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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 Napalm Death,

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—

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 these 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.

from The Newest Employee of the Museum of RuinFind more by Charlie Clark at the library

Copyright © 2020 Charlie Clark
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.

Published in Charlie Clark Poems

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this (publication, website, exhibit, etc.) do not necessarily represent those of the Idaho Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.