Mary Makofske’s “Doldrums Near the End of Empire” (NMW 2017)
Mary Makofske of Warwick, New York has won the 44th New Millennium Poetry Prize for “Doldrums Near the End of Empire.”
She will receive $1,000 and publication both online and in print.
Let’s say you have been paying attention, and you are outraged…might you still revel in an unseasonably warm autumn afternoon? For anyone informed enough to panic, but romantic enough to appreciate this beautiful world while we still can, this poem is for you. –NMW
Doldrums Near the End of Empire
by Mary Makofske
Better, perhaps, to sit in this autumn sunlight,
warm as summer thanks to our cozy blanket of carbon,
than read another analysis of debates that simmer
with heat, not light, as the campaigns sputter and cough
while we stand hopeless on the sidelines,
knowing no candidate can take us to the land
we remember, with what may be tarnished memory,
or to the one we’ve never quite reached, far off in the fog.
Under the drowsy confusion of wasps, the flutter
of robins and bluebirds with no yen for the South,
easy to let the eyelids close and enter the blinkered
nirvana of now, glad that winter is not already
inserting needles into our flesh. Grateful that bombs
are not today exploding in our markets. And yet—
the thought insinuates itself that whether we keep
God in the Pledge of Allegiance or take God out,
the world grinds on as it always has.
No one has found the antidote to history.
Our nation, glorious in concept, at its most powerful,
most fragile, too will pass, not altogether, but unravel,
as already it has begun to fray, and how will we face
the end of its glory days? Can we settle, bemused
but philosophical, into our status as has-been, backwater?
No, rather bluster and throw ourselves on our swords,
or, more likely, turn our swords on those we blame.
Those lapping the small and shrinking pools of power
will bare their teeth at shadows slinking closer.
Nostalgia will become the drug of choice.
The problem is we can’t agree what past to long for.
Our finest moments a bullet lodged in the head of a foe,
or a piece of bread shared with a stranger. Perhaps
a moment of conscience when we acknowledged
how we had failed. My garden staggers on, squash
swelling, draining the life from spent leaves, and kale
impatient for frosty nights. The bees we fear
are vanishing hover over the last ragged flowers,
and the praying mantis my grandson saved in the greenhouse
stalks slowly through its final days. Everything I value
refuses to rush, refuses to be bought or sold, wants
to grow to its peak, then decay. I won’t eat
what I couldn’t kill, says my daughter-in-law,
and maybe we shouldn’t kill what we can’t eat.
But the day is too beautiful for such thoughts.
I spill out my treasures gathered along the shore,
rinse my hands in stones and beach glass.
What do they mean? Why have I saved them?
They were cliffs, walls, boulders, bottles
that once held sweetness and spirits. Broken,
worn down, polished, they gleamed in water.
How dull they seem in this dry autumn light.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mary Makofske’s latest books are World Enough, and Time (Kelsay, 2017) and Traction (Ashland, 2011), winner of the Richard Snyder Prize. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, Southern Poetry Review, Poetry East, Antiphon, Poetry Daily, and in eighteen anthologies. She received the 2017 International Poetry Prize from Atlanta Review.
"Doldrums Near the End of Empire" © 2017 Mary Makofske
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