Site design: Skeleton
Sample Poems by Christine Stewart-Nuñez
Still Life Snapshots
Before, I studied blushing pears at rest
in an oval bowl, polished grapes
kissing mahogany. Now sun spills
between window blinds brightening
cat hair on the couch where my husband
reads about childbirth, his knees a table.
Pen in hand, muscles along his spine
pulse as if ideas make noise.
Like an augur, his bare foot curls.
My husband whispers
to one he knows, lips
to belly, skin a conduit,
goose bumps conducting
music through fine hairs:
I can’t wait to see you.
on the drum of body,
kiss to belly to cheek.
Urgent cries rouse us, trinity
alone. My husband unwinds
the infant from layers of cotton.
Fasteners rip, the Whoa! as he steps
back—gut-punched by pungent
baby shit. Soaked diaper aside,
cloth in hand, he stares at meconium
between kicking legs. Baby’s
face reddens, working into a wail.
Bedrooms are empty
where they once painted
eyelids, dabbed Cinnabar behind ears,
flipped back layers with curling wands,
but it doesn’t mean they’re lost.
Sisters never leave forever, memory
just changes the record,
Bee Gees swapped for early AC/DC.
Remember Gray’s Anatomy, boot cut Levi’s,
and leather coats even if dreams replace
plaid with white cotton, if morning wipes
lipstick off the cigarette.
In Tuscany I kept seeing
my twenty-year-old sister
in her early forties. She sipped Chianti,
nibbled on a plate of gnocchi,
as Cristina or Terri. Eyes
brightening, she toured Siena
and Rome with me.
I was a child when she died;
I’ve forgotten her walk, voice.
In my dreams she’s seven
feet tall, freckles misplaced.
Through castles she tromps,
soaping carriage windows, slaying
dragons. Princes beg for her hand.
What She’d Say
Little sister, you think too much, nose in books, finger
pushing up glasses. You analyze the impact
buying cotton made in India has on the war
in Iraq. Remember spaghetti fights, our schnauzer’s
birthday cake baked in a plastic play oven,
hollering at boys in Camaros? I’m proud
of your degrees, but I like you best when
you’ve just finished making love, when you fall
out of your chair laughing, when you sip
Ketel One on the rocks with four limes
between stints on the dance floor. I applauded
when you yelled at the jackass who didn’t allow
his preschooler to pee before ordering at Wendy’s.
Even when alive, I worried where thoughts
would take you. I watch when you pace, cry
yourself to sleep. When nightmares move across
your body, I put silence in your open mouth.
Thirty years from now, my son might
ask to see the scar where the surgeon
wiggled him out. Hand against his forehead,
my pelvic bone trapped him. One hundred
years ago, certain death, the doctor said.
Believe me: I didn’t want a nurse to count
out scalpels, see the searing white of gloved
hands, my body numb from breast to toe.
At forty weeks with no show, midnight
contractions vanishing at sunrise, the technician
coated my belly with gel. Length, fluid
volume measured. She strummed the desk
with long red nails. 10 lbs +
she scribbled, scissoring off a photo,
a face we’d defined in dreams obscured
by a wave, permanent salute. Strong
she declared the tempo of his heartbeat’s
thump, swoosh. As a sigh slipped
from her lips, I smelled a tinge of steel.
The baby’s shoulders could wedge,
the midwife said; If your intuition says
caesarian, let’s schedule it. I heard
nothing. His father wiped sweat
on his jeans. Two weeks later I listened
through thirty hours of labor. My cervix
locked at five, the mouth of an egg cup,
Baby’s head not pressing down enough.
Then I gave in to understanding. When
he cries, my purple line tingles.
A smirk untying the bow
of my son’s lips, usual.
Skeptical at eight
weeks. A “hokey pokey”
routine puffs his cheeks,
earns a slim grin.
A friend’s baby coos
at blank walls, lifts
eyebrows at a plain
entertain him, she says.
A Navajo professor
explains: Children live
in the world of the holy
people until their first
laughs—a move toward
the realm of earth.
I recall these stories when
we play “catch,” my hands
over my son’s. A cascade
of giggles begins in his belly
each time the ball appears.
He nods to new rhythm, tips
of pea-sized toes vibrating.
At school I never learned the circle, line.
We traced hands to make turkeys and drew
half a heart on a fold, each Valentine
creased. “Contrast” meant yellow with blue.
At home I followed Mom’s project design:
cut with care around the pattern tissue,
stitch felt teeth onto a shark-puppet’s face,
trim French-knotted pillows with lace.
A gift from Mom my first Halloween
at college: a five by five inch cotton sachet
stuffed with cloves, cinnamon. A velveteen
ribbon connected corners. On display:
pumpkins cross-stitched in orange with green
stems still on the vine. I wanted to pray
for you, she wrote on a Post-it note affixed,
so I did with each of the 3,300 stitches.
November. Six months shy of twenty-one
I sewed words in variegated thread—
shades of blue—as clouds spun
sheets of rain outside. My friend
was dead. I caressed ribbons we’d won,
“Snow Birds” for clarinets stuck in my head.
Her mom requested a square, not song,
for a memory quilt. I stitched until dawn.
Non-representational an artist might say,
the memory of the spool. But I see
body, luminous in lines of gray,
black. One thread, one strand free
of shadow, crossed, spiraled, turned away:
scar with bridge of flesh, kidney,
fingernail, lips, triangle above thighs,
thumbprint. The irises of her eyes.
A 19th century lantern lifted to light
Iowa coal mines, yellowed-sail model
clipper ship, tequila bottle with worm
suspended. Mom insisted on chores
before play, so every Saturday morning
for a decade I dusted them off.
Now my toddler yells “bean up,” tosses
dinosaurs in a box, stacks books,
blocks; his joy of order. Mine, habit:
the impulse to mow overgrown lawns,
scrub down plastic play sets. My hands
have never used saw, level, yet I reach
to repair a sagging porch, replace
sunken stairs. Twice I found empty cans
at my sister’s grave, stale Budweiser
on their rims. Once a bundle of daisies
tied with yarn, a clutch of red carnations.
Vase up in spring, down in winter.
Someday I’ll tell my son: leave
dishes in the sink for morning, put
a book or two in every room. After
I die, scatter my dust. Let it settle
in lilacs with the rush of spring.
Cut a sprig off; take me with you.