Marjorie Stelmach


A woman turns a page of her novel and stares at nothing
for a long while, as you do when a story is over.

Her book will lie closed on the bedside table when
later that same afternoon they find her.

Her daughter and son will live on in that town
with a father who keeps her secret—a kindness.

From him, they will learn to say they have “lost
their mother.” Their father, too, will be lost to them,

brushed with sadness. And so they’ll grow older
with no one to ask.

They will wait twenty years to ask each other.

Across the street, in habitual silence, a boy is practicing drums—
his father has not come down, though it’s nearly noon.
The boy holds the beats in his head. He’s perfecting the art
of halting the sticks just before touching the drum skin. 

He loves the brushes most of all, how they feel to his wrist—
those soft figure eights, loves how lightly the sticks rest

in his fingers and on the heels of his palms, as he strikes
the taut cushion of air just barely above the surface.

He feels himself gaining a mastery—knows when he parts
the curtain of silence he’ll stop their hearts.

He is learning kindness.

A century turns.

On the outskirts of town in the eldercare center,
a woman brushes her thin gray hair.

She has inched her wheel chair closer all morning
to the light in the East. It’s arduous work.

By the time she reaches the window, the sun has climbed too high
to spread on her shoulders that warmth she remembers.

She brushes and brushes. By ten, her hair is shining and ready
to braid on the porch in the sunshine, but where is her mother?

By four, she begins to whisper, “Help me,” over and over
until someone hears and steers her to dinner, where someone

removes the brush from her lap—but always it’s back
on her bedside table when the sun comes

over the sill to wake her.

Down the hall, a woman leans hard on the wheels
of her transport chair, steering it toward the closed door

of a sunroom, but no one’s able to help her just now.
As she waits, she remembers a place she loved as a child,

its slant of light, its cushion of straw under her feet and the smell
of horses. Someone’s large hands have lifted a saddle

up and away, have draped a blanket on a wooden divider,
are taking a curry brush down from a wall-hook.

It’s good to push hard with both hands, to feel
those larger hands covering hers, guiding her strokes.

She shivers in pleasure at the way the flesh ripples
low on the horse’s flanks: this is her horse, only hers.

This horse loves her. 
In a storefront church on a downtown street, the boy
who mastered the half-inch halt sits in a wooden folding chair

on the stage where he plays his drums each Sunday.
Whether he’s brushing the underside of the choir’s

tight harmony of petitions or scourging a flat-out strut
for an Easter procession, he finds himself smiling.

He’s survived a few close brushes with faith and knows
he will come again and again in this life within range

of God’s love, never quite touching—a kindness.

The brother and sister still live in that town where they long ago
learned their father’s secret. Together, they keep it.

The boy, nearing old age himself, works in an eldercare center,
tending its systems, mending what’s broken, attending

to minor needs: gently he straightens their pillows, returns
lost belongings, adjusts the blinds. Some of the residents tell him

they’re ready to leave now. He listens in silence. Sometimes
he nods. He spends his breaks in a numbered room down the hall

where he reads to his sister. Some days she knows him.

Eclogue for Summer’s End
Because the one who loves never knows what he loves   
Neither does he know why he loves, or what loving is . . .

—Fernando Pessoa
    The Keeper of Sheep

Today, the sky
tips toward me a table draped
    in azure cloth and piled
    with still-life clouds as plump
and self-absorbed as summer’s flocks
on the upland slopes.

Years back,
I’d lie under racing skies
    while around me a scatter of lambs
    leapt straight up
in their birth-skin, bleating
from newness alone—that astonishment.

But then,
what young heart is not undone
    by springtime’s forces?
    You’re cast ecstatic from the heights
or slammed to your knees by loss.
Or both. Both.

I remember how
waves of wanting tossed
    my body like a bottle
    in a riptide. This was before
the urgent message sealed inside me
got lost in the world’s

the same ongoing that has stranded me here,
    grown old in late summer’s
    great soaking stillness
watching a slope of sky that seems
to beckon. But I can’t go.

I’m working still
on what it means, the weather
    of this life. Or what I mean
    having weathered it.
Or maybe only what I meant
to mean back then, that spring,
    when I, myself, was the meaning.

Marjorie Stelmach’s fifth collection of poems is Falter (Cascade Books, 2017). Previous volumes include Bent upon Light and A History of Disappearance (University of Tampa Press) and Without Angels (Mayapple). Her first book, Night Drawings, received the Marianne Moore Prize from Helicon Nine Editions, and a selection of her poems received the first Missouri Biennial Award. She was recently awarded the 2016 Chad Walsh Poetry Prize from Beloit Poetry Journal. Recent work has appeared in Arts & Letters, Boulevard, Florida Review, Gettysburg Review, Hudson Review, Image, The Iowa Review, New Letters, and Tampa Review, among others.



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