David Rivard

A Brief Portfolio
September 22, 2022 Rivard David

By Then


By then I was leaving,
and the deer in the meadow had stopped
paying me their mind. I was alone
as I’d always been
but twice as deep for knowing it
now. Sometimes it’s OK
you have to wander a strange house
covered only by a blanket,
itchy wool rubbing against your naked ass
and shoulders—
the coarse gray fire station blanket
given me as a child. I didn’t know
whether this was one of those
times; I mean,
I didn’t know if I was “OK.”
Shame thinks of us
in friendly terms—it sees how we are,
on the blink—it wants only
to do us the kindness
of anchoring us to the world it makes us
feel unworthy of.
I kept thinking a good cry
will take care of everything
day by day
skinnier but filled
somehow despite it all
to bursting.
Do me a favor,
I wanted to ask shame,
hold me, why don’t you?
Because at heart
it’s just that simple
maybe. I wanted to be
held, that’s all. When I say
the word “world”
I mean love of course.
When I say “then”
I mean now. Always.





It’s not lonely along the river Taunton
but it is windy with the second cousin of loneliness,
distance—at sunset
when they appear there suddenly
independent of dusk
the clouds want just as fast to sneak away—


upright is a good word
for how you might feel in that place as a child,
upright but teetering
between bouts of
freeze tag & milk room gossip.
Your parents would have told you
at one time or another to live like the coldest
of skate blades—stand on you own,
take care of yourself, stay
sharp. “Watch where you’re going,”
your mother’s constant warning.


You thought
she meant race away, little skate, hurry, hurry
but when you did, it surprised you
how hurt she was.


Hadn’t you been afraid all along
of how heartless
it might be to become an adult?


Did I mention the dream,
the one no one by the river remembers yet
of the day the terracotta soldiers
began to breathe—tall as the first
Chinese emperor, stiff at the elbows
from cold years in the tomb, nearly Rastafarian
in their stoned ferocity & leather headgear,
they were on the hunt. And then there was the girl—
it was on me to help this young girl get away.
She stood in the middle of a field of tall wheat,
balanced on one leg, chin up. A child’s way
of escaping, a wish. A cottage was offered to us, a refuge
set quietly amid the strange improbability
of all those neon signs blinking by the sea,
a boardwalk town at end of season.
But I refused the house. We stole a sailboat
from the harbor.
Do you think it possible
to forgive yourself? As a boy I’d believed
that a paper boat was immune
to gravity & water. Such a boat could not be sunk.
I could always sail it home.
Did I think that more than anything
what this girl wanted
was to be instructed by the sea?
To learn…what? Wildness?
Yes. Wildness—
which is what wonder & wiseness feel like
to the homesick.



The Clock

Life goes fast, doesn’t it?—
I mean, really
full of dopamine & dumbass shouting—
like a boxing ring at an Amvets post
on the south side, the fifth bout of
a six-fight smoker, where a club fighter
in bright red & gold silks sits between rounds
the split swollen above his right eyebrow
being stitched, a woman ringside
in dark angora hoodie
watching the needle do its work—
his girlfriend—taller than he is—
the countergirl at an auto parts store,
her nails shaped & lacquered
with coy gold crosses
neither goth nor christian—
and it is always mostly true
that she’s the one who feels herself
at the center of the picture—
her dead father is always inside her,
her mother adrift
in some elusive, far-off city or forest
20 years after ditching her husband & kid.
Above the bed this auto parts clerk slept in
as a child hung a clock
in the shape of a cat, a black & white tuxedo
whose eyes swung back & forth
as it kept time,
its attention unwavering,
the clock’s hands circling its stomach,
its curled black tail
swishing back & forth to the ticking—
a cat oddly unfazed
by all the time it had swallowed.
To think of that cat
makes her feel neat & clean even now—
it looked so
clever, so capable, & almost kindly,
almost as if it were ready
just about bursting
to wish everyone who glanced its way
good luck.



White Givenchy


A fleeting bit of
memory is better forever than hope—
if you ask me.


If you ask the dead
whether or not they can be thanked,
you tend to get a response
courteous in its dexterity, but bitter & annoying
for how it greets you once & for all
with silence;


it leaves you stuck there in the rain,
your big, bald scalloper’s head
soaked to the brim
by a sequence of disclosures, sad stains
arrived from everywhere at once—


the dead will teach their silence
to all us unbelievers—


here comes a quick salutation
from my brown-eyed carouser,
my laughing lost & found,
she who’d gone with me down to Thompkins Park
so that we could eat falafel
from a particular yellow pushcart,
(now, that was grace—
the innate care
with which she held the dripping rollup
at a distance
from her oyster silk blouse,
some sleeveless, consignment-shop Givenchy
with pearlescent buttons—
ducking her head & leaning over to bite
decisively into the soft pita).
I remember how she’d showered
and shaved 3-days worth of stubble
from her armpits
before putting on that blouse.
She hated plaids—
thought the wearers
benighted, needy…clownish
as any knob-kneed, bark-shedding scion
of a river birch
standing crooked in an empty autumn field.


I don’t say that it’s all right
to go under, but it may be the only way
through this life.





We only wanted
to be seen. The world too
wants to be looked at,
but what popped into sight
just now was evil—
a pipeline carrying crude
full of extinctions, chokeholds
and pepper spray, those
crimes against humanity
the torturers & theological
bankers have thought
up, the pro-lifers
who kill at long-distance
by drone, jailers of
children. Look at that
tho—all by itself a book
can heat a cold classroom
like a snake with
one benevolent ball of
fire in its mouth—
look at that, the world
could say but doesn’t.
That’s a huge willow
over there as well, a savior
for all its reinventions
of shade. Every cardinal
calling from a tree
assumes the world
is hard of hearing too;
the world hears whatever
it wants. Did I really say,
“a warring of the safest furs
is stouter than a gem?”
No—I said, a wavering of
the softest fern is louder
than a jet: roar of the arrived,
of the departing. The two of us
have been speaking
of someone whose
mother had lost her hearing
in the course of giving
birth to her, from then on
declining gradually
into grief & isolation.
We’re standing
across from the Oddfellows
Hall & the lampshade
shop, by the side of the road
clipping hydrangea
and Queen Anne’s lace,
chamomile. I’ll just say it
again: chamomile.

David Rivard is the author of seven books of poetry, the newest of which, Some of You Will Know, is out from Arrowsmith Press in October 2022.  His earlier books have won the PEN/New England Prize in poetry, the James Laughlin Prize from the Academy of American Poets, and the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize, and he has been a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Among his other honors are fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Civitella Ranieri Foundation. He lives on the coast of Maine.