ELEGY FOR WILMA
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.
IT WAS RAINING IN MIDDLEBURG
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.
for the Olentangy River
stone for your knife stream
Down from Michigan
pass the mosque gleaming white
in northern Ohio
cross over the Mad River
no variant names
pass by cornfield
Do not think Italy
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—
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
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
The pull in different
early learned competition
hard to trust others
brother and sister love
sister to sister 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
I slept secure that night
in my own reasoning
Was I annihilating my sister?
I sprayed the poison
and slept without dreaming
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,
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
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
And Indian Mary, the last time
I see the campground still
Chris showed me the photo
after the funeral—
Father had already been gone
Mother in sunlight, eyes closed,
Her face glowed
radiant, already heading
to another place
Rivers, creeks, small
The headwaters from which
they all come
water will find
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
Olentangy, the healing source
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,
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.