D.E. Steward

D. E. Steward’s “Jenera” is a month in a sequential project that runs month to month, underway since September 1986, bringing the number finished to date at 294 with almost 200 published. The months generally go into tables of contents as poetry, but that is always an editor’s call. The current issue of Conjunctions (No 55, “Urban Arias”) has a good on Berlin. The form is an attempt to note, and to build on, some of the reality of times.
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No frilly silly about stupendous Anne Sexton

The Death Notebooks (1974)

At the end she was like Heironymus Bosch

Bestiary U.S.A., posthumous, “I look at the strangeness in them and the naturalness they cannot help, in order to find some virtue in the beast in me.”

“I raise my pelvis to God” (in the posthumous “The Fierceness of Female”)


Imagine her bringing in sheets dry from the line, “All the oxygen of the world was in them.”

Anna Deavere Smith’s thanatopic Let Me Down Easy is as footnote to Sexton’s manic death-poems grace

The Nagasaki bomb was three times more powerful than Hiroshima

But for John Hersey’s Hiroshima, very little of those two events manifest in American writing

The empire rolls on

Dragonflies cannot walk

Swamp darner, ebony jewelwing, sparkling jewelwing, auora damsel, eastern red damsel, familiar bluet, Pine Barrens bluet, scarlet bluet, skimming bluet, citrine forktail, Rambur’s forktail, fragile forktail

Common green darner, comet darner, harlequin darner, springtime darner

Southern sprite, sphagnum sprite, variable dancer, twin-spotted spiketail, stripe-winged baskettail, mantled baskettail, prince baskettail, Illinois River cruiser

Petite emerald, banner clubtail, lancet clubtail, common sanddragon, swamp spreadwing, amber-winged spreadwing, slender spreadwing

He is walking as though using his own bones for crutches

Favoring each body part, enumerating them one by one

Gout, lumbago, shoulder pain, back pain, gastric upsets, both hips, knees, ankles and feet, headaches

Stiffness, state of stomach, how badly he slept the night before

Discusses his various states of unwellness in the manner of updating an inventory


Recently Madame wanted him to move up from tennis and take up golf, less strain for more social contacts

Not only the baskettails, bluet and spreadwings, there are the Libellulidae dragonflies

Calico pennant, banded pennant, Halloween pennant, black saddlebag, Carolina saddlebag, common whitetail, eastern amberwing

Elfin skimmer, Needham’s skimmer, painted skimmer, slaty skimmer, spangled skimmer, twelve-spotted skimmer, white corporal skimmer, widow skimmer, yellow-sided skimmer

Blue-faced meadowhawk, eastern pondhawk, variegated meadowhawk, yellow-legged meadowhawk, seaside dragonlet, spot-winged glider, wandering glider, blue dasher

In a small dinosaur fossil from China, molecules matching those present in modern bird feathers indicate that its tail was probably chestnut and white

It was not a monochrome past

Not cowshed and mud brown, not blank stone gray color stasis

But highly chromatic natural wonder in the heightened awareness manner of dewy-June-morning childhood

Cascades of blossoms, fields of flowers, woodland warm-weather chromatic plentitude

Every living thing in brilliance, orange-spotted salamanders, great blue herons, exquisitely plumaged wood warblers and bee eaters

Lack of color is only a post-daguerreotype convention usually used to dramatically enhance

Not the vicious monochrome of north-German Lutheran ethics, The White Ribbon

Not black trees, white snow, black mountains, mythical black mountain lion –– no colors except for Robert Mitchum’s red Hudson Bay blanket jacket, the fires, blue matches, Track of the Cat (1954)

In our world of cascading polychrome pixels, monochrome has something of the same power as Biblical truths held a century ago

Imagine the colors left at burial in the Neanderthal graves at La Chapelle-aux-Saints in Corrèze southeast of Brive-la-Gaillarde

South of Tulle

The flowers alone

And the clothing and bodies stained with berries, plant and leaf pigments, mud and charcoal

One January evening saw a hirsute, strongly Neanderthal-featured man on a Basel tram for a few stops before he got off at Marktplatz

His scowl threatened but I regret not trying to talk with him

Either the Neanderthal mix with Cro-Magnons theory is correct or he was only a very low-browed and unkempt Gastarbeiter, or someone extremely unusual just passing through

Basel is that sort of place, has always been a waypoint on the Upper Rhine, one of Europe’s gudgeons, an anchor of the Roman limes, Burgundian-Hapsburg, Protestant-Catholic, French-German, northern-southern

A city better suited than most for genetic archaeology

Every sort of human imaginable has transits Basel, travelers ride the tram across town from one Bahnhof to the other

Always with the opportunity people are kinetic, move to and fro like that across the world

On the trains and roads of China, the teeming European autobahns and North American interstates, the long-haul buses of Brazil and Argentina

At all times there are at least thirty million Chinese on the road making some sort of journey

No ennui of immobility for most

You can go far without much, as long as you get started

Our two boats were ideal for a voyage into the Arctic because with three or four we’d need a commander and with two we only had disagreements

On the July 27th anchored in a little cove out of the northerlies on the south side of Anastasia Bay at 61.36N, 172.53E, and we went on into the Russian arctic from there

Reading through Newman Flower’s Franz Schubert, The Man and his Circle (Cassell, London, 1928), while sailing up the coast of northern Kamchatka on the way to the capes of Chukotka before the trans-Bering passage across to Nome

Schubert never ventured from Vienna except for three months as a music master on an Estertházy summer estate just to the east and short visits with friends to Linz, around the Vienna region and to Steyr

A typically urban cosmopolitan

Adam Gopnik on the “Americanization of New York,” the installation of large tourist-friendly street signs, “If you don’t know where you are, you don’t deserve to be here”

Nadine Gordimer’s astute comment while looking at two Bonnards, or perhaps they were Vuillards, done fifty years apart – not interchangeable painters but both from military families – that although two huge European wars, the Russian Revolution, technological surges, Auschwitz, occupation of Paris, Hiroshima, Stalin, Hitler, et al., had intervened, the two paintings could be from the same fin-de-siècle afternoon

What did you do under the occupation, Jean-Paul, Simon, Coco, Albert, Édith, Gertrude?

So much for living in the sun of one’s times

Suitability of designations now generally has to do mostly with gender identification and intimate terminologies

Can you call someone, say, who matches Tracey Emin’s promiscuity promiscuous?

Is promiscuous a sexist word now?

It’s hard to tell because there’s a lot of haram this, haram that, out there these days

So let’s get back to work on our Hamiltonian partial differential equations, they at least suggest something definitive

And be assured that Anne Sexton would understand

© D.E. Steward

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