Doldrums Near the End of Empire | Mary Makofske



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.

Mary Makofske


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




We’d love to read what you’ve been writing!
NMW’s next literary contest is now open.
Four $1,000 Literary Prizes will be awarded, plus publication.
All writing levels are welcome and encouraged.

16 thoughts on “Doldrums Near the End of Empire | Mary Makofske”

  1. Congratulations, Mary, from a former winner of the NMW poetry award. May yours be as richly nurturing as mine has been to me. I am glad to see these fine reflections on our troubled times and will return to them often as I work through my own thoughts and feelings. It’s good to be with you.

  2. Greetings, Mary. I, too, am a former winner of the NMW poetry award (2012). It’s a wise and moving poem that I was happy to share on Facebook.

  3. Makofske, you have said the hard truths we didn’t want to utter. We won’t be able to put our country back together. Embarrassed and shamed, we numb our awareness to “enter the blinkered nirvana of now.”

  4. You’ve expressed what I feel in such succinct beautiful language, with one thought leading to the next so seamlessly. I wish we were friends because then I could pick your wonderfully creative mind that could produce so much deep thought and beauty too.

  5. Beautiful expression of these most troubling times. I admire the way you elevate ordinary language to powerful images and ideas. Thank you for this carefully wrought poem.

  6. Thanks, Mary. It’s a lovely poem and precisely captures the need, not just pull, to sea glass and other collectible beauties at this time when we must struggle as well to preserve what we face we might not be able to save.

  7. I am weary to the core with politics infused into every facet of human interaction–yet, to remain silent seems sinful. You have spoken and chosen words well to rise above the shouting with reason and truth.

    1. Bill, I think you’ve captured exactly the conflict at the heart of Mary’s poem. As people aware of the travesties going on, how large or constant is our obligation to address them, or at least shine a light on them? Aren’t we allowed the space of a golden afternoon to revel in this one, complicated life? Thank you for reading and adding your wise thoughts to the conversation!

  8. “No one has found the antidote to history” but you weave a wide gathering of the strands of our unraveling. This sitting in the grielf of autumn sunlight gives me a curious quietude. Brilliant and memorable lines, thank you.

  9. Your observation and insight into the politics of today are astute and I am astounded by your use of nature in sharing your feelings, showing us a story of this divisive and embarrassing historical time. Well done! Congratulations!

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