Single Things
Marjorie Stelmach

Single Things

A lone crow eyes me from a shed’s collapsing roof
        above a tangled end-of-season garden.
Below on the doorstep, the merest scrim of sun.
        Earlier, out on Hwy M, a horse in an otherwise
empty pasture watched me pass, unmoving, under
        a bleached-out sky with only a spindly windbreak
to keep him from the sweep of miles. It’s not the winds
        or the solitude. It’s the impossibility of knowing
how far the fields stretch beyond you. Or the days.
 
Down by the tracks I meet a man walking a bike.
        We smile and nod. Soon, November’s torrents
will hustle us all indoors and pin this year’s dead leaves
        to the lawns. At an intersection of trails, I spot
a wooden bench half-hidden and only big enough for one.
        Everywhere, guarded solitudes. Even these grasses
bent by horizontal winds are separate creatures
        subject to the one force. The prairie will be
a different creature come winter. By then, I’ll be gone.

Heading back, I ponder the odd grain of identity:
        fingerprint whirls, swirls of lichen
down the length of a trunk, the synchronous turn
        of turbines on wind farms spread over the plains.
Cities. Towns. The roads between. Singularities
        in a flat landscape of collective nouns.
Are we all in this together? I remember the hum
        of Sunday prayers, a unison as seamless
as the garment they say Jesus wore to the cross.

Like rosary beads in the elders’ fingers counting
        the decades down toward the understood ending.
These days, I watch my father’s hands counting
        his meds. No act I can think of is more alone.
Along my path, shallow ponds turn to tarnished beads
        in the late sun. Trail markers stand in their own
shadows like stations of the cross. I make my way
        from one to the next, counting what I can: tallying
pieces to keep something nameless nonetheless whole.

Marjorie Stelmach

is the author of Falter (Cascade Books, 2017), as well as four other collections of poetry. Her work has recently appeared in Boulevard, Cincinnati Review, Gettysburg Review, Image, Iowa Review, New Letters, and other journals.