Three Poems by Stephen Massimilla — Across The Margin

In these three poems by Stephen Massimilla, intimate human experiences of suffering and joy, exhilaration and loss, are presented as inseparable from perceived transformations in the mythic and natural world…

by: Stephen Massimilla


Should I engage
the term? Its buzzing embrace 
of a honey bee 

that flicks its tiny knife, wounds Yes
from beneath? 

Love it even in a forsythia throat
within some recrudescent grip 
of frost? 

Some night, some breathless spring,
I’ll die. Still Yes will petal

the lips of the loved,
dawning mist in their conversion.

Can I grasp who christened it
the freshest, most original Word, 
even though 

it is older than Eden?
Its kiss inspired Milton to re-present 
the Serpent, who whispered 

to Eve, Yes, you will know all
God’s Good and Evil.

The Serpent also hissed, No, 
you will not die. Can I sense

what it could be like
never to know all this brokenness?
Parents have fabled constancy

yet their laboring hearts
just stop. There is no ceaselessness,
except as the icy hiss of death

burns the thing inside, and that thing
cries out, alive.

This is no schoolboy “essay.”
I am still just beginning to conceive 
the agony out of which it is born. 
     After Rilke

Wait…that tastes good…but it’s already on the wing.
Just a touch of music, a rumbling, a humming:
girls, you warm girls, you silent ones,
dance the savor of the fruit you’ve learned.

Dance the orange. Who can forget her?
How she, immersed in herself, still holds out
against her own sweetness. You’ve possessed her.
You’ve turned her deliciously into you.

Dance the orange. The warmer landscape—
cast it around you so your ripe fruit shines
in its native wind. A radiance unfurled

fragrance after fragrance. Create your relation
with the pure, resistant rind,
with the juice with which it blissfully fills!

far too late to light alone the night’s decline,
all I ever knew of night reopens on a beamless search
for a harbor wrapped in snow, warping all I know,
the life held in my wakeless body, shuddering in a drift 
toward sleep, a stranger’s shade undressing you, leading your echo
away, toward the liquid fleece of a wheat-bright field, where
I understand what it means to be waving, vaguely wrecked…where
I will not grasp the night’s remains without you, here in wave-leaves
barely spaced enough through which to glimpse a dip of sky, 
winds vast enough to erase the constellations, tear the retinal foil 
of the open dome, and sense the way you have yet to sense
me, unblinkered, in grave disbelief, now hauling my lightless weight
through a thousand billion waves of shining freight.

Stephen Massimilla is a poet, painter, and author whose books include the multi-award-winning Frank Dark (Barrow Street, 2022); the award-winning coedited social justice poetry anthology, Stronger Than Fear (2022); Cooking with the Muse (Tupelo Press, 2016, winner of the Eric Hoffer Award, etc.); The Plague Doctor in His Hull-Shaped Hat (SFASU Press Prize); Forty Floors from Yesterday (Bordighera Prize, CUNY); The Grolier Prize, etc. His poems appear in hundreds of publications. He holds an MFA and a PhD from Columbia University and teaches there and at The New School.

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