Poetry Friday: “After” by Marjorie Stelmach

Poetry Friday: “After” by Marjorie Stelmach September 30, 2016

by Rin Johnson on flickrGrief is a state of being that almost defies articulation. When you’re in it, it consumes and seems present in everything. Marjorie Stelmach focuses the lens of this poem on small scenes from the natural world—frames at once ordinary and suffused with loss, as befits the claustrophobia of mourning. The speaker here admits to wanting out, to feeling done-in by sadness— “Today, the last thing I would wish / is another emblem of grit and continuance”—and yet each effort to observe something outside the self becomes an act of hope and faith. I love the gaps in this poem. I’ve read it multiple times and suspect it hasn’t finished telling me all of its secrets. I’m struck by how each of these images so tenderly reflect the mystery of human suffering: not even a willow tree can escape “a keening that leaves it chastened, / loose-limbed, compliant.” God feels far away, yet so close, in the “available healing” of creation described here so beautifully.

—Melissa Reeser Poulin

“After” by Marjorie Stelmach

My corkscrew willow’s the last each autumn
to loose its slender fingers of dried gold;
first each spring to clutch my heart
with, overnight, a thousand fisted buds.
Today, the last thing I would wish
is another emblem of grit and continuance;
still, my willow models a fierce,
therapeutic rage, lashing the glass
in a keening that leaves it chastened,
loose-limbed, compliant.
The world’s
getting on with it: nesting crows
on overload can’t navigate the sky,
so unbalanced is their greed;
worms drenched by immoderate rains
are rinsed out onto the walk to begin
the humbling crawl homeward.
Even the sky: winded, aloft. Even
my heart: of a sudden, I can’t
breathe deeply enough of the season’s
available healing.
Time to be taken
alive, to be shaken, to wrench new space
from inside the implacable givens.
My passport lies, unexpired, in a drawer.
On the far side of the world, wine
ripens at the source, rising on terraced
hillsides broken by stately silhouettes
of ruin. All of it lit. Raw.
Ringing. And between us, only a great
generosity of sky.


A sky
that, on my day of departure, turns
a dire tornado-green above
the terminal—flights delayed up and down
the board. And fear, newest entry
in grief’s cast of thousands, rehearses
her lines. Too late; I have
my role by heart—a walk-on part:
to find the gate that bears my number
and wait for the sky to open.

GL banner

Marjorie Stelmach is the author of three previous volumes of poems: Night Drawings (awarded the 1994 Marianne Moore Prize), A History of Disappearance, and Bent upon Light (University of Tampa Press). Groups of her poems received the first Missouri Biennial Award and the first Chelsea Award; her awards include the Malahat Review Long Poem Contest and the Stanley Hanks Memorial Prize. A high school English teacher for 30 years, she has also served as visiting poet at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, and, most recently, as the director of the Howard Nemerov Writing Scholars Program at Washington University. Recent work has appeared in The Baltimore Review, Boulevard, The Cincinnati Review, Image, Kenyon Review Online, Prairie Schooner, River Styx, & Tampa Review.

The above image is by Rin Johnson, used by permission of a Creative Commons license.

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