a mantle of pastry
and shame I’m reading Billy Collins,
I have a club soda
and a borrowed Dave Douglas CD It is August, it is hot, a storm approaches
over Detroit All that is missing is a smoke
If I could just keep it to a couple a day,
I’d love my wife to find me here at my desk,
leaning back from the qwerty, unshaven
Nat Sherman Phantom
disappearing slowly between my grin
Or kick back at a dining room table,
where I’ve been trying to fix
a friend’s laptop, and announce, with a
smoke hanging from my lips, voice thick
“Yep, I think we’re fucked “

Or driving in the county,
or sitting on the back steps at night,
sitting in a coffee bar watching cross-town traffic,
in the dining room, lights off, before a winter’s sleep,
around the campfire, when children are sleeping and marshmallows extinguished
discussing film
playing guitar
talking long distance
after a parade
before a hockey game

Or, how about when they discover it’s not the smoking,
but the people–

Then, I’ll be back
and you’ll all see how good I look

Cynthia Atkins


CYNTHIA ATKINS’ received an MFA in poetry from Columbia University  Poems have appeared or are forthcoming in AMERICAN LETTERS & COMMENTARY, BOMB, CHELSEA, DENVER QUARTERLY, FREE LUNCH, LUNA, NEW YORK QUARTERLY, PIVOT, RIVENDELL, SENECA REVIEW,  MAIN STREET RAG, MOONWORT REVIEW (first online publication), and VERSE, among others She received a 2003 Writing Fellowship to The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and was a finalist this year in the WRITERS @WORK COMPETITION, AND THE COMSTOCK REVIEW PRIZES Cynthia was visiting assistant professor of English at Sweet Briar College in 2003 and currently, is teaching at James Madison University She is artistic director for WRITERS@JORDAN HOUSE (reading series and writing workshops), and was formerly assistant director for the Poetry Society of America in the 90’s She lives in Rockbridge County, VA with her husband Phillip and son Eli, six years young

The following work is Copyright © 2004, and owned by Cynthia Atkins and may not be distributed or reprinted in any form whatsoever without written permission from the author.

What to do When Your Dog Leaves You

Rub two sticks together,
Jiggle the chain, patch a hole
Fill the sorrow to the bone Mask rejection, bury the bone
You picked with your best friend Reshape the sofa
That has taken the shape
Of  a sunken ship Leave the juicy bag at the restaurant Relinquish the smell
Of milk  and newsprint Kick the dish, brush the chair,
Turn out the lights,
Put out the fire
(first appeared in Chelsea, 2002)

God as a Character in the Room

Owning the world order—
The solo held post—Final night watchman,
almost Hitchcockian—
Ghost or guru, 
in rooms where everything goes still—
But the lady at the window
is a hummer, in other words, she always hums—
no songs, just notes, humming
                 to give the silence
a voice The moon or a blinking eye
follows us home—Did we see what we saw,
or what we were already  looking for?
(Be careful what we wish for—)
    In the omniscient glass
of hours, at the diner of time
where everything is dated,
nothing is sacred.—
Elvis and Jesus are one and the same
Its ok, we’re pagans, waiting for an excuse
to clank our cups—until we are served
Adam and Eve on a log—
Outside, on the busy street
a troubled noir of clouds—
where a brown-suited man
gets holed, not holy in a drive-by-shooting Humming the news
at the kitchen sink, Eve had an alibi—
The moon or an owl perching
on a branch of snow,
                saw everything perfectly.

Family Therapy (I)

Mother/hood, a bald egg
in a grocery bag The chromosomes
have their say, their stay in it The TV shows were all smiles
and cocoa Environment Crisis management My siblings
also hatched, perfect and imperfect The fitted sheets still warm
from the dryer
I am my sister I am my brother I am my brother’s sister,
I am my mother’s keeper I hold the secrets I am the writer I am the sister of a schizo-
phrenic My elder split–
My sister taught me how
to shave my legs, little slits of blood
left like a lunchbox in the mud
I’m learning how to be a member
of my family, of my society I’m wanting a text book
on the matter At the dinner table,
tension played mirror, mirror We all had our place
at the table That space we wanted
to be erased from Night by night,
it took us one course at a time
I’m looking for a cure, because anguish
is harmful to live with And yes,
I am a little pregnant Set another
place? Erase another place?
I am my child’s child, doomed
for failure The father is my lover,
the sheets spilled his seed,
something took hold When I opened
my eyes, my father held out a puppy.

Blue Train
                                   (after John Coltrane, recorded 1963)
My father loved the crisp drill
of winter, a real cold snap At cross purposes,
my thoughts drift
to hot chocolate, swirling in a cup A safe harbor It was an era
of buttons, (the dark ages)—simple circles, two holes,
few repetitions—, then the lower courts
of public opinion Tip of hand,
the rim of minutiae
had been elevated to an institution The string was pulled,
everything but the kitchen sink
fell out of the bag…
Was it the latch of a purse
snapped, my mother’s marble
handbag, circa, 1963?–November’s
rawest day, Kleenex after Kleenex The black—and—white
T.V—ambulatory Blue train
of black Cadillac’s—a brain snatched,
blown to pieces— I was three My dad read me “Green Eggs and Ham,”
I piecemealed, Texas book depository It was a dark, Gothic architecture–
Tall hats lining up
like circled wagons I figured
it wasn’t small potatoes, it raised
the noise level My mother pushed a tear
from her lipstick, and paid
the Charles Potato Chip man
at the back door When the blue suited boy
saluted, Taps was misplayed
like a storm brewing on the sea My brave father now shut forever
in the black box of winter And there is nothing more final
than the sound of that train
passing on the coldest
shoulder of the last frontier,
where nothing is still anymore
(First appeared, Main Street Rag)

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