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Poetry by Shigé Clark

"Let the battered heart rejoice"

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dust to dust

“What is this storm cloud?” he asked,
“why does it all seem
overcast?” and how do I explain that
seven years ago, a boy died, and a giant,
bloody chunk of me
went with him. And when
Ahmaud Arbery was gunned down in the street
last year, I saw his face and felt it
all again. Ragtime plays
in the shuffle, and I hear its echoes
yelling that we haven’t budged since then,
and ask myself—if Breonna Taylor had been
my friend, would I settle
for budging? The judging comes
too slow. And corpses pile up
like fall leaves on a poison wind
because of people braying over a cloth mask,
and am I expected to laugh?
To let it all pass by me
like a vapor—like I am not
still flesh, and blood, and anger?
With children packed
into cages and airplanes, and frightened
men dying under runway wheels—to make no mention
of finding plastic in new rain
and newborn veins, until
every birth feels like a bated death?

We learned well—the first thing you do
when taking fire is find
cover and concealment—then
fire back. Don’t lift your head
too high, don’t drop your guard until
the threat is dead. Should I instead dance
in this hailstorm of lead?
A cup of tea while we wait
for the volley to abate? Isn’t this rather where
we dig trenches, and hold the line?
Should I say that I’m fine, like people aren’t dying
for the greed of us?
For the need of just
a sliver of humanity—but
vanity, vanity, all is dust, and I’m
tired of breathing it in. It’s been
the dark before the dawn
for far too long. Too much
waiting for a new song to begin, like
the whole record hasn’t come unhinged—and I
keep rising like the tides
are changing, just to be
bowled over by the waves again,
like all these crying souls aren’t chained
into my skin, weighing
me into the deep. Like there haven’t been
too many funerals. Like my own
sinew and bone haven’t long since turned
against me.

I believe joy
will return. I believe in more
than what I feel. But for now,
is it not enough to stand as hollow steel
and let the dust winds blow
through your limbs, and whistle low
their dirges through you? Is it sin
to let it all undo you? Even
Christ himself was pierced through,
and laid to rest. Did he not also grieve though he knew
resurrection was coming? And before he was raised,
did he not first take his time in the grave?

I will not come away, but let me be
the broken clay of earth
that I am. The war is real,
and for the love of Love, a wound has to close
before it can heal.

Dust to Dust

When I return as dust to dust,
As all man must, within the span of time,
I will request, expect, your negligence
Believing your expense superfluous
To wrap my shell in satin and in lace
When not a trace of me is left to mind
Allow the worms to call my husk a hall!
It bears no gall to crumble back to earth.
Leave no stone head to mark my resting place,
Nor grace the hollow ground with well-born gifts
If you would honor me beyond my end,
Calling me friend, then celebrate my soul
And let me fly to wonders yet unknown
Where I have flown, there is no horror found.
Then plant above my costume, left to rot,
Pure flowers not less beautiful than I
That I may yet contribute happiness
In the distress of all those who may pass
Though I will not gaze back, unmoved to learn
When I return, as dust to dust.

– s. Clark

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