IN MEMORY OF WILLIAM STEWART:
You came from the wild, the symbolic dark forest
in that long enfabled journey toward human.
By happenstance, you were born here, The War
between Brothers scarcely over. Famine road
the land, deep distrust a weary people,,
but for Old Hunters, this earth’s fruits not yet
given as pawn for pillagers. Lordly trees still
canopied the hills, small game homesteaded rock
clefts, hollow trees, burrows. Streamlined fish
parted clear waters, worked riffled shoals.
Wild flora, muti-various, garnished the slopes.
Before, your father shot the last deer, there
at the lick spring. The red anger of that blood
spreads still, deep in waters of memory.
Item: At four, bit by copperhead, kicked in brow
by unshod hoof. (When grands, curious, asked:
“Grandpaw, what caused that there on your head?”
You would smile, say: “I was kicked by a frog
when about your age.” Never told them better.)
Item: At seven, grafted Rome Beauty apple tree.
Item: At twelve, long hours alone on back slopes
minding varmints from fruiting corn; a fleeing
perch missed the riffle, grounded on a sandbar.
You rushed the great thing home as if you had
caught Gold, as if God had given Himself into
your hands. Item: Learned tools of survival —
bull tongue plow, grubbing hoe, axe, hog rifle.
Item: The axe in your hands, a thing of art.
You were the baby and lived on at the homeplace,
caring for the old folks, clearing and planting,
raising a family, suffering illnesses and deaths
of loved ones, keeping peace with the unruly kin,
fractious neighbors. You grew into the valley
as it grew into you, knowing a goodness, drawing
sweetness from this harsh and lovely land. Yours
was an upward language of poplars to the sun.
You believed men would grow better if given a
chance and shown the way. Of the world you said:
“The bad will rot itself away, the good live on.”
And: “if you can’t say something good about someone,
don’t say anything.” As you grew older, you grew
deep in peace, husbanded, passed on gentleness.
After the first dark message, you went meekly
for treatment, arms still strong, legs useless.
Then stopped going. “Let Nature take its course.”
You healed to sweet ripeness, an old Rome Beauty.
To your life companion you spoke early:
“Don’t put anything on me I wouldn’t commonly wear.
All I want is a song and a prayer.” At the last:
“You’ll have to take to the hospital. I don’t
think I can stand the pain.” You didn’t say you
didn’t want others to have to share it. You shook
her hand, said: “It has been a good life with you.
Goodbye. I won’t see you anymore.” At the place
of no return you spoke your own credentials:
William Stewart, 84 years, 3 months, 29 days, YOUNG.
Now that you have returned forever to the wild,
we will consider only wild flowers for you,
arbutus, mountain laurel, wild azalea, long
ages past imbued with the mystique of survival.
From the pillage of the world eaters
we will save this land for you, the white oak,
silvered beech, yellow poplar, honey lin.
Wild ginseng, Adam & Eve, Solomon’s seal
will be your talismans, your amulets, and keep
their yearly, ever-saving charm for you.
Your favorites, the bobolink, the bob white,
the jocular owl, will through you.
The whirling seasons, that long enduring time,
will sing through you.
From A MAN OF CIRCUMSTANCE & SELECTED YELLOW MOUNTAIN POEMS, 1946-1996 (Limited Editions Press 1996)
William M. Stewart was Jasper
Stewart's youngest son. William was born on August 2, 1871, in Knott County,
Kentucky. He married Lucinda Sparkman on May 1, 1889. Lucinda died in 1918 and
William died on November 30, 1955. They are buried in the Stewart-Stamper Cemetery,
Knott County. William was a hunter, a timber man, country store keeper, and
an unlicensed country doctor practicing with his father. He attended two terms
at the Louisville Medical School. William also married to Alice Slone. Albert
Stewart (1914), a son, was a poet and editor, who inspired and encouraged generations
of Kentucky writers. A native of Knott County, Stewart attended Hindman Settlement
School where he was befriended by Lucy Furman. He graduated from Berea College
and got a Master's from the University of Kentucky. As a teacher at Northern
Kentucky University, Morehead State and Alice Lloyd College, Stewart actively
encouraged writers by initiating writer's workshops, creating anthologies of
Kentucky writing and founding Appalachian Heritage magazine. His best-known
collection of poetry is The Untoward Hills (1962).
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