Marjorie Stelmach


Each summer as evenings shortened, the sheen
on our glacial lake deepened to pewter

and something nameless opened in me
like a time-lapse wounding. Out on the porch,

three generations aligned their breathing
to the synchronized arcs of four wicker rockers.

Griefs were alluded to there in low tones, voices
lifting a long-ago sorrow and letting it sink again

into silence. I was a child, I’d only half-listen,
drifting in and out of their lives and my own.           

Over the years, new losses accrued in our family,
the way sheet ice thickened out on the lake.

We were summer people, I never saw it,
but the story goes there was always one evening

deep into winter when wolves would appear
crossing the ice in a ghostly light, as if on tiptoe—

a silent, unlikely procession of lives the locals
claimed had always lived in those woods.

On the far shore, under the northern lights,
they’d take up their burden of keening:

an unearthly beauty. Or, so we were told.
Who can say in the far North what’s true?

Our elders are gone now, the rest of us scattered.
Often, I dream myself back in that cabin,

hearing the quiet voices and trying to fill in
the missing bits of our story.

Was there a time when wolves moved soundlessly
through the forest, when our shallow lake

ran cold and deep and lumber trucks rumbled
out on the highway, the mines still thriving?

What am I to believe of those earlier lives
of hurt and endurance that passed into mine

and became mine to guard, until one day
I understood I would have to love them?

Marjorie Stelmach

is the author of Walking the Mist (Ashland Poetry Press, 2021), as well as five other collections of poetry. Her work has appeared in Boulevard, Cincinnati Review, Gettysburg Review, Image, Iowa Review, New Letters, and other journals.