Three Poems by Anastasia Stelse
Associate poetry editor Randi Clemens on today’s bonus poem: Anastasia Stelse’s poems place readers in soil and ochre-dusted landscapes. They encourage us to dig along with her archaeologist among the tomatoes, the ants, and the slugs. Stelse’s three poems show us that there is more to the garden—things we bury and things we uncover. These image rich pieces will leave dirt underneath your fingernails and their sounds will continue to echo in your ears read after read.
The archaeologist has trenched the yard,
creeping corner to corner one two-centimeter pass
at a time. The Virginia creeper crawls quicker,
even slugs slime the garden’s hedge faster.
Their filmy trails paint bursting tomato leaves,
the edges unfurling. His hands wrinkle daily, harden.
Last night, thick rain drops bounced off tomatoes,
made nests for mosquitoes. Everything is flooded
and he’s out there sponging soil dry, trying
to save the stratigraphy from melting. I stay
in the kitchen, unnoticed from the window.
When he looks, it’s always up, a survey
of sky—always the blue behind the clouds,
the grey, the rain. A base for interpretation.
I do not dance anymore. I tend the garden, pull
weeds, poison slugs. It remains. We bury more
than we uncover. Still, he trowels, sifts the backdirt
of my actions, studies the assemblage, searching—
Mythology of Meeting
The archaeologist did not come riding,
or galloping, on a horse. He wasn’t
wearing a wide-brimmed hat, kerchief
laced around his neck. He had no
warrants out for his arrest—just a man
with a blue velvet sack. Really, he
was already living in this ghost town
under a creaky saloon roof when I
tumbled across state lines, found
myself painted with ochre sand,
leaning against a lintel. I blended in
with the horizon. Even the clouds
couldn’t tell the difference. He saw me.
Offered his hand. I filled it with soil.
As a girl, she dug up poppies,
red-blood petals blooming in her hands.
Even then she knew of silt and clay
as what she was and what she would
become. No use wearing gloves, mud
gnawed beneath her nails, swaddled
dying cells, carried them off—she saw
it all—the cicada fallen from the tree,
wings folded neatly and uncracked.
Its iridescent body still. Its eyes
the glistening black of funeral pearls.
The small brown ants crawling to its side.
Anastasia Stelse is a native of southeastern Wisconsin, a graduate from the MFA program at American University, and a graduate from the University of Southern Mississippi’s PhD program in the Center for Writers. She currently teaches at the University of South Florida. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Poet Lore, Sou’wester, New South, Fairy Tale Review, and Crab Orchard Review, among others.