The River

where it flows murky green
or neutral, rippling
reflecting an unreflecting sky
swift, gravitating downstream
parting and swirling
at the stone base of the bridge
black-and-white pigeons
swooping under it
at the church bell scattering
as if suddenly driven mad
where we see through dormant trees
past our lives, passing

tranquil on the surface
shimmer of tree-trunks, almost mirage
maze of ginger-yellow branches
black railing, white slatted chair
the window frame
tablecloth design of fig
hand of a woman with a blue sleeve
after a troubled night

what was painful has passed
what was most cherished has passed
the sky is not blue – does it matter?
others have gathered here
I almost hear their voices
but the centuries have mixed
and eroded them

in this season the river
flows effortlessly within its limits
without choice, without purpose
the field beyond is greening
when the poplars leaf I will be gone

sunrise of blood-orange
in the river mirror snarl of root
bramble, deadwood
here in the old priory
I teach myself acceptance
what was painful has passed
what was most cherished has passed
the sky is not blue – what does it matter?

I pace myself to the tempo of the river
vowing to shield myself
from myself deliberately
I walk into smoke of burning straw
breathing in long ago leaf-burning
to exorcise the death wintering in me

clay-grey light
cool pre-dawn damp
that turned bare limbs chartreuse
shocked awake by a wrong
like some fresh butchery
— mind’s curse
to recall what cannot change

more exact than grooves in a wall
stone crevices discolored by black moss
a loss I cannot overcome

these two
temper me

mist rises from the ground
sun a disk of muted rouge
a mist lake lies on an east field
beyond it a smoky forest

sun a massive blinding yellow
surrounded by white glare
a mist flows upstream
a pair of ducks
disappear under bleached roots

light mellows into cloud
mixing with steam from twin plants
a child will come
to paint the rocks orange and purple

sundown on the surface
pools of bronze
golden filaments of weeping willow
against the void of concrete arches
a skein of water wrinkling
an old face
the river passes by
flecked with foam

To read Shied, poems of Phyllis Stowell, is to journey into the sphere of vulnerability that is abandonment and grief. She acquaints us with the place to which those suffering great grief must retire, shielded from the glare of the sun, where those connections between inner and outer nature may be rejoined through observation, reflection and flights of imagining. The visual images of her daughter, Pacia Sallomi, engage her own literary images in a cross-generational conversation just as they engage our distinct hemispheres of mind, and together they make the whole, the shield.

— Tony Phillips
Professor Emeritus, Art Institute of Chicago


A unique collaboration between visual artist and poet, who are also mother and daughter, as the third voice of a poet-translator, re-figures the words, SHIELD, makes me think of HD, both in the clarity of its ceremonial and quotidian language, and in its larger vision of multiple, interpenetrating art forms.

— Marilyn Hacker
Professor of English, Translator, Poet, CUNY Graduate Center



Phyllis Stowell’s marvelous and enigmatic sequence Shield is a sustained and fluid incantation and meditation on waiting in the wake of loss. Vulnerable and stoic by turns, it wends its way like the river of the third section through the mysterious landscape conjured up by Pacia Sallomi’s artworks, two parallel investigations from close but never touch.

— John Koethe
Professor of Philosophy & Poet, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee