Dr. Michael Clark is a poet who presently teaches at the Singapore American School.
His poems have appeared in the Beloit Poetry Journal, Mudfish, Carolina Quarterly,
Willow Springs (where "Techniques of Avalanche Survival first appeared) and Ceriph.
Techniques of Avalanche Survival
When the white thunder stops and you're finally curled
in your womb of snow, wiggle your toes.
If there is no pain, flex your fingers, make a fist,
plow a breathing space. This smell—clean, empty—
must be the scent of the upper atmosphere,
dragged down miles, flake by flake.
Careful. You don't want to be a second triggering
tremor, setting off another slide; slowly pack your chrysalis.
Though your chamber may be infused with sky-blue light
you won't be able to tell which way is earth.
Remain calm. Find a small heavy object—a knife, a watch—
hold it out and let it drop. Its fall will tell you
the direction of the ground. Don't be surprised if it hits
your chin; your mind has already blacked out those sickening
minutes, your body a loose marionette in the tumble.
When you have your bearings, mole in the opposite direction.
Try not to think about the surface,
smooth now as a low-tide beach at sunrise.
Don't picture the search party spotting your glove
worming through the glittering crust. Forget
how your presence there, and your entrance,
will be—as it always has been—utterly, unimaginably small.
The white hydrangea hangs its rain-heavy heads,
lolling across the narrow walk to our front door.
This morning, you, my wife, Herculean, slash it back:
from within, a parasitic morning glory
unwinds its determined tendrils the way
fingers tickle the dark for a light switch.
Like everything prying the crevices
between our flagstones, pulling down our
mossy pickets, sliding up the side of the house itself—
picture a kelp-heavy wave splashed on a seawall—
the vine is the same bright shade of green—
as the garden it is strangling.
From time to time you look down
at the tool in your hand: the three-pronged rake,
the clipper, the weedeater,
the pause in your eyes is weary, oxygenated, defoliant:
seeing through the splinters like shrapnel,
the red clay clotting roots, the new leaves
trodden limp and unnameable in your wake.
June, Mostly Cloudy, Change of Storms
I don't know if the paper wasp,
exhausted against the inside
of the dimming windowpane,
is a figure of hope or despair.
Its stillness—thin-stemmed wings
held in repose, abdomen like a twig—
makes it a rune: tiwaz,
carved in a birch spear-shaft,
stained dark with a palm's blood,
dropped on a February snowfield.
And yet the threads of its antennae
rest penitent on the glass,
as if to receive divine illumination
from twilight the color of blown smoke:
it won't drag its feet across the glass,
make any human gesture of futility—
as if it accepts the limits of its reach,
and cannot identify with the hollow
mummified bluebottles in the sill—
but waits for another sunrise,
the covenant in the open whisper of trees.
Strong Wind, January, Suburbia
It sweeps us, it roars us,
it backs the clean leaves and litter
up against the rippling chainlink.
Oh it leaves us and it leaves us
but there's no way to tell if it's
ever finished rushing us head-
long. It makes us think in riddles.
A sleek gull hangs in it, motion-
less, save the tightrope balancing
of his wings, eye-level, focused
on the asphalt's ruffled puddle,
watching for a clam or mole crab
to appear. Even out of place
we do what we remember we must.
When I bring our infant daughter
out from the still house air, she laughs
to feel her seashell ears so full,
spreads her fingers to sift the wind,
opens her palms to each bright gust
and turns them, surprised every time
to find them so empty.
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