Poems by Marjorie Stelmach

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by Marjorie Stelmach

From Canary Fall 2016

Marjorie lives just below the convergence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers where repeated widespread flooding and urban expansion prompted the forming of a Conservation Partnership which has since implemented the setting aside of 21,000 acres of private land and enhanced 8,000 acres of wetland habitat for migratory and nautical birds.

Soon again the dead will outnumber
the living. Last night the moon was fat. I dreamt
so many dreams, and all were death. I can’t guess
where green goes. Sucked back under
the earth to brood and bear a brash, relentless crop
of weed and wing? Or into the sallow sky to drop
a pale green dusk or help a wan sun rise again,
a sickly dawn?

And what a wilderness to mourn in:
curbs lined with the rotting dead; this wailing in the wind;
the severed hands of sycamores awash downriver
bereft of wrist or limb. Just where
in our faith or physics did we ever consider
what would come of this veined, green
benediction suspended above us all summer?

From Bent upon Light (University of Tampa Press, 2006). First publication: Poet Lore, Fall 1998


by Marjorie Stelmach

From Canary Fall 2016

As nights chill and their bite deepens,
the deciduous masses loosen their hold,

and now, from the far side of the easement,
houses emerge we haven’t seen all summer—

homes like our own, built largely of timber
felled, hauled, cut and planed. Sold in bulk.

Placed and nailed. Insulated. Sold again.

Rain has fallen straight down for days,
as if intent on rootedness. Leaves,

already compressed in the hollows, seal
an ancient Masonic pact,

laying a mortar between our world
and the Under-, where shades of return

are stored for the winter.

Now cold descends. We move indoors.
There, ringed by planks of their dead,

we pass the winter, having long understood
that, in return for their steadfast care,

our children must tender—and sooner
than we’d wish—

our flesh.

Retreat Log

by Marjorie Stelmach

From Canary Fall 2016

—the trees keep
a respectful distance
                (a reticence not unexpected
                in ones so tall).

—as we talk our way into the graying light
in the shadowy lodge,
                our eyes are the first
                to fall out of color;
our voices,
so well-intentioned,
                of certainty,
catch themselves
just short of assertion.

—we’ve come, over hours,
to a lessened awareness of our selves,
                come gradually to sense
                the gradual reduction
of our faces to likenesses
under-lit by candlelight;
                have persuaded, somehow,
                the night to grant us
permission to go on living, despite
so little presence remaining.

—night’s subtraction enlarges our vision
to meet the more difficult
                teaching us the variousness
of lives we might have lived instead (these,
and these);
                leaving us mildly
at the way our bodies
accommodate us over time:
                distinctly lit, then limned,
                then limitless, as if
our voices arose from minds
independent of us.

—and the trees, who do this every night,
pause in their negligent brushing of
                the Eternal,
                to consider again
(as earth unrolls dark lubricants
to ease the bearings of the stars)
                with a grave
                and generous attention,
the likelihood of a human soul.

From Bent upon Light (University of Tampa Press, 2009). First publication: American Literary Review, Fall 2007


"For one species to mourn the death of another is a new thing under the sun."
          – Aldo Leopold

by Marjorie Stelmach

From Canary Spring 2015

It’s less often now
that a late spring dusk will tender
over these darkening waters
a loon’s otherworldly call—

sixty million years of loon song, brought
to perfection in tremolo—

to which my heart answers
lorn, answers, yore,
answers, ruth, erstwhile, thole—

long vowels in a language more and more
bereft of meaning.

Hoarding a hollowness in its call,
the loon alone among birds,
grew solid bones
evolved to match the density of water—
an equivalence
both boon and oblation,

the ease of the long dive bought at the cost
of swiftness in lift-off—
a fragile balance
I hear in the cry
that rises from glacial lakes
to lave and shiver my human marrow
with premonitions

of a future in which
my specie’s calls will haunt the Earth
rising from silvery disks
left spinning in our wake, filling the darkness
with saxophones, cellos, violas,

stirring a future specie’s blood
with hauntings older than its own:

a common grief.

That all calling
is calling to an Other who has never answered, this
is the Sorrow itself,

a honing of the heart, both boon and oblation:
our capacity for grief evolved to equal
our capacity for longing.

Tonight, it seems likely to come in my lifetime,
Earth’s last loon call:

one more hurt in time’s long harrowing—
a cry from the dark
to which our language
may own no answer.

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