Three transatlantic songs by Erin Clark

Aug 16, 2023

1. That annoying midwesterner who loves snow


What Brits call “grit”—safety substance—
to dissolve ice and snow. Salt-commingled sand,
reddish like a radish, ferrous, but mostly
the color of pink sick on the ground
early in the morning outside a nightclub.
Somehow its pinkness is worse than
American gray. The sidewalks—sorry,
pavements—the shade of
an operating room floor in a tawdry
telly drama. Can you blame me
for putting as little down as possible
in the churchyard I’m boss of
where the snow itself desired to linger?



2. To dream of grandfathers


It’s been twenty years and then some
     since the new millennium. No Y2K crash

except in our imagination.
     In the year two thousand, I lost one grandfather.

The bombastic dark red one:
     high, colorful, alcoholic cheekbones.

The day he died, I gamboled ‘round Michigan’s Adventure,
     our local theme park, all slides and coasters

and happy screams of August children.
     Carpooled home at dusk,

met in the vast church parking lot
     by—surprise—a family friend

who revealed it. My mother had gone to say goodbye
     to her dad. We did not follow. He was,

they said, an unrecognizable mess of tubes
     and pancreatitis, angry

that such a departure would render
     his organs non-donatable “for science.”



He visited me in last night’s dream
     with my uncle Bob, another periphrastic

Thornton. They were thinner, subdued. My mother
     served them at the table she inherited

from the other side, the distaff, of the family.
     I burrowed into the basement which

had been my cave for a time, times,
     and half a time—only to find

it had been made new. Nicer. Carpet
      and wood paneling and rustic style lamps. 

A small wood burner where the TV had been
     that concealed the VHSes I was too young to know about.

One thing remained—windows near the low ceiling
     nearly covered with snowfall.

In the dream I woke and in satin pajamas
     threw myself into the snowbank, all joy,

contemplated trip-rolling down the hillside
     in the absence of my old red sled

which was so perfect and so steerable.
     I never did hit the crabapple below.

Back inside, Grandpa Michael and Uncle Bob
     still sat, nursing bottomless coffees,

fingers twitching for cigarettes my mother
     would not permit. But amiable,

despite their lifetimes’ bellicosity. I longed
     to speak to them

but was ignored in that manner of genial
     masculine indifference towards pre-verbal children.

So it was down again into the basement, to the fire
     to await the words or the morning.



This year, my other grandfather died,
     the one whose surname is mine, spear-side.

He has not yet appeared dreamward, grumpy
     or otherwise. It must take time to settle

into the comfortable depths, the graven hearth,
     before one regains the energy one had in life.

But he has no grave, this grandpa Richard,
     unlike Michael whose resting place I’ve seen

and knelt beside. Richard’s ashes sit boxed in the corner
     of his widow’s bungalow, in a shitty town he loved

and lived in, more than anywhere else in his driftwood life,
     deep prairie sloughs sighing for counties around.

Michael was called Tumbleweed though Richard was the Texan.
     Their blood in my bones roils an ocean away.


3. 11 September, morning


Six years old and buckled in,
feet dangling, seat back
in upright position,
oval windows looking at nothing
as interesting as what was contained
in the doorstop of a book, pictureless, balanced
on his skinned and scabbed

While in flight, the world changed
but not as he knew it.
Too busy with worlds of human imagination,
and the travel between them, cross-dimensional.
He did not know, on that fresh morning,
that eight hundred miles east
other planes had crashed deliberately
while his glided westward, flyover states
in foment below. 

Once landed, they spent many hours
on the runway, panic thick in the recycled air
as news trickled in. This cherubic lad knew only
that the adults were astir but were leaving him alone
with his book and its reassuringly long page count,
the smell of the library
an insulation from what the world was becoming. 

Erin Clark (she/her) is a queer American writer and priest living and working in London. She is the author of Sacred Pavement (2021) and her poems have appeared in the Oxonian Review, The Scores, About Place, and Pilcrow & Dagger

Twitter @e_m_clark

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