Patricia Clark: Three Poems




Along the river in November, thin red canes bend,

bramble of some berry I can’t identify.


Dark brown pods, half a finger’s length,

burst open to show white filaments,


each carrying a nugget at its tip, frail cargo,

half of them gone on the wind.


I notice how each plant finishes the year,

milkweed, motherwort, everlasting pea.


My friend gone on a journey south, down through

Ohio fields, to comfort her twin sister must sit,


by now, at her deathbed, touching warm skin

of a hand that matches her own, halves


of a split egg some seventy years ago—

as the room fills with music, light,


then grays, thickening, only to drain of dark,

come dawn, then starting the cycle again.


Can the native plants along the river, grasses too,

daylilies, tell us anything of foreboding?


When the northeast wind blows, skidding across water,

they bend, and papery capsules crack, quite


predictably, along the seams, rattled seeds

spilling to earth, not knowing the harder part


of winter’s coming. They ready for it as they can,

with dispersal, needing no word for it.






Sideways wind. Sheets of rain. A taxi, lights on.

I struggled out from the station to climb in. The Dutch

sailed by hatless, gloveless, on two wheels, cheeks ruddy.

Stan, there are bicycles everywhere, handlebar bells.

            And people do not wear helmets, reflective gear.

I will call you from the old Latin School. My bed

            there is narrow and wears a green coverlet.

There is a common room. Yogurt and eggs.

Just what you’d hope: a market square nearby

            with flowers, outside tables, umbrellas.

Love walks around, smiling. I have my own two-wheeler,

            a girl’s, blue, with a lock, and saddlebags.

I am far and miss you sometimes—also eager to ride

            to Vlissingen or Veere for lunch.

Windowboxes. Windows decorated with lace. And objects.

            Doors painted bright yellow or green.

A belief in the primary. Stone buildings. A canal.

And people waiting in line when the drawbridge

            rises. Right of way for bicycles.

Good spirits though not yet spring. Flowers about

            to blossom—ones growing from bulbs,

those nuggets gathering power underground:

bluebells, hyacinth, iris, narcissus, snowdrops, tulips.







Variant names

for the Olentangy River


stone for your knife stream



whetstone creek

whetstone river

whitestone creek



Down from Michigan

pass the mosque gleaming white

and gold

in northern Ohio


cross over the Mad River

no variant names


pass by cornfield



Do not think Italy

but bean

when you say Lima



Delaware State Park Reservoir built

the year I was born


Did any of us care

about Ohio then?


Washington State beaches rocking us,

tidal, with seawater—


And when did your sister arrive?



We cut up onions, green



made do with tomatoes

canned, Marzano ones from volcanic

soil of Italy—

crushed them

took out bags

of frozen corn kernels

blanched, cut off

cobs in late summer

now plump still


Even in winter the thick

corn-veggie soup fragrant


when we walked back from

Mulick Park, sledding


orange disk sliding

matching the full moon


dog’s tail tipped white




last good memory



The Olentangy provides

drinking water for Delaware County


mouth dry these many

months, lips dry, parched


unable to take a sip



Shale to make your knife



all the better to cut

you with, my dear


names mistaken

olentangy really means


river of the red face paint



What does marriage mean

if not a new



Does she cleave to him?


Maybe you are jealous,

maybe the bars on the windows,

the double locked doors,

maybe the twin dogs

named, adored, make you



I only desire

her happiness.





The pull in different



early learned competition

hard to trust others


brother and sister love

sister to sister love

mother love

husband love


when our parents die

ground shifts underfoot



Down into Ohio, early October



when light leaves the fields

dark green, green


then a space between the rows

of corn where a person could


slip in and disappear



My sister became a Buddhist

kneeling on the black pillow

in postures of meditation



a holy shrine

visits to hear

the Dalai Lama speak


Why did I make jokes about her

not wanting to kill anything?


Staying over, alone, those many years ago

at her Seattle apartment

fleas feasted all night long

on my ankles, wrists


I bought a can of Raid,

spraying it in bursts

of cloud


I slept secure that night

in my own reasoning


Was I annihilating my sister?

I sprayed the poison

and slept without dreaming



Whitestone creek

Olentangy sharpening knives


And the only white stones

for miles around are graves


Shining white in August’s dark

with crosses, symbols, etched names


gathering rainwater, moss



That time of the fleas

was twenty years ago, in another state


and my sister Christina never knew


First marriages gone, then,

for both of us


Both finding home, the Midwest,

finding our way with new men,

no babies


far from our birth homes

far from our family



How our mother would say, watch out:

I’m on the warpath today


My method was to move

far away, counting the states

between us



Growing up, we possessed rivers, multitudes,

among many children, lively in tents and rooms


Puyallup River near our house

fishing near Commencement Bay


The Satsop River all carefree

summer, floating


And Indian Mary, the last time



I see the campground still



Chris showed me the photo

after the funeral—


Father had already been gone

seven years


Mother in sunlight, eyes closed,

face lifted


Her face glowed

radiant, already heading


to another place



Rivers, creeks, small



The headwaters from which

they all come


water will find

a way,

seek a low spot



If you’re finished with gallivanting

around, Mother would say,


If you could take off your glad

rags and get to work—



If we could live in peace

bury the hatchet


sharpen knives and then

slice bread and not each other


If the spell could send

the wicked witch into the forest





For eleven years I watched

one broken tree


that may or may not mark

a boundary of our land


rumor said, struck by lightning


There is not one mark

to prove it


I am noting

its disintegration



Olentangy, the healing source

water brings


people picking up cans, plastic bottles,

trash, rusted oil cans


Water once again riffling,

clear and sweet


Two sisters wading in the water,

feet white as stones


shining through water

And a legend begins,

Midwestern tales of hardwood forests,

yearly renewal


And sometimes the bedrock


chert, Chilton, flint


will not allow roots to dig down


on the Maine coast, firs grow forty or fifty feet tall,

on Orr’s Island,

liable to tipping


topsoil thin, they barely hold on


Begin a new legend, if you can--



When Father was dying

(only seventy three years old),

he said no regrets at all


His favorite brother Earl had died

overseas, a jeep accident during World War II


The only thing, he would say,

I wish I’d had a sister.



Patricia Clark is Poet-in-Residence and Professor in the Department of Writing at Grand Valley State University. Author of three volumes of poetry, her newest book is She Walks into the Sea. Another collection, Sunday Rising, is forthcoming from Michigan State University Press in 2013. She has also published a poetry chapbook, Given the Trees, and co-edited Worlds in Our Words: An Anthology of Contemporary American Women Writers. Clark’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 has been honored as second-prize winner in the 2005 Pablo Neruda/Nimrod International Journal Poetry competition. Clark's poems have appeared in Atlantic Monthly, Poetry, Slate, Stand, Gettysburg Review, and many other literary magazines.