The Prevalence of Mystery poems by Rennie McQuilkin

picture of Sara and Rennie McQuilkin
The wrapped-around cover image depicts Europa, sixth moon of Jupiter, which is said to be capable of harboring life.

About The Prevalence of Mystery, Rennie McQuilkin’s late-life poetry collection, the author writes this: “I present these poems as a sort of postscript remembering the long year following the departure of my dear wife, Sarah.  I trust they reflect my enduring love for her; faith in the value of holding fast; admiration of the natural world; and profound respect for those who have shown me the way.  Behind it all is the prevalence of mystery.”

Margaret Gibson, Connecticut Poet Laureate Emerita, has praised McQuilkin’s recent work in these words: “In these ravishingly honest poems, with his wife’s Alzheimer’s at their heart, Rennie McQuilkin has given us a chronicle of late life as it daily unfolds toward its inevitable finality. These poems tell us that memory magnifies who we are, just as forgetting erases the linkages we have to others and to sense of self.  Leave-takings and loss abound in these poems, but so also does affirmation and celebration of connection . . . They celebrate jewel-like moments in the Book of Hours that is our life. They affirm that we make love and home and self and family, that we make song and story.  Whatever is made is also subject to impermanence, but the making—the fidelity to creativity—that is love itself, and it endures.  Bravo! I say, and bow in gratitude to a poet whose life and whose poems have enriched us for so many decades.”

Rennie McQuilkin grew up in Pittsford, New York, received Bachelor and Master of Arts degrees in history and English from Princeton and Columbia Universities, and decided against a career in law after a stint at Harvard Law School.  He taught English and directed theatrical productions at Horace Mann School; Phillips Academy and Abbot Academy in Andover, Massachusetts; Schoolboys Abroad in Rennes, France; the Loomis-Chaffee School; and Miss Porter's School.

Rennie was Poet Laureate of Connecticut from 2015 to 2018. His poems have appeared in The Atlantic,The Yale Review, Poetry, The Southern Review, The Hudson Review, The American Scholar, Crazyhorse, and elsewhere. This is his 25th collection.  He has received a number of awards for his work, including fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, six fellowships from the Connecticut Commission on the Arts, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Connecticut Center for the Book. In 2010 his volume of new and selected poems, The Weathering, was awarded the Center’s annual poetry prize under the aegis of the Library of Congress; and in 2018, North of Eden received the Next Generation Indie Book Award in Poetry.  He co-founded and for many years directed the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival at Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington, CT. 

In 2018, Rennie and his wife of sixty-two years – artist, teacher, counselor, gardener, and gourmet cook Sarah McQuilkin – moved to the Seabury retirement community in Bloomfield, CT.  Sadly, Sarah passed away in January of 2023.

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ISBN 979-8-9865522-9-3
First Edition, 2023
60 pages

Copies of this book are available
from all booksellers including Amazon
 and you can order inscribed & signed copies
 directly from the author: Rennie McQuilkin
400 Seabury Dr., #5196
Bloomfield, CT 06002.
Send $12 per book
plus $4 shipping
by check payable
 to the author.

Rennie McQuilkin can be contacted at and 860-519-1804


copyright © 2023 by Rennie McQuilkin


Staying in Touch


It’s the Fourth again, and I am alone
though little lights blink all around me.
The smoke detector flashes happily,
not alarmed by the smoke from Canada,
and lights dance like laddering spirits
on the modem connecting

to the world where now a tree frog sings
beyond my window, even if the tree’s gone
that was home to its kind just last year.
To what is it clinging, and how?  Is it aware
of the syncopating fireworks from Hartford? 
My heart beats a little faster because of all

this celebrating.  I believe fireflies
must be strobing in the neighboring meadow,
for here’s one that’s wandered onto a pane
of the window beside me.  Green gold,
green gold, green gold . . .   I am, my love,
less alone.

Staying Alive


Things have simplified.
I spend my days staying alive, watchful,
propping myself, knowing a fall will
leave me stranded like a turtle upended,

treating lesions like a dog licking wounds,
hunting for food in icebox and larder . . .
all of which means I am as natural as any 
creature, but less assured than the animals,

my new brothers and sisters.  Religiously,
I rehearse names to be sure I haven’t lost
my mind and history, am still in touch with
loved ones, like saying childhood godblesses.

The Silverfish, the Mandevilla, and I


The silverfish and I are in this together
on the porch, hot already at 8 a.m., air acrid
from forest fires in Alberta.  The critter
makes the rounds of a tray rich with crumbs
from bad-for-you peanut butter crackers,

my daily poison.  It tests the crumbs
with its long silver feelers and finds them good.
No matter how unwanted, the object of sprays,
it loves its problematic state, its temporary stay.
While it rests in the shade of a ballpoint
at the edge of its world, I look to the edge of mine
and pray for the rebirth of my stricken mandevilla,
aphid-ridden, pruned like an amputee.  It drinks
in its mysterious underworld, bloom a possibility. 

I too (legs aching, balance lost) relish my feast of
possibility, sing like the endangered frog outside.
When the silverfish sallies forth, I will revive
the ballpoint, my feeler, see what it comes to. 


On the Prevalence of Mystery

for Ada Limón and my son Robin, best editor ever

When my son calls, I’m deep in the Raindrop Prelude
with its constant beat of water eroding the spirit,
composed after Chopin’s nightmare of drowning.
All too apt, I think, considering my siege of coughing
and the pending report from an X-ray looking for fluid.

I ask for good news, and he tells me Ada Limón’s
newest poem, commissioned by NASA,
will be inscribed on the hull of a spaceship
designed to examine Europa,
that Jovian moon known to spout vapor into space

from suspected underground seas where life might be,
perhaps bacteria or seaworms. Why not whales, I quip,
then remember I too am being searched for signs
of “activity.”  Still, I am given heart by Ada’s poem –
the joy it takes in the mysteries of life beyond us

but also beautifully within this world.  May even I be
one of those mysteries – may what’s scanned in me
be clarity.  I look to Chopin too,
how beyond the steady beat of dismay in his Prelude
is its underlying melody, the mystery of prevailing life.

Trench Warfare

 for Robin


My dear son is a battlefield where cancer
attacks and surgeons counter invasively,

removing parts – spleen, half a pancreas,
inches and inches of liver.  As ever, the one

suffering most is the hapless civilian, stricken
as cancer advances in him and surgeons

cut and burn.  I too, bystander as I am, am
undone by this warfare, go like my son from

terror to moments of bliss in times of truce,
always on alert for signs of resumption,

but with faith in peace and believing
we’ll dance arm in arm, allies in our victory.


for Sarah


Alas, it was lost, the gold
you slipped on my ring finger
all those years ago.

But today I find it, even if
I’ve lost you.  Such finding –
a blessed feat

like capturing the brass ring
on the carousel at Sea Breeze,
a catch awarding merriment –

free round-and-rounding
to the tune of a calliope, named
for the Muse you were for me.

Like Calliope you've risen
to Elysium where the virtuous rest
and you not least among them.

I’m rounded out, the ring I wear
a token permitting visits –
free pass through a divine turnstile.

Christmas Tree

for Sarah


Today, with first snow decorating fields
of dark shingle on the roof of Memory Care,
is the day to buy you a foot-high Xmas tree

sprinkled with small white lights, plant it
on your bureau, high place you might see
as Tyrolean, full of the sound of music.

How you see things in your distraction
is a blessing.  I’d crawl into your mind, share
a world brighter than the one I’m in.