Poetry from Michael Todd Steffen

How everything turns away…
~ W.H. Auden, “Musée des Beaux Arts”

to its small purpose, the plowman’s hands holding
reins and plow, the shepherd’s gaze upward
inventing stanzas for the month of June.
The lowlands are pasture, the terraces arable.
Stouter to the myth Breughel has seen
the far-away world of fate close to his world.
The local and contemporary eye
has pictured that as this in terms of home.
Green is the sea under a thawing sky
as unlike Greece as Shakespeare’s Rome and Rome.
A partridge clutches to a waking vine stock.
Columns accent the city far below
with its harbor awaiting the ship that may be expensive
and delicate, gliding on a stiff breeze.

Palirunus Marginatus

Not everything red is a lobster.
But the part of us fed to love
pried from our armor and prominent claws
is easily imagined all buttery succulence.
Instead it refuges further beneath the surface
in a different ocean without grammar,
spiny and recessed. It has shed its defenses
though remains distinctive with hair-tenuous
antennae precisely watchful enough
to sound us from its other side of the world.

With Seaweed

Dreams are dreams only—once woken from.
Everything ran slower in that sluggish
element where your hair floated freely
with the seaweed and love became a salty
buoyancy of smiles and stinging tears.

I was subsumed with the acorn barnacles,
sea vases and the translucent baskets
of Venus’ flowers, learning my sessility
under the hover of dead man’s fingers that clothed you,
a spiny carpet of urchins at the bottom of my feet.

There you were: Belief made you, in entries
of the log books of sailors from flooded
explorations, in your blended topos of history
and myth, topmost human yet by
our day’s thorough fathomings no more than tale

and so there I dreamed, dimly yet surely
aware of my natural shores, little by little
insisting I must breathe as speech
intoned beyond words to the single unbroken
high C beyond me in the pressure of my hearing.


I kept
turning away
to become
the staircase I climbed
from the bottom up
spiraled by the encompassing
up my mast
for a Hindu ceremony’s
music of the spheres,
my door given way
to this riddle
of speaking mouthless
from an exterior
I unfolded at one with.

Michael Todd Steffen is the recipient of a Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellowship. His poetry has appeared in journals including The Boston Globe, Everse Radio, The Lyric, The Dark Horse, Ibbetson Street, The Concord Saunterer, and Poem. His second book, On Earth As It Is, will be out in early 2022 from Cervena Barva Press.