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Stuart Kestenbaum

Mourner’s Kaddish

“I’ll see you in the sky above, in the tall grass and the ones I love”

Bob Dylan from You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go

I still can’t watch the film of the two jets hitting the towers. I’ll

close my eyes before the billowing black smoke appears, not wanting to see

the collapse of the building where my brother died 103 stories above you

and the rest of the world. After the smoke cleared, no clouds in

the heavens, just the blue. It stayed that way for weeks the

air crisp with the melancholy of autumn, sorrow in the sky.

Sorrow and silence, no answers arriving from up above.

I used to think each loss was a distant planet, but loss is in

every breath we take, and no one leaves this world without the

stunning reality of no tomorrow. We measure how tall

our children grow, making marks on the door jamb, we watch the grass

greening in the spring. There are miracles everywhere and

if you live long enough, you can see they are made of the

heart’s fullness and emptiness, how the two become one.

See? We go on living. We go on living. Tomorrow may I

learn to comprehend the wisdom of such love.

Car Wash

“Twenty years of schooling and they put you on the day shift.”

Bob Dylan from Subterranean Homesick Blues

When I worked in my father’s gas station, I wasn’t even twenty.

I’d dry the Buicks and Fords that came out of the wash, years

before I began to think about jobs, and what I might make of

myself, whatever that might mean, because even after all that schooling

you rarely know where you’re going, but you have a degree and

a car with a full tank of gas. I wanted drive back roads before they

vanished. I wanted to find someplace deeper and put

my heart to work, write a poem that would change both me and you

but those moments are rare, as rare as the tips I’d get drying cars on

summer days, the boss’s son, an old bath towel draped over my arm the

picky customers expecting that a clean old car would be like a new day

of the spirit, where you just need to start the engine and shift.


Stuart Kestenbaum is the author of six collections of poems, Pilgrimage (Coyote Love Press), House of Thanksgiving (Deerbrook Editions), Prayers and Run-on Sentences (Deerbrook Editions) Only Now (Deerbrook Editions), How to Start Over (Deerbrook Editions), and Things Seemed to Be Breaking (Deerbrook Editions). He has also written The View from Here (Brynmorgen Press), a book of brief essays on craft and community.

He has written and spoken widely on craft making and creativity, and his poems and writing have appeared in small press publications and magazines including Tikkun, the Sun, the Beloit Poetry Journal, and the New York Times Magazine. He served as Maine’s poet laureate from 2016-2021 and hosted Poems from Here on Maine Public Radio/Maine Public Classical and was the host/creator of the podcasts Make/Time and Voices of the Future.


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