Seven Poems by Kelly Rowe
from Beyond the Archipelago

Head Note: The manuscript from which these poems are taken is set in Finland, a small country that borders the Baltic Sea on one side and Russia on the other. It begins with the year my family spent there in 1962 and ends with my latest return in 2020. It blends imagery from Lapland and the Finnish archipelago with Finnish mythology and Finland’s history, particularly the Winter and Continuation Wars with the Soviet Union. More broadly, the manuscript is about travel, not just tourism and migration but also those journeys we take through war, through history, through illness, and—in the case of these seven poems—through a marriage.   — KR

You Say You’ve Never Traveled?
An Encounter | Arctic | Louhi * | Advent
The Glass Factory | My Mother’s Ghost

You Say You’ve Never Traveled?

Are you married? Then you have 
left home, crossed 
the heavily guarded border, 

boarded a narrow gauge train 
that wound through gorges,
up mountain passes. Remember 

when you leaned out the window?
Snowy vistas pressed 
the breath from your body.

If you’re married you’ve lived 
in a foreign country 
with made-up laws, 

a country that can descend 
into chaos, hunger, rioting, 
the pretender dragged from the palace, 

left bleeding in the empty square.
In the stillness that follows, 
you descend with heavy bags 

onto an empty platform. 
Whoever was waiting, 
stamping feet in the cold, has left. 

On the parallel track a heavy snow 
pulls in to the station, 
sighs, shudders, falls silent.

No conductor beckons; 
No squeals hush clang
of an opening door.

But you step forward,
nothing to lose, 
ready to board.

An Encounter

A winter afternoon, my mother out walking, paused
on the bridge to watch the river
breaking through the ice, flowing out to sea.

A man approached her, a stranger, 
fine featured, in a cashmere coat, 
polished boots and bear-fur hat.

He bowed, spoke; she smiled, frowned, 
shook her head. Innocent of his
language, she only knew Thank you and no.

After some time, with gestures, he made 
his invitation and refused, bowed stiffly, 
walked away. She smiled, wondering if he, after 

folding his trousers across the straight 
back of a chair, would have bowed,
ushering her toward a narrow white bed.

How different, her own husband! How he, 
with wedding permission, tore her open, 
like a rough child searching 

a stocking full of treasure,
reaching, gasping finally grasping 
the blood orange at the very bottom. 

And how the sun rose, burst
out to meet him: 
perfect wordless light.


Then the minstrel, Lemminkäinen, *
Roamed throughout the island-hamlets,…
Wheresoe’er he turned his footsteps,
There appeared a maid to greet him…
                    Kalevala, Rune XXIX, 
                    The Isle of Refuge

The woman sits silent
as the child slurps chocolate; 
it was her fault 
they turned back, 
she was little, got cold, 

the group went on, the husband pushing off 
quickly down the hill. 
By now they must have reached 
the hut, on a far finger 
of the frozen lake

where the student 
with the golden hair 
stands before the stove, 
slowly removing her 
red hat; a shock—sparks rise.   

Heading back, darkness falls; 
along the edge of the lake 
the trail home through the woods 
is hard to find. But the red hat 
is a lantern, dancing 

along the edge 
of the lake. It turns, rises, 
leads the husband 
into an opening 
between two slender birches. 

And the woman can do nothing
but wait, and gaze 
with placid hatred 
at the smear of chocolate 
on her child’s face. 

* Lemminkäinen is one of the heroes of the Finnish myths contained in the Kalevala. He is usually depicted as young and good-looking but ruthless and war-loving, attractive to women but faithless.

Louhi *

A witch, of course, but not 
haggard, no winter apple. 
Lucious in her skin 

as you were 
in your wedding picture,
as your daughter will become.

Watch out for your husband
rocking on his heels at the door 
of the fairytale hut. 

Wave him off, smiling, and take 
your last look at a clear blue sky, 
where an eagle is stealing the sun. 

She’ll hide it in a bucket 
deep in her cave, she’ll use it
to rinse her white gold hair. 

Stop your ears; don’t listen to her ballad—
oh lah lah, splash splash ha ha
she bathes in the moon’s milky tears. 

It’s late, dark. Look up at the stars, 
jagged teeth of a fishing blade.
She has sawn heaven open as easily 

as if it were a frozen lake, where anyone 
might drop a barbed hook, 
keep or throw back what they catch.

* In the Kalevala, Louhi is a powerful witch, ruler of the northland, or Pohjola. She has the ability to change herself into an eagle.


Ski trip over, they waded out;
snow blocked the road through 
the birch woods they had loved.

Was it just a week ago they had vowed 
they could live together, forever, 
in a little hut, buried to the eaves in snow?

The woman was silent; 
the daytime moon 
kept its own council.

Back in the city, he was a husband, 
wept, begged forgiveness, 
thrust his head into her lap. 

Now she understood 
that there are hopeless seasons, 
how even Mary, her belly heavy, 

soon to mount a donkey, 
might have wondered how 
she could have come to such a place, 

fervently wished that she had hidden 
when she first heard the beating, 
like harsh breathing, of an angel’s wings.

The Glass Factory

Nutajärvi, Finland *
My mother never learned to say anything 
but kiitos. Still, she understood in a way 

my father couldn’t the quietude
of Finnish glass.

Alone, she walked by the river, 
Alone she stopped in the factory 

and saw them stoke the coals. 
From the shadows she watched 

as they began with a world 
that had been crushed to sand, 

and blew until a door took shape, 
until she could walk right through 

the red midsummer into a meadow
where she was a child again

in a blue dress, climbing a tree, 
in one hand a pickle jar

alive with lightning bugs.
At the top, in the falling dark, 

she pulled off the lid; 
stars cartwheeled around her head. 

* Nutajärvi is a river town in Finland and the home of its oldest glass factory, founded in 1793. The factory became a major design center for art glass after the Second World War.

My Mother’s Ghost

Married women, far too many,
are like dogs enchained in kennel…
                    Kalevala, Rune VIII, 
                    The Maiden of the Rainbow

I saw you in the market square today,
tripping over the cobblestones 
on slender heels, bumping a suitcase 
up the steps of a tram.  

A heavy bag; I know you 
wished you could have left it 
in the city center; 
I remember sitting with you 

on a bench as you rested there, 
not speaking,
a fiery autumn reflected 
in the quiet river. 

Barges passed, headed out 
to open water, and looking up, 
you must have seen the stone cathedral, 
its shadow cast in the square.

I heard you sigh, and waited, 
silent, very still, so small 
a prayer, but enough; you 
were a mother, you stayed with us.

After all, what do we have 
but what we wake from— 
the heaviness 
of what we once believed

we lived for, adorned 
with the bright stickers
of foreign countries 
we still visit in our dreams?

Kelly Rowe’s full-length collection, Rise Above the River, won the 2021 Able Muse Book Award and was released in October 2023. She is also the author of two chapbooks, Child Bed Fever (Seven Kitchens Press, 2022) and Flying South on the Back of a Dove (Texas Review Press, 2019), and has published poems in journals including 32 Poems, New Ohio Review, Iowa Review, North American Review, Salamander, Virginia Quarterly Review, Poetry Northwest, and Massachusetts Review. Rowe is a graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop who lives in Flagstaff, Arizona, where she works as a volunteer immigration attorney.

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