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02-09-2016

George David Clark 

 

Jellyfish

The dark sea dreams them. 
They are the inexchangeable 
currency of dreams,

 

the interest the other world 
pays and pays into this one.
In the pre-dawn blue

 

they seem hewn out 
from the littoral like great
waterlogged diamonds,

 

an interior gleam.
Who speaks for them
speaks for the secret

 

side of the womb,
for they are the long-tasseled 
death-bonnets of children

 

we conceive but never
bring to term. And so we love
and jointly curse them.

 

It is impossible now
to tell if they reach for us 
or we for them, so strange

 

is their volatile gravity. 
They are sisters
to the moon then, and pulse

 

in her wake, a curdled
blooming of echoes 
as she too is an echo.

 

But in the fluorescent pink 
and green pockets 
of their bodies, softer

 

than night, they're smuggling
rumors of suns we fail
to imagine. They hold

 

whole oceans above 
their umbrellas. Tell me, 
friend, is there an end

 

to revelation? The poison 
flowers blossom inside us 
like Rorschachs

 

we might believe in. 
Evening and thunderheads 
in the austral sky,

 

the jellyfish tides, 
an exhibition of lightnings
and scaled-down Hiroshimas:

 

if they proceed 
like messengers, 
another breed of angel,

 

then it falls on us to hear 
and heed them, 
their cold medusa-bells

 

resounding, calling us 
back through the black 
sand of sleep.

White Noise

The sound of the self, or the self's deletion?

 

Like wind tossing leaves of aluminum foil,

 

Sun-babble cooling in swirls of moon dust.

 

A sterilized music, a soothing unreason.

 

*

 

An atomized god, or a god's accretion?

 

The mind's swimming laps in Styrofoam peanuts,

 

In the latest decrees from the caucus of cretins.

 

Like birdsong in nightmare. The boiling of seas.

 

*

 

That sandpaper rasping of grief on grief:

 

Lobotomy's soundtrack, the curdle of semen.

 

We've amplified fog and made audible bleach.

 

The sound of our names in the dialect of demons.

 

Whatever Burn This Be

he had first a little cold so began to cough
then could not stop coughing could not
even at night willing the throat relaxed
while his wife sought rest beside him stop

as though there were a magician and this act 
called for him to draw a chain of brightly- 
colored handkerchiefs from out a humbled gullet 
the itch of it the steady need in waves

 

to cough and somehow the handkerchiefs 
continuing long after any ordinary feint
had been completed at the clinics coughing yet
while doctors snaked their special cameras

 

through his nose and raw esophagus
that high-tech scrutiny for polyps finding none 
no profit from the chest exams 
ditto prescription salves inhalers steroids weeks

 

and months of treatments with referrals each
to new physicians likewise confident
and ineffectual until what had seemed
some misdirection of contagion

 

then resembled more a sorcery of coughing
a kind of violent miracle and under
escalating cost and wrack of spasm
he commenced then dubiously begging

 

that a god he didn't half-believe existed 
would touch with healing hand this throat 
where the whole world's droughts were local
extinguish now whatever unslaked burn this be

 

he rasped his pleas aloud would sleep 
and dream of coughing wake to coughing 
and in hours closed to anything but thought 
and coughing he imagined himself

 

magistrate among the scalded throats 
of Mexico the boys expectorating fire 
for tourists till the inevitable night 
that flash they spit they swallow

 

too he dwelt on Colombian neckties
desecrations whereby throats are opened
and the tongue jerked down jerked 
throbbing forth to dry like suffering's ascot

 

would think romantically of a torturer's
garrote the metal coolness on an Adam's apple 
even as the victim choked and more 
cruel still he dreamed himself

 

hauled out on stage by this magician-sadist 
his body locked from the neck down 
in a rough wood box while whetted coughs 
like saw blades slit and split him

 

who he wondered watched this
from the soundless gallery he couldn't see
for heaven clearly to his slow sere prayers 
was silent just as he foreknew it would be

 

and further-yet despairing then
he entertained the staid analysis 
of certain liquid suicides a meditation
on the image of a man relaxing poolside

