Poetry Sunday: “The Way Back,” by Francine Sterle



The Way Back


A syrupy rope of honeysuckle


indecently over my head


without    a hidden    shadow

So naked a moment––then

ragged scraps of clouds

a leaf-streaked street

 the sky knitted with stars


Not the end

but ending

The moon officiates . . .

How long it’s taken to find a way back

Between near and far––



it’s been a riddle

traversed in the dark



After the cave tunnel

the yawning        unseen chasm

after the space

fracture cleared inside of me

the forbidden terrain        the uncharted center

after the linear path

the circular pattern

after the grim, private ritual of death

the compass broken        the needle static

after the rhythmic order of it all

after grief became a bird    thieving the air

dropping its seed        so that the tree would thrive

after all of this        after seeing the crescent moon

formed by the bull’s horns before me

when another door opened

how willingly I walked through it


First published in the Taos Journal of International Poetry & Art and reprinted here by permission of the author.


Francine Sterle holds an MFA degree in poetry from Warren Wilson College and studied writing in a variety of settings, including Oxford University and the Spoleto Writers’ Workshop.  She has received a dozen Pushcart Prize nominations; a Loft-McKnight Foundation Award; a Jerome Foundation Travel and Study Grant; a Lake Superior Contemporary Writers Award; residencies at the Anderson Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, the Leighton Studios at the Banff Centre for the Arts, and the Blacklock Nature Sanctuary; a Career Initiative Grant from the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council; and a Fellowship Grant and a Career Opportunity Grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board.  Her poems have been published widely in such literary journals as Poetry International, North American Review, Ploughshares, Nimrod, CutBank, Great River Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, and Atlanta Review and are anthologized in To Sing Along the Way: Minnesota Women Poets from Pre-Territorial Days to the Present, 33 Minnesota Poets, and The Cancer Poetry Project. Her poetry collections include The White Bridge (Poetry Harbor 1999), Every Bird is One Bird (Editor’s Prize, Tupelo Press 2001), Nude in Winter (Tupelo Press 2006), and What Thread? (David Martinson-Meadowhawk Prize, Red Dragonfly Press 2015)—which can be ordered here.



Poet’s Note

“The Way Back” is the culminating poem in What Thread?, a book about grief and loss which uses the classical labyrinth as its metaphoric center.  The poem started as did every poem in this book with the assumption that what I was going through was not outside the reach of language and that by embracing my loss, I would eventually heal and regain my belief in the resilience of the human spirit. The poem is divided into two sections, the first of which is languidly paced in order to convey the laborious ending to this journey and is followed by a section which speeds up as the speaker nears the center of the labyrinth.  My intention was to capture the varying landscapes of the psyche’s deep interior and to embrace this passage through the labyrinth as the crucible of self-transcendence and emotional resurrection.

Join the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Stephen Granzyk July 30, 2017 at 12:39 am

    I so appreciate both Francine’s explanatory note and Ms. Cohen’s analysis. I will return to What Thread? and appreciate it more fully because of this posting. Thank you!

  • Marianne Sippel July 19, 2017 at 12:11 am

    Absolutely beautiful. I’ve been writing poetry for 50 years, this is exquisite writing. Thank you, Francine. OMG remarkable.

  • Janne Aubrey July 17, 2017 at 4:59 pm

    Love the structure of this poem! I also love the photograph and have noticed most of the images on this site come without any acknowledgement of the creator of the image. As a photographer, I am missing this information. I’m guessing you obtain the images via a stock service? Generally love the images selected as well, so someone is doing a great job making the choices. They enhance the writing. Hope you can find your way to giving credit to the maker of the images soon!