Tell Me Again Why Western State Hospital for the Criminally Insane Should Not Frighten Me
I remember the dappled grounds below huge oaks,
bricked walkways making herringbone patterns,
our field trip group falling silent climbing down
from the bus, feeling a chill, I remember bars
on the windows, hands gripping black bars,
a far-off screaming, a shrill voice—
eyes hooded and a mouth wobbly, drooling, wet—
a bony hand, a clasp, a clutch,
a “take me home” repeated, urgently again—
I remember smells of urine, dust, skin without soap or love,
antiseptic and cement floors,
I remember an auditorium talk, an official in a suit
whose voice purred to reassure—“do not be afraid,”
but too late, too late—
And I remember trying to lift a spoon in the lunchroom,
cracking open my lips, sipping tomato soup without a slurp
but I could not swallow, could not stop staring—
feet shuffling in, ghostly forms wearing gowns,
pale shadows of people, the chosen, the marked ones,
the crazy, the sinful who must be punished, forever and ever,
amen, said the nun.
When I had no friend I made
friends of the clover, the deer.
When I had no sunlight I took
light banking off a wall as my warmth.
When I had no rest, I took
insomnia as a pillow, grief a pill.
When I had no dreams, I courted
the nightmares of oaks, thrashing.
When I had no sister, I rode
the ferry to Seattle calling her name.
When she blew by, I saw red
hair flashing, “Get away!”
When I sat in the temple, the stone
roared. When I sought the man’s grave,
I took to the road, another coastline city.
I found it near a dumpster.
When the view of the bay was blocked
I climbed to the rooftops–.
When I saw the island moving away
I stood with my ankles in irons.
Where rain stops, light begins—
Open your hands, see what is cupped there.
Poem Ending with a Line from Transtromer
First a drumming—fast, pulse, with urgent beats.
A running, rushing off at roof-edge, down—
then the tempo slowing, scattered beats, soft.
Birdsong from American robins, our
elegists. Not dusk, this leaf-dusk shimmers,
shines with rain smeared light, sky opalescent.
Slanted tin roof reverberates with each
struck drop—musical threnody of day.
Beautiful slag of experiences.
Ghosts That Need Consoling
There’s a black smear, low on the door-glass,
as though something tried to enter here overnight,
this place of books and a desk, my workplace.
Not a paw print exactly but an oily three inch smudge
with particles visible—stomach contents or shit
the only two options, I think. Five panes
in the door, narrow, from top of the door
to its base, where I step in from blue schist,
a wedge shaped slab that comes to an arrow point.
I’m the arrow, riding the red horse, tail out,
and me without saddle, bridle, reins—
arms out, too, like a warrior on the fly.
If there are bears nearby, as I believe,
maybe there’s a way to learn their lore, a path
through dark woods by scent, feel, or a star.
There’s an orange leaf down below on green—
glowing like a starfish on a piling in the sea.
I’m going there, no one can stop me—lost,
I’ll find a bear or steer my way by dead
reckoning. Something needs settling, clearing
up, consoling—I told you something wailed
in the woods at night. It’s what wants in.
Wreath for the Red Admiral
A ragged morning with a tattered wing like the red admiral yesterday’s breeze carried into the back garden
up from the ravine, up from a sheltered spot it had found in sunlight where it was contemplating warmth by basking in it.
The season two weeks ahead of itself, farmers worried about the cherry crop—in orchards, they speak like painters, “pink too early.”
How we waited all winter for sun, warmth, to return, as hungry for it as we were for meat, for bread, for each other—
Common here, not migrating as far as the monarch, the red admiral emerges any time of year— from a tree-high burrow hole, borrowed,
or from an inch thick space under cottonwood bark. Admire its black wings edged with red-orange bands— white scallops on the tips.
I want to learn, living, how to be ragged on the wing before another, loving the sun in each fiber and cell, not hiding where it’s torn.
Patricia Clark is Poet-in-Residence and Professor in the Department of Writing at Grand Valley State University. Author of three volumes of poetry, Patricia’s newest book is She Walks into the Sea; she has also published a poetry chapbook, Given the Trees, and co-edited Worlds in Our Words: An Anthology of Contemporary American Women Writers. Patricia’s work has been featured on Poetry Daily and Verse Daily; she has won the Gwendolyn Brooks Prize twice, Mississippi Review’s Poetry Prize; and been honored as 2nd prize winner in the 2005 Pablo Neruda/Nimrod International Journal Poetry competition. Her poems have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Poetry, Slate, Stand, The Gettysburg Review, and many other literary magazines.
Patricia Clark at The Atlantic
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