KR OnlinePoetry

Three Poems

Carrying My Brother to the Ambulance

This close, I for the fourth decade notice how
beautiful I find the stark black lashes of his eyes.

It’s autumn—after autumn, actually—everything
awash in the given plenty of spent leaves. Ice

in the air despite the sun. A few bars of something
bracing I can’t place grace the whole of the cradle

that we’ve made. I slow as if to ask What song is that?
I can’t stop noticing, which is already a kind of asking.

Which is one way to have a story go on without end.
Another way to keep a story from ending

is never to start telling it. My brother’s silent,
split, spilt, bruised, half-buried in his milk, gone

red at the tongue, orange at the eye. So entwined
and still I don’t once stagger in the dirt.

I still have my brother. My hands know this
by the weight. As if the worth of life were knowing.

I never knew I could carry him. Now it’s another story.
Once I caught his front teeth with a bat.

Once I saw a dog chasing a child and I tackled it.
I didn’t think of fear until its body was here,

livid in my arms. By then there was no time. Now,
out of my hands, my hands grate air like they are the place

in the earth where roots continue to turn dirt into themselves
while above a blade has clipped the bloom completely.

My Last Conversation with Mary Jane Bailey

was about the taste of buckshot in baked swan.
I wanted to remember more, but couldn’t.

Someone suggested bloodletting. Someone else
suggested several hours of ghost talk. I suggested

nothing. Picture this. Picture her with a rifle
posed beside a Buick. Picture her taking someone’s

stray blast in the chest while quail hunting in 1942.
Picture how she dressed her wounds and drove

herself over hours of knocking Idaho backroads
to the nearest doctor’s house. There was a war on,

after all. (Though when isn’t there a war on?)
Every act amounted to a sacrifice. Tell me, Mary,

which of my actions counts as preparation for life
during wartime. Yes, the inconsistent stretches

and push-ups. Yes, the quiet watching in the night.
No, the amount of toilet paper I use each week.

No, all my fawning over music. Not even Suicide,
Machine Gun Etiquette, or “Life During Wartime.”

No, the writing of poems. When Creeley called Koch
lightweight—or rather when I came across this

while reading someone’s gloss on the poetry wars[1]
it sounded like Creeley believed his poems

could chop wood, start fires, inflict wounds.
In poetry the goal is always to inflict wounds.

So say the vagaries of some strange muse. I do
terrible things and claim I’m only following orders.

Picture stanzas leavened with dead elephants.
Picture the mad man setting fire to the tree.

Picture yourself. Picture this misfortune.
To be alive in words other than your own.


And if they will be content to impute to me all humane infirmities, they shall neede to faine nothing: I am, I confesse, obnoxious enough.
     —John Donne, Pseudo-Martyr (Preface)

Every five years my failure as a man gets weirder.
Once, in the woods and lost, I tried to track a trail of vapor home.
That was the seventh time I legitimately thought that I might die.
Another time, in Paris, was over a bar tab in a discothèque called Le Pélican.
After that I went home and read John Donne poorly.
He wrote from convolution into convolution.
He tried to say which is preferable, to be good or destroyed.
He preferred to be destroyed.
He did not write of pelicans.
Yet I read him poorly.
So in reading him I thought of pelicans.
How they hunt by an immense falling from the air.
How long they carry the dead around inside their mouths.
How they have no notion of their strangeness.
How they would be enviable if not for this:
They are fervent but without song.
That night I dreamed of a pelican named John Donne.
This is typical of my weirdness.
It fell upon our marriage bed.
I volunteered to be the one consumed.
I sat up inside the creature’s beak beside the many dead it hauled.
I tried to speak but its gullet swallowed every sound.
The dead there had devised a kind of pantomime.
I learned it soon enough.
Its every word meant grieve.
Grieving, alive but dead, I thought of my sweet wife.
With her in mind, I found the deadest dreadful body there.
I tore a length of its dried flesh free.
Upon that flesh I wrote these words.
With some finger bones I bored a hole through the pelican’s low beak.
When we passed above our home again, I spat the message through.
It darted, fervent as an insect, into my wife’s sleeping ear.
She woke then, not knowing what I’d done.
My song thrived inside her; humming always, though I was gone.


[1] Archambeau, Robert. “Hating the Other Kind of Poetry.” Copper Nickel 21, Fall (2015). Accessed 15 October 2015.

Charlie Clark
Charlie Clark’s work has appeared in Pleiades: Literature in Context, Smartish Pace, Threepenny Review, West Branch, and other journals. He studied poetry at the University of Maryland and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. He lives in Austin, Texas.