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Patricia Clark

Italian Madonna

Sometimes Winged

Inscape, with Birdsong

Lying Down: Bone Density Test

Porch Pot

Lower Torso of Man Running

Letter from a Keeper at the Kyiv Zoo

Soldier Boy

When the Great Poet Is Gone from the Earth

Franz Marc's Blue Horses

Silhouettes: South Tacoma

Italian Madonna

On the Ohio side, we’re driving above the limit,
so the roadside weeds look like a yellow blur.

In the June sunlight, so bright I squint,
the cars around us shine metallic and hot.

Everyone we pass is in shorts, short sleeves,
shivering in a.c. but soaking up sun through glass.

They seem lost in GPS fog and maps,
or checking email, sending texts.

                                    In the Shirley Hazzard story
the lovers walk to a farmhouse through a field

in a time that seems ancient, pre-cell phone,
pre-anything digital. Tancredi touches Sophie’s

collar to straighten it—a kiss. Then she watches
his back as he walks ahead of her through poppies.

Love’s an emotion she’d left out of travel.
Finding him In Italy has been a surprise.

Now they step into a cowshed to see
an old fresco high enough they need a ladder.

Sophie goes first and Tancredi holds uprights
to steady it. She doesn’t fear falling.

It’s too late for that. It can’t end well.
There’s a wife, though she’s left him, and two

children waiting at home. The fresco’s
moldy, in disrepair, with a dark red

background and a seated figure balancing
a child on one knee. The Madonna glows

and has a ray of corn-colored hair. This
was a monastery, long abandoned, and this

the sole object left.
                                       How much better never to read,
never to imagine other lives, trying to lose oneself

in the Queen Anne’s lace and grass bending
along I-69 south, then I-23 for miles.

Around us the humidity haze of summer,
sexy weather my husband sometimes calls it,

for how we longed to remove our shoes and clothes.
but never did, especially outdoors.

                                                           It had come
to Sophie that she’d never love Tancredi more than
on that ladder, and the thought stayed with her

as she packed her bag, folding the shirt whose
collar he had touched in a poppy field.

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Sometimes Winged

I have sat here pensive in my garden,

watching the feathery tops of Japanese grass

blow and tip over, as if bowing to the west,

and I note with a sense of failure the weeds

taking over, especially motherwort, of the mint

family, leonurus cardiaca. For the heart.

Would it have kept my mother safe longer?

She’s been gone nearly twenty years and still

something’s uneasy with me, a burr in my sock,

fretting my solitude, tipping me into the dark.

It has pale lavender flowers clustered around square

stems. Grows in waste places, roadsides, disturbed

areas. If I pull all of them out, I can plant

something new, something with no memory of her,

no history. I’m thinking of the small tree called witch-hazel—

yellow flowers in fall, seeds few and sometimes winged.

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Inscape, with Birdsong

I learned the filament holding up the anther
            and how, with daylilies, it was good
                        to clip off the pollen-stuck ends—

before my white sleeve or the damask tablecloth.
            I learned the placement of tableware,
                        goblets and glasses—water, wine.

I didn’t learn the weight of crystal, the price
            of accumulation. I learned, instead,
                        to dawdle and dream, the art of

lifting myself to the noble place of green serenity
            where thought matured along with reflection.
                        The singer high up in the oak

surprised me with its melody. Not, after all,
            the oriole. A look through binoculars
                        brought a robin into view, full-

throated, rust-red breast feathers.
            Padded bench, a cold drink, respite
                        from weeding wild violets,

how specks of starts, green-heart small
            came up among gravel in the path,
                        then drifted into the grass.

I learned some lore at a time, not
            everything at once, the robin’s elegy,
                        then the Baltimore oriole, arrow-orange,

shooting past, high, secretive, into a cottonwood.

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Lying Down: Bone Density Test

The ray with its red eye made a cross-hair
            on my wrist, crawling up along
                         the long bone of my arm.

There was no pain. It didn’t touch me—just followed
            the river of my bones like a water-strider.

