Unguarded Crossing by Bob Brooks

Gretchen Schafer Skelley

Gretchen Schafer Skelley’s first book, A Wheel in a Wheel, is steeped in a sense of the redemptive powers in the natural world, be it the world of rivers, mountains, or Tibi the Cat. There is much playfulness in these poems but also a dark side, a sense of love’s fragility. In the end, however, darkness is dispelled by faith in the “eternal sun” which undoes even death. Kathleen McGrory, President Emerita of Hartford College for Women, has said this of the book: “Elemental yet transcendent, Gretchen Skelley’s poetry dips and soars into the stuff of everyday life, transforming it.

From the firm starting point of familiar earth, her poems weave images that reassure as they remind us we are never alone, always accompanied by mystery in people and things. Her poetry awakens us to the infinite possibilities of relatedness, in human and animal nature, friendship and love, dreams and even death. They describe a sustaining journey from darkness to light, daring us to dream and work creatively in eternal sun.”

Gretchen Schafer Skelley was born and raised in Hartford, Connecticut. She was educated at the Chaffee School and Connecticut College for Women, where she was the first recipient of the Benjamin T. Marshall Prize for Poetry. While raising a family she was active in educational affairs, both in her daughtersí school and at Chaffee. She was for some time a guide at Nook Farm, which comprises the homes of Harriet Beecher Stowe and Mark Twain. Her main occupation was as a teacher of Hatha Yoga at Hartford College for Women and in the Hartford and Simsbury areas. She now lives in West Hartford with her cat. She has always thought that poets should be young, tall and willowy. She is none of these things, but her cat loves her anyway.

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ISBN 978-0-9843418-9-4

Copyright © 2011 by Gretchen Schafer Skelley

5.5" x 8.5" pamphlet, 32 pages



Dry Spell

What is it keeps me mute in my study?
Is it time or space I need?
Or the pure light of an August morning
washed on a keel by the sea?
Once those shadows on the fresh grass
painted my pictures for me or
the silver undersides of the
poplar leaves echoed the moon
and said, Here it is! Take it!
This is what light holds for you.
Dreaming is not enough!



Dee! Dee! Dee! shrills the insistent bird –
You have been silent too long!

All memories confound us in the end.
Old love’s cold meat – the sentimental fat
that clogs the lean of passion.

Old arts forsake us in the end.
Cold fingers warped by time cannot
command the waiting harp.

Old truths betray us in the end –
become blurred clearings in a wood
of lies in which we’re lost again.

And what have we who slept like
children in that wood?
The worms usurp our bed.

Ideas rot beneath the weight of mold.
What is there then?

The eternal sun is there and water
and the bird’s Dee! Dee!
that ushers in the spring.

Unless the leaf rots,
unless the worm works,
unless the bird cries,
no life will come.

Unmake me, Lord.
Dissolve me into elements again.
Define me with the worm,
the leaf,
the bird.

Belittle me to atoms.
Then begin.


The Acrobat on Balance


other people walk tightropes,
hands shaking,
ears pounding,
in tenuous balance
making it look easy.


Climbing the ladder I feel with my fingers
for each reacquaintance with rope and with rigging
leading me up through the palpable darkness,
drawn by my reflexes onto the wire.

Over arenas I feel no distractions;
only my fingers and feet feel sensation.
Under my heart beats the pulse of the drummer,
light silvers my spine to the shimmer of cymbals.

Now when I see you, firm on your platform,
lifting your bar with one foot on the wire,
how I can dance then, heedless of catchers,
pointing my toes out, perfectly balanced...

“Bow to me, Partner. The act is beginning.”


Love, let us dance once again on the wire.
What do we care for their open-mouthed wonder?
Here where we run through the light and the shadow
only the wire – at last – understands us.

Quickly we venture out, testing the tension,
bowing together, formality hallowed;
ritual somersaults split us and join us.
Lovers, we dance out our joy on the wire.


Balance ennobles us; our concentration
brings benediction if we can keep it.
Now I await you, bearing my burden
(each day more precious,
needing attention).

Oh, how our feet burn, dancing on wire.
Only the wire somehow sustains us;
only the wire now to connect us.
If we should falter
who, Love, could save us?

Now you approach me, carefully, slowly,
bearing your trio, The Triple Enchantment,
balanced in shimmer – smiling – above you.
See how their spangles glint in the darkness.

We – with our spines stretched –
we – with our palms wet –
feel for our footing.
Merciless spotlights.

Balance, Beloved! Balance –
I’ve lost it!


The moment my foot slips, a wild
exhilaration fills me. A hard freeze
runs through all my muscles.
In full spangled splendor I fall and the
moment stretches as my feet stretch,
seeking the wire. My soul floats upward
over the tent pole, free of the canvas.
Free! How I welcome the chance
to be choiceless: welcome a racing toward
Death that is dreamless.
Sound is a scream drawn like
thread through a needle.
Faster and faster I fall.

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