Marjorie Stelmach


                        But I remain sad like a sunset
                        As our imagining shows it,
                        When a chill falls at the side of the valley
                        And you feel night has come in
                        Like a butterfly through a window.
                                                Fernando Pessoa
from “The Keeper of Sheep”

Of birds, I can’t claim to know much,
but today when a small bird drops from inside
the sky to snag on a tree’s burred trunk,
how can my eye not follow
its bright, abrupt arc, not clamp
on that soft clot of heartbeat and feather?
I will it to hold for the seal of languagethat I
might catch up with its plummet,
skid to its halt, and say:
                                    nuthatch, birch.
It’s the only way I know in this world:
after the fact. Lurching. Lunging. Wielding
my net of belatedness. Yes,
like the Keeper of Sheep, I aspire
simply to watch what passes. Instead, I seize
on what pauses, caress what abides
my caresses, work on the wording.
There’s so little time, everything passing.
I, too, am passing.
This is the sadness.
It’s why I listen for bells descending from
higher slopes: someone, I think, must be
keeping watch on the long progression
of the dead. My own are recent.
They come to me across time as if
it were nothing, glistening like tears.
They come across space, butterfly wings
brushing the tips of the grasses.
But I must keep faith with the living, too,
who are also the dying.
So far, I’m a terrible keeper
of sheep. My lambs wander serenely off
toward the bluffs where they drop off the edge
of my shameful unknowing
and into the sudden sky to catch
and cling in whatever safe place they can
to wait out my always belated coming–
a burred patch of vertical trunk,
or an outcrop of rock just below the cliff edge.
There’s purchase enough in this world,
I believe this. The problem is time.
Do you hear it, too?
Across the world a butterfly’s wing
has just stilled
after shattering everything.

Marjorie Stelmach’s third volume of poems is Bent upon Light (University of Tampa Press). Her work has appeared in Kenyon Review Online, Image, Prairie Schooner, Iowa Review, Boulevard, and The Cincinnati Review, PoetryDaily, and elsewhere