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Marjorie Stelmach

Prosody R.I.P.

Cassandra Worries Her Quantum Beads


                Writ on a (Large) Empty Tomb

Everyone agreed: an appalling shame,
the train of disagreeable evenings, the unseem-
ly behavior at podium after podium—
oh, no one was to blame,
it was a difficult time,
young men and women dragging home
from the workshops and sem-
inars, many badly maimed—
victims to all appearance of some
dark flaw of the age, some
toxin in the water or the womb…
Over years it became
a generational theme
that the critics seized upon, a claim
soon taken literally, and, for some
there was a comfort in it, a scholarly frame
on which to hang unease, but as lame
in the end as the noms
de plume
we more and more found ourselves using, fame
loudly, if briefly eschewed: the créme
de la créme succumbed
to the old applause they’d disdained
as worthy only of dabblers and codgers, and from
that day on, it was clear the game
was up. On a whim,
some die-hard (later, we’d name names)
whispered the ancient curse: end-rhyme,
and a couple of others (it was the clap of doom)
responded in unison: poem sweet poem.
The old hardliner-squad took aim…
and missed again.
So much for the death of the form.

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Cassandra Worries Her Quantum Beads

How well it still fits, this gravity,
how easily it rests
            on my narrowing shoulders.
Outside our atmosphere, they tell me,
travelers gladly shrug it off: 
                        easy for the young.
Couples book their honeymoons on
Jupiter, come home younger,
            less worldly-wise.
Soon, they’ll be launching their own
clutch of kids to summer camps
                        on Mars,
and on to top-ranked universities
scattered among the stars.

Only the old speak fondly of
Earth’s gravitas
            most democratic
of cosmic forces, out-performing
seasons, photosynthesis, tides. 
                        Critics find us
quaintbelittling our reliance on
the terra-centric fallacy.
            Even toddlers
are savvy enough to deny applause
to high-wire acts and juggling clowns,
                        turn up their noses
when a dancer flaunts a grand jeté. 
Applause of any kind,
            naïve, these days,
given the fact that palms are made
of mostly nothing,
                        and the sound
of two hands clapping, by all logic,
is no sound.
Over time, I’ve grown accustomed
to my role: nattering my prophecies
            to children at play
on their various brinks,
risking, again and again, their lives. 
                        Of course, they see it
differently: for them,
the heavens have always burned
            as harmlessly as
wooden ships or city walls:
all such legends, soon outgrown. 
                        But worry’s in my blood.
Take my hand, I beg them.
Don’t look down,
            forgetting they’re born
with meta-consciousness—
they grasp the terrifying truth
everything’s made of mostly nothing;
everywhere is down.


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Marjorie Stelmach’s third volume of poems, Bent upon Light, was published in 2009 by University of Tampa Press. She has recently retired as the director of the Howard Nemerov Writing Scholars Program at Washington University in St. Louis. 


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copyright 2010 ucity review