Then the technician asked me to climb onto
            the table, lie as still as a statue, as the eye
                        moved what I call north from my coccyx

to my neck. Have you lost any inches in height,
            the technician asked. I used to climb trees,

I tell her, towering over my little sister, the deck, until
            she grew, before the day-long gravity tugged me
                        earthward out of canopies and clouds. And has

your mother broken her hip? Questions without
            answers, answers with missing beginnings or starts.

Reader, have you ever broken a bone? Tell me the story
            of your collarbone, your metatarsus and ribs.
                        Before I realize it, we’re walking hardpacked snow

along the Grand River, stepping near a sycamore
            where I fell. Knocked my hat off. Did you hit

your head? The ground is harder than it appears,
            iron in winter. Point of impact? Anywhere I could say
                        it wasn’t an accident, surely I didn’t fall.

She places a Styrofoam block under my knees. And turn
            the left foot out. Put your toe in, put your toe out,

put your toe in and shake it all about. Let me check
            the pictures to make sure they’re clear. She has
                        no sense of humor, this Dara, but she’s good

at her job, managing the X-ray beams like a pro.
            I feel dense as a cloud, as a Lake Michigan

wave, as thick as a curl on my head, earlobe
            and wisdom teeth. Do I have any left? Do a scan—
                        I invite you: gaze into my interior like a seer.

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Porch Pot

I am the burgundy coleus with a chartreuse

edge, ruffled, growing tall. And I am also

potato vine lengthening an inch a day,

cascading down the pot. How can I also be

birch limb-lengths, three of them, grouped

together like performers? How can I be

the gray bellied pot thick as an urn?

Nothing is dying or leaving. I shower

water over the plants and where it

misses, falling on the wooden deck,

the dog laps it up. Any water tastes better

than water in her dish—she licks dew

off chives and tongues the spout that spills

into the Japanese fountain. Then she rolls

on the grass, white feet and belly wriggle

and shake. This week featured the solstice,

a turn. Next, the Fourth of July. Still,

no ash, nothing on fire, winking out or burnt.

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Lower Torso of Man Running

That’s what a bleached piece
of tree down below me

looks like—one foot way out
in front of the next, a guy

running a marathon who’s
fast and on the move.

Just his waist, lower body,
legs, long, bent at the knee,

shoeless. At night we hear sounds
from these woods,

especially in summer months
if we sit out with friends around

a fire—howls, screams, what sounds
like arguments, or fights, between two

predators—fighting for territory, combat
to see who will be eaten or sent away

wounded, bleeding. Marathon man, here,
only partly escaped but my god,

admire his fearlessness, still leaping
over deadfalls, a trail, the creek,

flashing his ankles, loping without
shoes or clothes, wind burnishing his skin.

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Letter from a Keeper at the Kyiv Zoo

All that you heard is true, our lives ripped apart

by rockets, drones, incoming missiles nearing with a

cry or screech, sending us for cover. Every container

dry here, dry as bone. And it’s just the start, how

each spigot, faucet, trough collapses. Tell me how to get

food—grain, oats, seed, mice--for animals in a war, how to

get water? Even worse, how to muffle noises, blasts.

How do we put a priority on zoo animals when

I hear on the news children, pregnant women are

jolted out of a maternity hospital? Stay with me,

kneel if you can, by one creature’s side,

look into Hector’s eyes, a 17-year-old Asian elephant, and

meet his brown gaze. It’s the aerial bombardment,

noise at night of rockets, flares burning

orange and red for hours that cause him to tremble.

Pat his velvet ear as I do, stroke his barrel side, try to

quiet his heartbeat’s fast rhythm, and

rest beside us on a blanket. Fifty of us have moved in,

secretly, with our families. We’ve vowed,

together with our director, to sleep and live here

until the war ends. Last night the sky showed

violet streaks that offered a bit of beauty.

We look up when we can, try to get food for the creatures we’ve known

X years marked on a calendar. There’s no leaving

young or old, a baby lemur just born, or gray Hector.

Zoo employees, that's us, trying to hang on. Please, send help.


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Soldier Boy

You can come to me, Robert, one last time, late morning
                        or at dusk, before I close the door, come to me
            with the sweat of your uniform, smell of cigarettes,
                        with a duffel bag, guitar case, tunes ready
            to sing to me and all the ghosts gathered near us
                                    that summer fifty years ago.
                        The words of Arlo Guthrie, Bob Dylan,
            memories of buddies you left behind, with names
                        like in the movies—Rat, Alabama, Surf.

