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Joanne the Poet - The Poetry of Joanne M. Clarkson

Read My Work

When the Saints

She paid healers south
of the border. Burned incense
of resistance. Finally allowed
the infusion of modern poison
in a fatal attempt to out-poison
her own rebel blood.
Today the cottage is in disarray.
Out over water, silver
paves the way for angels who swim
like drowning sailors
above the pain. Those who think
dying is easy have never
been young. Her family
has come although she continues
to murmur I am cured
I am cured. They take
turns at the bedside, a foul
altar. Except one granddaughter
who, at eleven, has the wise
fear never to enter
the room. She stands
at the threshold. Plays “Amazing
Grace” and “When the Saints
Go Marching In” on her
grade-school trumpet. Notes
on the verge of perfect. Some
completely wrong. Most
so sweet they heal
the way breath comes to terms
with time.

Published in Snapdragon, A Journal of Art and Healing (snapdragonjournal.com), Winter 2020

When Grief is Animal
           for D.

She didn’t get out of bed for a month
after she hit the deer. Her mind
replaying the curve over
and over. The distraction of rain.
When you live near mountains
there is always shadow. Where the narrow
seam took decades to reach
the sea. Coyote country. Cougar kingdom.

The leap was an instant. The impact
endless. She sat in the middle
of the misted road, doe’s muzzle
in her lap. The stiff, soft fur. The occasional
spasm of half-life. Last year
her sister. A decade ago, her
mother. The one child
she imagined she could keep.

A deputy arrived and lifted her up.
Some other arms carried her home.
To heal means to dream
until the world is forgiven.

She didn’t drive for a year and never
again that road. Some nights she senses
a flank against skin, rising
and fading in familiar animal rhythms:
her sister, fresh from nightmare,
climbing into her bed.
The shadow of a daughter
breathing for an hour
under her penitent hands.

Winner of Robinson Jeffers Tor House Prize Honorable Mention 2020 (www.torhouse.org)

I Promise Not to Tell Her He is Dying

So much emotion is in these rooms
walls are weeping. Some call it
steam from soup on the stove. One son
in rain gear goes out to check the roof.
The man in the narrow day bed knows
he is dying. We lock eyes as I coil
my stethoscope back into my nursing bag.
In his gaze I sense a plea. His wife,

also eighty-five, still gets up at 6 a.m.
to pack his lunch although she forgets
in mid-kitchen what bread is for. He
has made one request, not for freedom
from pain or a quick end to breathlessness.
He has asked the same pact of his three
living children and all the grands

and greats. Don’t tell her. She won’t
remember in an hour or a minute.
The threat of death will come over
and over. Terror and grief for both loss
of life and a mind. Deep inside
she senses something wrong. She worries
her son has lost his job again
or that she has neglected one
of so many birthdays. As soon as next

week, one of the daughters will
have to tell her of his passing. Even this
her fragmented brain won’t quite process,
assuming instead he won’t be home
from work until late or must be just
down at the store. Or most likely
patching the roof with all this rain running
down her children’s faces, slick
on her own cheeks. Rain the new name
since she has forgotten what tears are for.

Published in American Journal of Nursing, Vol. 120, Number 9, September 2020

Wish Beach

At the edge of tonight’s retreating tide,
I find a stone ringed with white
luck. Ancient superstition, the circle.
The puzzle: to find its beginning.
The solution: endlessness. Flaw
of crystal embedded in a marble heart.
Along this shore, rock after rock is banded.

I was taught these rough gems grant
wishes and wishes come in threes: one
for the world, on for another, the last,
personal. I close my eyes, breathe,
cast my piece of palm-sized earth.
Listen for the splash, the hush.

For the greater good, I choose
borderlessness. For another, a body
re-made, pain free. For myself,
the old trick of more wishes. To come
again and again to this beach. To discover
over and over the boundless secret
of a pebble’s throw of hope.

Published in Westchester Review, Fall 2020, (www.westchesterreview.com).