 

in the ruthless prime of summer 
sweating glass of antifreeze beside him
or the slow black drip of motor oil 
into the grinding cog-works of his chassis

 

saw such tonics more like spells 
or counter-curses by which he might pit 
cough vs industry and all the best 
combustion human beings have devised

 

he spit goddamn and now he meant it 
O could not stop this ceaseless Santa Ana 
within his precious windpipe chambered 
so he coughed and cursed

 

gave in to coughing lavished 
in that millisecond fraction of relief inside 
each cough like thimble-shots of nectar 
in a cactus coughed though surely each balm

 

broke on deeper coughing no longer spoke 
but croaked or hissed poor throat scoured 
throat blistered flayed excoriated throat 
and still in addition to prescription-everything

 

tried homemade syrups tried honey tried 
lemon-rose-holy-spring-and-salt water 
a couple times counter-intuitive bouts 
of better whiskies tried tequila with chilled

 

V-8 chasers tried to sandblast the throat 
and start again from nothing always bags 
of mentholated lozenges always ice-cold 
carbonated anything and yet the constant

 

curdle of his larynx such that finally knee-wise 
bent again for supplication half-swearing 
half-whispering like carnal secrets his appeals 
for simple peace to pain itself

 

mindlessly whimpering there for draught 
of anything to ease this long red rash 
of perfect coughing then 
then like someone finally told the story

 

of a scar they'd worn since infancy
his cough seemed simultaneously more 
and less a myth and he began suspecting 
as his thoughts turned odd he might at last

 

be hearing a reply that if transcendent coughs 
like his existed so must god a god
much stranger than he'd guessed that maybe 
angled properly the noise he made

 

this ultimate ugliness could strike the ears 
of paradise in a way no prayer could hope to 
that to soothe a genius cough like his 
he might start thinking like a throat

 

an instrument of coughing he might 
become a smarter kind of cough 
productive of something curiously beautiful 
ordained a consecrated cougher who

 

by saint-like coughing harder with more pure 
hurt behind it might cough up the cure 
for something cough precious stones or cough 
a beam of whole white light cough out

 

the worst parts of himself until he was 
another man entirely revival fire 
and brimstone coughing gospel coughing 
on a stage to wild amens coughing to end

 

wars and famines and coughing too to call
the necessary rain lakes of it cataracts 
and pearly Caribbeans of deluge coursing 
blessedly the cool blue throat of an evening sky

 

could a new cough clean him 
could he be sanctified by long apocalyptic 
coughing would hurt men come to him
asking meekly that he please cough for them

 

cough please over them so god might 
through him hear their own hidden 
and inarticulate hackings voiced the way 
they felt them that the lord might disburse

 

his mercy please sir cough they'd softly say 
and moved he would in thick bellowing fits 
of messianic coughing cough for them 
cough kindly over them throw back his head

 

and let go coughs like a magician's
plump white doves an endless stream in flight 
toward heaven that cracked and ragged 
blessing through his crimson throat forever

                                -from Reveille: Poems

BIO: George David Clark was born in Savannah and raised in Chattanooga and Little Rock. He now lives in Washington, PA with his wife, Elisabeth, and their three young children.

The author of Reveille (winner of the Miller Williams Poetry Prize from the University of Arkansas Press), David’s recent poems can be found or are forthcoming in AGNI, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Believer, Blackbird, CincinnatiReview, The Gettysburg Review, Southwest Review, Yale Review, and elsewhere. Earlier work appears reprinted at Verse Daily, Poetry Daily, and in a variety of anthologies and special series.

After earning an MFA at the University of Virginia and a PhD at Texas Tech University, David held the Olive B. O’Connor Fellowship in Poetry at Colgate University and, later, the Lilly Postdoctoral Fellowship at Valparaiso University.  He’s received additional honors from Southern Poetry Review (the Guy Owen Prize), Narrative Magazine (the 30 Below Prize), and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference (a Walter E. Dakin fellowship), among others. The current editor-in-chief of 32 Poems, he previously served in various capacities on the staffs of Meridian, Virginia Quarterly Review, Iron Horse Literary Magazine, and the Best New Poets anthology. David now teaches creative writing and literature as an assistant professor at Washington & Jefferson College.