Stewart was deaf from birth, and probably started going blind sometime in his twenties. It was a huge blow when his visual impairment became obvious in his late thirties, but his strength, determination, optimistic nature — and guide dog — soon had him adjusting to his completely upturned life. He was very lucky in his wife, Valerie, who was also deaf and had coped with huge challenges in her early life. Her strength, and ability to become Stewart’s eyes, were a key part of their wonderful love story.
My poems below are meant to give a small insight into Stewart’s and Valerie’s lives.
We call you Stewart after your maker
your smiling face, transparent,
shows the world just how you’re fashioned.
Thin but strong, your wooden limbs
embrace the glass which reflects
the skilful craftsman
whose dream grew like a tree
into a living monument.
He couldn’t see your final beauty.
Now, like him, you’re a watch tower
with sightless eyes
a tree we won’t cut down
refuge for our memories
of his caring and carving
joyful moments in our lives.
He smoothed and polished
rough edges off our feelings.
His hands can find the grain
that leads him like rails
on slightly bumpy journeys
to far distance places.
Mahogany transports him
he’ll never visit.
Teak’s oily touch
and leathery smell
with memories of
he created long ago.
Now he feels his way
of antique wooden desks
to all except
One man sits with a kettle drum
he thumps to set a beat
for tinkling tambourines
castanets and cymbals.
Electric keyboard now
glissando from an autoharp
a whistle like a bird.
In all twelve instruments
their inexperienced users —
can’t see what they are playing
or hear the sound they make.
My brother keeps on pulsing
life into his drum
which resonates on his skin
amplifies his smile.
A tall man in a bouncy castle –
we all hold our breath.
My brother, who has lost his sight,
is now defying death.
We hold his guide dog, Denver,
which barks with all its strength.
Then the watchers leap to their feet –
Stewart’s measuring his length.
He flicks his arms, and stands straight up,
a natural airborne athlete;
Next jump, he does a backward flip,
But he still lands on his feet.
Stewart’s face shows everyone
that for a moment, he’s enabled.
Deaf since birth and sightless now,
he’s made a family fable.
All Stewart’s life was in that act
of leaping for a while –
soon to tumble back to earth;
then he would bounce and smile.
Valerie, deaf since birth
urgently needed to drive
after her husband went blind.
The sign-language class she taught
included a driving instructor
who planned to sign for deaf learners.
The two swapped private lessons
together planning a way
to sign with all eyes on the road.
Both made such rapid progress.
that lesson 5 had both relaxed
until a sudden shower of rain
Unable to wipe the windscreen
Valerie nudged him to help
then realised he was asleep.
She pulled into a layby
angrily punched his shoulder.
He woke with a start and a smile.
There’s the wiper control he signed
your driving is so good
that I relaxed completely.
You’ll pass your test first time.
Val’s anger morphed into laughter—
repeated when the forecast proved true.