Jean Stewart

“Pigeons” and “Bird Watchers”

Jean Stewart at Wild Poppies release, photo by Scott Braley

Jean Stewart reading at the Wild Poppies CD release party, La Peña, Berkeley.
(see larger image)

Photo: Scott Braley

Jean Stewart is a Bay Area poet, novelist, short story writer, and social justice/disability rights activist. Founder of the Disabled Prisoners' Justice Fund, she has been working with disabled prisoners for the past eleven years.

At the Bay Area release party for Wild Poppies, she read her poem, “Pigeons.” On the CD, she reads Marilyn's poem, “Bird Watchers” (both below).

Her much-acclaimed novel, The Body's Memory, can be found at your local used-book store, on the web at ABE Books or other online booksellers. Her short story, “Sovereignty,” was recently published in Voices from the Edge: Narratives about the Americans with Disabilities Act (Oxford University Press, 2004). Her article on “Disablement, Prison, and Historical Segregation” (with Marta Russel) appeared in the July-August 2001Monthly Review. At the World Social Forum in Mumbai, India (2004), she spoke on “Disability, Capitalism and War.”


Jean Stewart

Two pigeons
are courting on the rooftop
of the building behind yours.
You, middle-aged voyeur,
peer through binoculars at
chunky bodies, geeky pin heads.
Grey skies
lean down, emptying
their weight, skies the color
of pigeons.

Balanced on the peak,
pretending grace,
first they kiss, bills brushing
again, again, bills interlocked.
They sashay, boogey, they sway.
Then he (or she) walks
away while she (or he) stands,
sways, tilts,
You can tell he doesn’t
really want to go.
He circles back on foolish feet.
More kisses.

Blocks away, at Broadway and Marina,
pigeons shelter in the cuffs encircling
traffic lights. Two birds
huddle in the green eyesocket,
one in yellow, one in red,
patient silhouettes
presiding over welfare-building benches,
bus-stop mothers with swollen knees and
crumple-faced kids. Through long hot
summer days the pigeons
brood their eggs, motionless
on back-lit pillow-piles of sticks.
If you stop here (red light),
you have some sixty seconds
to observe their creche,
how screaming city sirens are converted
into sighing pigeon song,
sixty seconds to peer rudely
in their living rooms,
holy, till the driver behind you
blares a different song:

On the rooftop, bird at last mounts bird.
Blur of grey.
You train your lenses.
Wings beat like hearts, grey sky
pressing down, breeze riffling
their crowns. A flash of rainbow shimmers
on two necks. You hold the glasses
very still, each throat a bud vase sodden
in grey rain. There will be
pulpy bleating chicks, and parents
fussing over them,
coming and going, taking turns.
Their strong wings will whir and dip
and push the air aside.

Perhaps the City Fathers will pronounce
all traffic light residents a nuisance,
and war will be declared.

But you, you’ve been
their houseguest. In dreams you see
orphaned grey lumps,
their gaping mouths
lit by festive green,

© 2002 Jean Stewart

Bird Watchers

Marilyn Buck

[This poem is read on the CD by Jean Stewart. MP3 of this poem]

Francine, elegant, headwrapped
willowy firm on cinnamon legs
leans toward Nancy
frayed blonde rope of a woman
bleached on the back of Harleys
     and crystal meth
two keen bird watchers
they chat
while feeding purloined delectables
to plump Canadian geese
contented vacationers

once the geese fly North or South
Francine and Nancy
no longer speak

Jean Stewart at World Social Forum, India 2004
Jean Stewart with other disability activists
at the World Social Forum in Mumbai, India, 2004


poems © the authors
compilation © The Freedom Archives