Bring anything you’d like, photos from Vietnam,
you and buddies posing by a tank or near a tent,
bring the names of Cambodia and Saigon, names
            carrying a smell of gasoline and forest leaves, the sound
            of choppers and someone crying.

I’d like to see what you’d share, what you’d
                        hide—a photo of your home in Silver Springs,
            your father’s construction business, your mother’s
                        tired face and Susan, your only sibling.
            She holds a clutch of colored pens.

I’ll bring saltwater air from Tacoma out west,
                        beach stones from Browns Point, a madrona
            leaf and a piece of sienna crackling bark from the trunk.
                        I’ll bring a young girl’s packet of letters
            saved from her pen pal soldier, come to Fort
                        Lewis to take her to dinner.

I won’t forget how it all spun out, the sleepy
                        bear on the motel sign near U Village,
            the shadow of the 45th Street viaduct, rumble
                        of cars, the French wine you bought along
            with gold-rimmed glasses, a corkscrew.
                        I had read A Farewell to Arms, I’d never had wine.
            When you said “Marry me,” my body thrilled to yes.

I’m finally admitting the tale of my two trips
                        east, staying with you and your family.
            Soon your mother wanted our wedding guest list.
                        Nightly you talked hours on the phone,
            soft words, with another Patricia in the hospital
            having an abortion. Isn’t it time, at last,
            to come clean on what the story was?

Say again, as you did, she meant nothing.

Tell that to my cracked heart. My family had opposed you—
                        how could I say, now, they’d been right
            all along. Not to be, a wedding, children to join
                        my sisters’ kids. That spring, as Kent State headlined
            the news, students shot dead,  I could finally
                        bend and wail. My college freshman year.

Come toward me with your slick email years later,
            “When I say love, I mean forever.” This
                        is my garden, another self of mine you’ve
            never imagined or known: cosmos, zinnia, feathery
                        astilbe in spires of red. How could I be lured
            into believing you again? It beggars
                        my mind. From my bedroom window I hear
            around 4 a.m. a train whistle heading
                        out of town, engine tugging memory-slow.

Many a summer night here finds us seated under oaks
                        by a fire, my husband, me, a handful
            of friends. Once it’s lit, we keep it burning as long
                        as we can, someone getting up, each time, to turn
a log or poke at coals. If we tell stories, woodsmoke wreathing us,
            they’re often for laughs, never about lost moments
                        in a buried past. None of these folks
            know your name, count on it, and Vietnam’s
                        an ancient war, also lost.

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When the Great Poet Is Gone from the Earth

                                                for Stanley Plumly

Of course this world went on, and the election
was won but then there was trouble, a wild
insurrection, of which I imagine he’d have been upset.
And I learned that the singer in our trees
is named the great crested flycatcher, with moves
in the tall oaks exactly like the bird guide
describes, but more of a yeep than a song.
Now the season ended in leaf-fall,
blazing, as it always does, so much mowing,
then the green tractor stowed until spring.

When the great poet is gone you work
to remember his words, not coming up
with many, “Hey, kiddo!” are two words.
Blowing across the mouth of a bottle, moo,
words from a poem. And the city painted bike
lanes and the corner power boxes in wild
colorful graphics. They started mapping
the canopy, asking for citizen input.
Sales of his books didn’t go up.

At the AWP conference where he was missed
by some, the young couldn’t come up
with his name, and we strolled the book
exhibit endlessly, hoping to catch him
or a glimpse of his magnificent hair,
and at breakfast he was still absent,
never there in his cashmere jacket or greeting
old students or older lovers. His handwriting
didn’t come in the mail though I uncovered
an old postcard, a few words still illegible.
Signed love, signed with a row of Xs.

When we part from someone we might not
see again, knowing he was ill, our words
are forgotten as usual, and one can only hope
we said, “I love you” terrible if not,
and also thank you. For his kindness, for sweet
inspiration. And there’s a sense of a void,
an empty space though he was far off, a state
I couldn’t visit, address I never saw,
in a neighborhood, leafy, where the great
poet is no longer walking the earth.

