Patricia Clark

Oxygen & Waking to 1939, I Study Those Standing
May 25, 2021 Clark Patricia



I’m sorry my mother got a blood clot in her lung
and couldn’t go with me to Italy,
and I’m sorry I never went fly fishing with my father—
the fly rod he gave me gathers dust.
It turns out she never got to use her passport,
no stamp for Italy or Greece.
The steelhead I might have caught
with my father’s instructions still lie
silver on the pebbly riverbed of the Satsop
or the Stillaguamish.
I’m sorry about the dams, how they prevent
the return of fish to spawn.
And the owls nesting out there in the Olympic
Forest: I regret the grand trees
felled for home construction. I would protect
the rain forest and owl habitat.
I’m sorry I’m bossy and can’t sit
still. You might have it right:
sit and meditate. If I’ve hurt you,
I’m sorry. In my seventieth year,
I vow to lounge a bit more, to loaf
and to ponder.
I wanted to tell you that fear of death
poked its nose into my neck
this morning, maybe because that show
Still Game had Vincent
facing a life with his second leg
cut off—his friends
trying to help, faking a death to get
insurance money so he could fly
to Switzerland to save his leg.
Isn’t it always about
circulation? Blood flow means
oxygen, oxygen means life,
and I’m not just talking arteries, veins,
blood but the whole mind-body
connection. You and me, my love, yin
and some yang, some oil, some
water. If I keep meditating to get it
right, fly rod in hand,
the fish are going to bite. I won’t bring
a steelhead home. They’re a gift: catch
and release, kiddo. I’m trying to learn how.


Waking to 1939, I Study Those Standing


It starts with people arranged in large groups,
like cornstalks taller than me, rows ranged across a field—
a grassland made flat over time, and plowed.
Somehow it’s clear that the groups, some
with missing places, a stalk or two hewn down,
indicate those born the same decade.
All dressed in gray undistinguishable clothes,
both women and men, skirts or slacks, tops,
in gray fabric washed soft by time, flat shoes,
the rows going back and back, some groups
winnowed down to only a few. Unlike a field
there’s no scent of corn, dirt, green stalk rising,
but there’s a sound of machinery, a distant chuff
like a helicopter nearing or a reaper cutting.
Why 1939, I ask my waking self, and go
type his name into a search engine, my friend
and teacher long ago, a maker of songs, word-
master with a certain way of speaking slowly.
A couple of his sayings linger with me like
refrains: “Where does it hurt?” was one.
Another: “There are no happy endings.” Thus.
He phoned me sometimes, twice I know
to soften news of death. Do we imagine it
can be softened? The first loss had been his best
friend. Whatever I said then, inadequate, now
ashamed I wanted more details. The chuffing
sound again, a rumble of blades across ground.
And now a whiff of dust touches my nose
where I stand beneath a cloudless sky, no pity,
glimpsing brown in air like sparrows spiraling up.

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. She received the 2018 Book of the Year Award from Poetry Society of Virginia for The Canopy. Her new book, her seventh, O Lucky Day is forthcoming in January 2025 from Madville Publishing.