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Poetry by Shigé Clark

"Let the battered heart rejoice"

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sorrow

“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.

Visitors

The visitors all come bearing selfishness,
but only Sorrow wears it royal
in the open like a robe.
He hunkers under the heavy cloak
saying it keeps out the cold,
and makes apologies—apologies for all the mud
it drags across my well-swept floors
and the jabbing pins within
that hold him together.
Oh, but he must, he must wear it,
and all is borne.
I set my hands out in a bowl, and we both bow.
The cloak is shed, the pins replaced
with thread, the floors are cleaned,
and the visitor sent on his way.
“Come again when you must.”

Rage is easier to greet,
but rarely receives entrance,
drunk as he comes
tilting into precious, porcelain peaces.
The door is bolted against him, so he hammers
ceaselessly throughout the day and night.
And since I have not learned his name,
I cannot sober him with reason
or soothe him with song.
“Water, water,” he cries,
and I give him wine in the shadows.
His furnace needs a river. But no,
that could rip the whole structure from its roots.
So I let him spew his flames on the threshold,
and those who mind the house wonder
at the flickering in the windows,
the bubbling and peeling of the walls,
and I tell them all is well, all is well,

as smoke billows beneath the door.
I sit frog-like and boiling, beside
the only one who made my halls his home.
Looming mass of muscle—I have fed him well.
I ask if I should let his brother in.
“No,” he whispers, as he ever does.
All visitors abide against his will.
It is he who cleans the floors,
and paints the walls, and pours the wine.
He who draws Rage in, and he who bars the door.
He who fills the room to bursting,
suffocating any who would stay.
But now wood splinters, heat spills through the cracks,
and he shambles toward the basement door.
Tomorrow will find him unburnt,
fingers coiled like silk-tongued snakes
around my ankles in the ashes.

– s. Clark

the ocean tells me of its woes

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Today I Will Grieve

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In offering to my several friends who have recently lost dear ones… Words cannot begin to touch this. But what I have, I give you.

Frail Comfort

The Scream

The Scream

The Vengeance in Our Hearts

The Vengeance in Our Hearts

Fingerprints

Fingerprints

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