Marjorie Stelmach

If You Are the Angel of Keening

This is your watch:
each dawn you trudge
to the widow’s walk,
the trap door open
and enter
the wind,
your heart pared
to a purity, nails
razor-edged for
the rending of garments,
eyes honed
to sieve the waves
for the breaching.
If you are that Angel,
yours are the tasks
of endless
Yours the dirge
that will follow
the whale-fleets out
to the edges
of witness
where carcasses,
dragged to the far side
of greed
will sink through
of erasure: darkness,
debris, predation.
And yours is
the keening,
for you are escaped alone
to tell the tale
of alien hearts
to extinction.
But no:
Wash your hands of us,
No one will listen.
Shrug. Climb the stairs,
shoulder open
the heavens.


Litany for the Apocalypse

The dead in the churchyard offer up unceasingly
the Prayer of Permissions:


This is my body, dark meat, dark drink.
Take. Eat. Let there be earth.


But above in the churchyard, all is not well.
The ancient stone angels are thickly lichened now,


only vaguely angel-shaped, and trailing a milky
limestone dust. As for the worms, they have troubles


of their own. They perform their work, as always,
to the hum of abundance, but abundance is over—


no deaths since the Apocalypse. In time
they’ll be reduced to eating angel-stone.


No one speaks in the churchyard. No one ever has.
The angels, being angels, will acquiesce with grace,


though their softening wings are the only proof
that angel-kind ever existed on earth. No matter.


Eternity, as angels understand, is a small loss;
there are a host of ways to rest in peace.


And so begins the Litany of Hope: dust to dust,
the churchyard whispers, dust to dust.


The Spiral Angel

Time’s a tangle and the angel
is late.
It’s early
on the fifth morning;
God has sent the Spiral Angel
to fetch more empty creation-space.
Now, tight in the socket
of his missing wing,
the Spiral Angel elbow-pins
a stack of blank sheets,
thinking: neither wings enough
          nor time.
In the angel’s absence, God
has been busy. But now,
with the physical world complete,
he has turned his thoughts
to concepts, realms of discourse,
With disciplines come
disciples. Departments follow:
duties, dirty work.
Soon credentials
will become an issue. And issues.
           Pettiness. Pride.
God sighs and shifts his aching
omnipresence. The work never ends.
What day is this?
He has forgotten inventing angels,
forgotten he is waiting for one to return.
He needs some sleep.
On the sixth day,
the Spiral Angel arrives
exhausted at the footstool
of the Lord,
and, as commanded,

he’s got the goods.

God’s eyes snap open: The World!
But the world is up and running,
so, what’s with this sweaty angel—
bedraggled, winded,
maimed. For Godsake,
Suddenly, God recalls:
his grand plan! He feels fine now
and there’s plenty of paper.
On the first blank sheet,
God sketches a rough

double helix.

Next thing he knows,
he’s revising the whole shebang:
adding metaphors, similes,
the arc of a plot
replete with misstep and struggle.
Allegory! why not? A climb.
A slippery slope.
A life-and-death struggle.
No telling what’s next:
An epic? A Bible?
If he had world enough

and time…

God has yet to invent quotation marks,
copyright laws, clichés.
He jots a memo.
The Spiral Angel
knows he won’t get even a footnote
in the profusion that will follow:
flaming swords, cave art, Model T’s,
fireproof fabrics, Messenger Bags,
golf carts, nonaggression pacts,
quantum spookiness,
sub-prime mortgages,

nanotech . . .

Plenitude. Platitudes.
Purple prose.
The Spiral Angel frets:
what will this swirling chaos come to?
And who will keep the accounts?
Who else?
How long, O Lord, how long,
before the migraines start?
Carpal tunnel.
Depression. Drink.
Writer’s block.

Rejection notes.

Marjorie Stelmach is the author of six volumes of poems, most recently Walking the Mist (Ashland Poetry Press, 2020). Her work has appeared in Gettysburg Review, Hudson Review, Image, Lullwater, Prairie Schooner, Presence, and others.

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