February 5, 2019

M.L. Clark

INTERVENTION

I get asked if I’m safe
in Colombia—what with, you know,
Venezuela. I explain
the borders. The distance between
a bilious tyrant
and real war—but also,
four years of exodus, countless
protests, the black
markets of diapers and food.
There was a time for me, too,
when Venezuela was simply
the most beautiful word
in a poem on aphasia.
A keeper of vast caverns
and mountains above cloud lines,
summits nearly unchanged
over billions of years. Only last
February, in Bogotá, did
“Venezuela” become
to me, dignity, a calling card
along mendicant streets—
empanadas venezolanas,
sandwiches venezolanos
in a country embracing one
million, many with children
at play in their arms
while they begged on the busses
with useless currency,
and pencils, and sweets,
to commuters who at least always
answered their opening
Buenos días
with the same. Here in Medellín,
in July, an engineer used the money
from my first tattoo to buy
medical supplies
for his next trip back home.
In November, while I was running
up the Hill of Three Crosses,
two more wouldn’t let me
leave after taking my phone
in the shadows before dawn. Safe?
The man with the revolver
looked so ashamed
when he waved me over to one
darkened side of the path
and heard the new fear
in my “Ai, señores, por favor …”
My heart, he said gently.
“Mi corazón, tranquila,”
like I was his daughter
back in Caracas,
whom I would hear tell of
soon enough,
while I sat in the shadows
with two men and the gun,
waiting for their next
target to show up
and asked how long since
they’d last seen their families
and where they were now.
“Mi corazón, tranquila,
¿por qué gritando?”
he had asked when I wasn’t
even screaming.
Not at all. Not when
daybreak was as welcome to me
as perilous for them,
and locals would soon crest
the nearby red sands
to meet their own share of this
recoil from a violence
like the men’s lousy gun
—old and many-historied—
which was not even
loaded, perhaps, because
how could it be, really,
when intervention por la gente
was so often only this
most radical act
of staying present somehow,
any how,
between shots.

from Poets Respond
February 5, 2019

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Margaret Clark: “Living in Colombia places me closer not just to the news out of Venezuela but the daily reality behind the news: a reality of massive numbers of displaced and starving persons in a humanitarian crisis that has little chance of resolving rapidly no matter who among the major foreign powers—the U.S. or Russia and China—claims the greater access to Venezuela’s crude oil reserves after this latest dust-up between Maduro and Guaidó settles. Average global citizens would do well to consider donating to non-profits like the UNHCR, which is aggressively serving the needs of the world’s burgeoning refugee population, and which will receive full proceeds from the sale of this poem if it is accepted.” (web)

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January 17, 2016

M.L. Clark

WHATEVER IT IS, IT COMES IN WAVES

Now if I think of the earth’s origins, I get vertigo. When I think of its death, I fall.
—C.D. Wright (1949-2016)

Photon flights, superimposed, are sure to give us gravity.
So they say. As if we don’t have it already. Consider
the woman at the bus stop in slush-grey mid-January
who worries a worn-out, filled-to-bursting backpack
as she talks to herself and peers down the street, shouting
only at strangers who try to point out the sign that reads
STOP CLOSED—because it matters. Yes, even the little
displacements. Even the interferometer, gravity-catcher
extraordinaire, with its two arms four kilometers long, remembers
the crash of nearby surf, the rumble of passing trains,
the tectonic bruxism of the earth. Exclusion is the realm only
of scientists whose hearts beat just like our own—
too loud and too soft, too long and too short. Whose TVs stay on
all day in their offices, volume low, the news ticker
ten-times-hourly proclaiming yet another departure: a singer,
an actor, who knows. Whose inboxes and cellphones
deliver the more intimate others: a writer, a teacher, an ex-friend.
Grains of sand in a mounting heap, shifting and sliding
beyond language, beyond discourse, and yet each grief still
its own treatise on weight, peer-reviewed and exploring
how one life—and who among us ever anticipates which?—
will explode in its passing like some distant light source
570 billion times brighter than our sun. 20 times brighter
than all the galaxy’s stars put together. A superluminous
supernova 2.8 billion years in the making. Can you even? I do
by setting out candles for the dead—one for each of us,
that is, so far into the future. And the past. Life on Earth
a mere matter of cell membranes still mastering the old
sun-and-oxygen trick when that magnestar began spinning
fast enough, clean enough, to send out such bursts.
(If it even was a magnestar. If it still is one, after all this time.)
But we’re watching, and that’s something, isn’t it?
Waiting. Wondering. When the next wave arrives, will it be like
the improbable bus that shows up anyway, signage
be damned, to carry us home through the gloom and the damp?
The long, open arms of our instruments—patient,
indiscriminate—can record this gravity well of lost stars, big
and small alike, just fine on their own. We’re only here
to add heft. Just a little. I mean, someone has to fall in every time,
don’t they, for science, for humanity, and wave back?

Poets Respond
January 17, 2016

[download audio]

__________

M.L. Clark: “In a week that saw a range of major cultural icons die in their late sixties without fans really knowing about the artists’ illnesses in the first place, we also heard tell of the brightest supernova on record, and rumours about a possibly impending confirmation of gravitational waves. This poem was inspired by the drastic shift in notions of time needed to contrast such disparate, but still significant human events in the mind’s eye—if such a balancing act is possible at all.”

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April 29, 2012

M.L. Clark

ON REALIZING THERE ARE TOO MANY POEMS ABOUT ONIONS, PEARS, AND BRUEGHEL’S PAINTINGS

While cutting an onion I am reminded of Brueghel,
the lack of tears in his art. Mine are everywhere, yet his
paradise of dancers runs dry—too busy with the frenzy
of living—and even in The Triumph, the littered dying

do not weep—busy, in their own way, with the frenzy
of becoming dead. But I am still alone in the kitchen,
no orgiastic throng to advance my sullen mood as art;
there is time enough for me to cry. Who will stop me?

The pears ripening on the sill—bitter, mealy, and hard—
are making more of themselves, growing crisp and fresh
in the wan, white light of the world. Neutral, indifferent,
they cannot tell me what to do. So I think about layers

because they are there, because they are easy. Onions
cannot help being metaphors; they would rather stay
mysteries in the moist soil. They would rather I unwrap
myself. If I could, I tell them through the blur, I would.

from Rattle #28, Winter 2007

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M.L. Clark: “Taking a literal approach to actor Alan Alda’s declaration, ‘you have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition,’ I recently moved to Victoria, British Columbia to Toronto, Ontario.”

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