Sheila Stewart

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            Five years later, he held a meeting in the neighborhood and remarked
            that he thought most of the congregation had come to look at his wig. John Asbury

Did they come to look at Mother’s hat, my legs
swinging beneath the pew, scabby knees,
the backs of my brothers’ necks,
shirts white or blue? Did hair touch
their collars, were the collars clean?

       Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow;
       they toil not, neither do they spin.

What about the dirt under the minister’s
daughter’s nails, her hair unwashed?
His wife’s breath—was it sweet? His
daughter’s words and tone—dulcet
like a meadowlark or harsh like a fishmonger?

      Though I walk through the valley of the shadow

Who is with me as I feast on fear
words of condemnation: neither poet
nor scholar, fish nor fowl
—dilettante, failed
to choose

Audre Lorde, thy rod and thy staff
they comfort me

      when we speak we are afraid    
      our words will not be heard
      nor welcomed    
      but when we are silent
      we are still afraid
      so it is better to speak





What do you do in a room
full of fathers? Doctors,
teachers, lawyers,
dentists waiting to pry open

your mouth and declare you un-
suitable, unstable, unworthy, un-
lovable, unreachable, uncouth,
unwilling to floss your teeth.

You don’t know when to speak.
Fathers popping up every-
where, until Our Father who
happens to be your biological father

dead as a doornail, dead
and buried. Before you know,
deep-down dead. You reckon
he wasn’t your intellectual father,

your spiritual father.
Nemesis, your un-doing, un-father, un-
done. You want to forgive him—end
of the ’50s, he had something to do with

your birth. He was sleeping at home,
got the call. “A girl, a girl, a much longed-
for girl.” He told the birth tale
Mum enacted—her labour


In “Dulcet,” the quotes from the King James Bible, Matthew 6:28 and Psalm 23:4, appear in italics within the poem. The opening epigraph describes visits of Francis Asbury, the “Father of American Methodism,” to a rural area of South Carolina. It is found in the Administration in the State of South Carolina, U.S. public relief program (1935-1943). South Carolina: A Guide to the Palmetto State (The WPA Guide to South Carolina) p. 350, Oxford University Press (1941). The following quote includes the line preceding the epigraph used above: “Passing through here in 1795, Bishop Asbury commented, ‘the country improves in cultivation, wickedness, mills, and stills.’ Five years later, he held a meeting in the neighbourhood and remarked that he thought most of the congregation had come to look at his wig.” Audre Lorde’s words are from “A Litany for Survival” The Black Unicorn: Poems (1978), p. 31-32.


Sheila Stewart’s poetry collections include The Shape of a Throat (Signature Editions, 2012) and A Hat to Stop a Train (Wolsak and Wynn, 2003). Stewart co-edited The Art of Poetic Inquiry (Backalong Books, 2012). Stewart’s work has been published in such journals as: ARC; CV2; Fireweed; Tessera; The Malahat Review; Descant; and The New Quarterly. Stewart is completing a PhD at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.


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