ABOUT MARTIN STEINGESSER
Steingesser’s poems have been published in the New York Times op-ed page, The Progressive, The Sun, The Humanist, Country Journal as well as literary journals such The American Poetry Review, Poetry East, Chautauqua Literary Journal, Poetry International and the Ohio Review. His poetry books are Yellow Horses; Brothers of Morning; and The Thinking Heart: the Life & Loves of Etty Hillesum.
Since 1981, he has worked 30-100 days a year teaching poetry in Maine schools and New England cultural institutions.
“On Eagle Lake” appears in his collection Yellow Horses.
He is also a member of the ensemble Off the Page—a Musician and 2 Poets, currently performing a collaborative version of his earlier work The Thinking Heart: The Life & Loves of Etty Hillesum, now titled Etty’s Song: A Courageous Love Song to Life based on The Diaries of Etty Hillesum, which played for nine years across New England and in Poland and Belgium.
I’ve been trying to bring poems that deal with relevant issues to public events. My mission is to contribute something in a different key for people at hearings, rallies, lectures, ceremonies, etc., rather than only to those who attend poetry readings. For example: a poem on the lack of corporate credibility performed at a South Portland City Council hearing on whether or not to bar Portland Pipeline from exporting tar sands oil through its installations in the city; a poem written at BMC (see below) for the Monarch butterfly and against toxic pesticides use performed for the Portland City Council; poem performed for a “Fight for DACA Rally” to defend immigrants (pictured in photo above), and the same poem for the opening program of an exhibit “America Now, a Dialogue: 28 Artists in Maine,” at the Maine Holocaust and Human Rights Center.
“On Eagle Lake” was performed at a Portland, Maine, city council meeting where legislation to limit toxic pesticides was under discussion. It was also printed as a broadside along with information about how to save monarch butterflies, and passed out at the event.
On Eagle Lake
There used to be rivers of butterflies.
Now there are years with none.
This is a village of ghosts.
—Homer Aridjis, poet & naturalist
Peel time off the blue air of morning, or sunlight
off the lake’s surface. That’s what I did, drifting so easy you could hear
pickerelweed brushing the sides of the canoe. The gods
are like that sometimes, no credit to me. One moment oxygen
pressed out of my heart. The next some angel
slips a feather of light in my hand.
Who knows why
I wanted to be swallowed in that dawn mist. And I don’t give a whit
anyone says finding reasons after the fact is like predicting
yesterday’s weather. I was meant to save one butterfly, this monarch
early frost put in my hand. None of the monarch orange and stars
dressed over vclvety wings and black, twig-like body
had paled. In cupped hands, lifting its ounce of brilliance,
I breathed over the petal-like wings. Breathed. And breathed again.
I could tell more how I did that, drifting through lake smoke
most the next half hour, occasionally paddling, sometimes breathing
over a knee with the monarch, till mist started thinning and sun
warmed on my cheek. Wings were trembling now like harp strings.
Yes, it flew—
I’d like to tell to that forest in Mexico they migrate,
hundreds of thousands filling the trees, their wings folding, opening,
like small fans, every tree limb covered in monarchs. What I’ve got
is morning sun, this lake, breathing in my hands.