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Franz Marc's Blue Horses

We saw them in fields on the way to Ontario,
rounded rumps, bent necks, noting how
their plush bodies clustered together in a corner
of the pasture as though for shelter, as though
for warmth. Driving east as we did, across
county lines, across a border to another
country, we could imagine the need. And then
we disappointed ourselves, rolling apart, feeling
too warm in the hotel’s airy white bedding.
The horses seemed content without boundaries,
almost like sea creatures blurring together.
They stood against red, which looked to be
vegetation, staghorn sumac with its velvety red
horns. And the seasons were changing, almost
as we watched. That brought out the poignancy
of loss and later we got lost, fitting for the journey
home. We came, stunned, to the St. Claire River,
and a ferry waiting, eight minutes to cross.
A sign called these first-nation lands, a story
outlining thefts and expulsion, resources wasted,
given back when steelhead and northern pike
were gone. How could we have missed Port Huron
by forty-five miles? We rode the ferry across near
Walpole Island where docks along the waterfront
showed boats tied up like horses in stalls.
The border guard was cross with us, welcoming us
back to our country. Was it that we’d gone
on a lark, to see plays? One man’s joy
is another man’s annoyance. The sight of horses
in vena cava blue like the veins that empty
into the heart match the way this river flows between
Lake Huron and Lake Erie. The Great Lakes
themselves resting, held in by dunes, separate
bodies unable to touch—like us, before our need became
palpable, sensing fewer days ahead where we could
find transport out of ourselves, till we burst those
bounds, left winded, mended, rocked,
at least for now.

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Silhouettes: South Tacoma

Memory’s window shattered and there he was,
Mr. Lampe, shuffling his way across the alley
between our Oakes Street house and his own,
he’s picking wild blackberries, his back bent. One of us
had hurried to his door for help—a swarm of bees!
How out of nowhere the buzzing gold-brown mass
hung in the rose of Sharon bush pulsing.
Then Mr. Lampe came walking in his bee suit,
spectre-white. Huge gloves, cuffs swallowing
the ends of his sleeves and a matching hood
with a long brim covering his neck, a window of mesh
to peer through. Without hesitation or fear he reached in
and plucked out the queen like a precious gem.
The bees all followed him, then, back across the yard.

K. used to tell me that’s when our family split in half,
the 1965 move. South Tacoma vanished, the library branch,
too, and the bulletin board where rocketships carried
our names, summer reading club, mine up at the top,
South Tacoma Way disappeared, too, and Woolworth’s
where we spent our warm coins, and vanished
the B&I store where the carousel sang and turned,
near the silver-backed gorilla named Ivan, captive.
Now we became a saltwater family, studying
tide pools, fond of seaweed, neap tides, walking the white line
of Browns Point Boulevard nights I escaped out my window
to meet friends. Figures of those lost neighbors glimpsed
under madronas—or in dreams: kind Mr. Lampe, the Torbas,
the Guenthers, Christoffersons, Hammerstroms (Astrid, Siggy & Bert),
and the poor Hamiltons, their son Alex found hanging from a rope.

Gone, all gone, yet remembered, revered.


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Patricia Clark is the author of six volumes of poetry, including Sunday Rising, The Canopy and most recently Self Portrait with a Million Dollars. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, Gettysburg Review, Poetry, Plume, and Slate, among others. Patricia’s many awards include a Creative Artist Grant in Michigan, the Mississippi Review Prize, the Gwendolyn Brooks Prize, and co-winner of the Lucille Medwick Prize from the Poetry Society of America. The Canopy received the Poetry Society of Virginia's book award for 2018. Self-Portrait with a Million Dollars received an honorable mention in the Poetry by the Sea book award for 2021. From 2005 to 2007 she served as the poet laureate of Grand Rapids, Michigan. For many years, she was Poet-in-Residence and Professor in the Department of Writing at Grand Valley State University. In January 2025, Patricia’s seventh book O Lucky Day will be out from Madville Publishing. She’ll be giving an offsite reading at AWP in Los Angeles in March 2025.

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