Marjorie Stelmach


Marjorie Stelmach’s most recent volume of poems is Bent upon Light (University of Tampa Press). Individual poems have recently appeared in Arts & Letters, The Cincinnati Review, Image, The Iowa Review, Kenyon Review online, New Letters, Prairie Schooner, Tampa Review, and others, as well as twice on Poetry Daily.


The droppings of last year's horses
Blaze up into golden stones.

- James Wright

The pond is feathered, grey-backed, moving north.
Nothing can hold it.
The fat little saint in the garden prays only
for a paint-job.
Flickers and downies contend at the feeder.
Is this a world in good order?

A red-winged blackbird grates on the world’s nerves—
another of the saints of repetition.
This is not a day
to ask after the gardener.

If Earth is perfected,
it is in its cycles, its seasons, its relentless
as Time is perfected in the saint’s plaster leprosy,
the scabbed mud of the shoreline,
the pile of lobbed limbs
in the hollow.

As for the geese, they’ve turned to alchemy,
depositing green tubes underfoot, vials
the winds will powder and carry
down to the water.

Drink, and be whole again.

As light sinks, the waters,
resistant to the world’s thirst, stiffen
beneath a glinting shield.
Still, the deer bend to whatever is on offer.
The saints, too, are making do
with gold.
Hard on a throat, gold.
Who would dare to ask after
the gardener?

The pond is flying north against
all natural law,
dragging the dead,
and whatever is un-rooted, uprooted,
See how the waters have broken
into scales, red in the last light, silver
where the moon

touches, troughs, touches.

With sunrise and the washing
of heaven’s flesh in risen mist, ask:
Is this a world in good order?

Ask again. Tomorrow
is the only answer, every sacred
dying cell of it.

Arriving in a damp, chilly, early spring for a stay at a retreat center I have always loved, I asked after the woman who had welcomed me on previous visits and learned that she had been diagnosed with advanced stage cancer. The poem came from my contemplation of the sad disarray of her garden and the untended beauty of the adjacent wetland wilderness. Angered by the apparent intentions—so opposed to my own wishes—of the disease, of the seasons, of the Gardener, I struggled to understand anew the term “perfected” (from Latin: completion), and to accept the world as complete, able to contain all things including disorder and even death and, by the alchemy of time and change, to remain in some sense “perfected.” I can’t say I succeeded in convincing myself, but the poem represents my own attempt, as Frost put it, to “drink and be whole again / beyond confusion.”