Poetry from Michael Steffen


 A Concession of Love
 She followed the travel and the antique shows
 on PBS all through the Sunday lull,
 his couch’s better half. With upturned eyes
 let him zap over to the NFL
 taking her book up, asking that the volume
 be kept down. Though she couldn’t hold her interest
 wholly aloof from the barbaric game—
 surprising dad with a gasp, Gaw that dude’s fast!
 She’d look back at her novel with a glance…
 Then marvel at the fans and their face paint.
 She wanted to know just why the referee
 had thrown that flag. And frowned ambiguously
 at the vainglory of a touchdown dance.
 Hoisted her eyebrow at the extra point.  
 Rekindled from an OED, a word
 from long ago “jangala,” a dry, dry
 land, a desert, flourishes to the green wood
 jungle has come to depict in her day—
 lapsed as her gaze off to another book
 so for its cover. She reads silent at
 the PC on her elevated desk
 amid the printed volumes to check out.
 How better embody that little-heard
 fountain Wisdom than surround oneself
 with her spines? Delicate as usage, hard
 as sense to fix, one can only imagine
 her orderly and tidy as these shelves—
 going home, her hair in the wind undone.
 The Super-id
 The sea
 ever wagged by its tail.
 It’s all continuum, seals playing
 out into their horror of an orca’s play
 with little mind for manners, appearance,
 “plasticity,” the business
 of the sails of cloud
 stacked like the coasts’ glass mountains,
 these Aeolian beings, drawing from it
 fertile rain, shimmering nets
 and devastating storms. Great
 unselfconsciousness swims
 between one’s hunger and another’s
 from deep memory
 clear to the shallows of our shellfish.
 And our muck, threatening its copious
 data of marvels. And unmasking me,
 boy wizard on the shore
 of the ponderous metaphor. 
 To My Problem
 “Symptoms, symptoms,”
 said the therapist, halfway into
 another session. “It’s good of you
 to talk about them. Shortness
 of breath and temper. Irritableness.
 Obsessive compulsive. Insomnia.
 Erratic spending.”

 I don’t know
 how professional it was
 of my Doctor Strangelove,
 though it certainly had a psychological effect
 on him at last to come unhinged
 and just lay it all out—
 “Mr. Steffen,” with a deep sigh,
 “underlying all this chaffing,
 there is some little stone somewhere in your shoe.”
 I've written you letters
 with no address for the envelope
 with my thinking it out,
 how to unravel your skein
 of sudden desires and a tilted past.
 I've come away from psychologists,
 from groups and meetings
 with certificates and tokens saying I could
 overstep your molehills—
 only again day after day to find myself
 lulled in the elevations of attitude,
 on the islands of prickly fruit
 grousing about the prices, the wait,
 bearing my teeth at others
 with their deplorable hair and manners.
 Only to have them—What's
 your problem?—invoke you anew
 and remind me
 everybody drinks the same water.
 With your sniff dreaming a rib bone
 from the takeout bag being kicked around
 by the wind, snapping at
 the wind's hand, biting your fingernails,
 drifting again into the blind spot
 of your oncome; with your
 dispersal of asking, flirt, maker
 of No… Huh-uh… Get lost…
 Should I only try again
 author of the shrug, again and again—
 to the break of sunlight
 out of nights and days of rain
 so here and there an afternoon
 I am filled
 and you vanish
 like water
 into the green flag of the grass.

Recipient of a 2021 Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellowship, Michael Steffen’s poems have appeared in publications, including, The Boston Globe, The Concord Saunterer, The Dark Horse, The Lyric and Poem.

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