Mudlark Poster No. 149 (2017)

Clarity: Poems
by John Valentine


I am prepared now to force
clarity upon you.
	  — Louise Glück
Is that you coming through
the garden now, the glories

and the weeds, in your old
cotton dress, your ragged

straw hat? Have you come
perhaps as supplicant? Or

benefactress? You misunderstand
our needs. The sun of course is

indifferent. We lick our red lips 
in vain, cracked and dry. We
wither. But your old watering
spout is beside the point. There’s

a kind of love beyond the light rain,
the sprinkling. I speak for us all.

I am prepared to force clarity upon you:
Come nearer now. Whisper in our ears.

Hold us gently, the way you have held
new life, the small hands of your child.


1913, 50th Reunion
A year before the Great One,
the war to end all wars. The

thin lines now of blue and grey
in a stillness where nothing

stirred but memory. Pickett’s
men, the few, came slowly

through the wheat on canes,
crutches, wheelchairs. An old

rebel yell here and there, and
the Union boys, tattered and

limping, echoed a reply. But no
fusillade, no cannons. Only 

ragged warriors in the warm
summer air. Only friends now

holding one another closely.
Never again, they vowed. Never. 

As the locusts whirred and the pines
seemed to lean in silent prayer. 


First Battle of Bull Run, 1861
Green boys on both sides, green 
as the first sprigs of summer, not

knowing the air yet, the sudden 
glare of sunlight. Not knowing 

the whir of rifle balls, the buzz 
like cicadas. And all day then 

streams running roots to red. Buckets
of arms and legs. How wrong

they were about war. How wrong
about the fields, the fallen moon,

the terror. Nothing human now, only
shadows everywhere, stepping

stones for the night. The cold wind.
Nothing, nothing answered their

prayers. A mother. A wife. Nothing
there but darkness. Far away

the starlight flickered, faded, 
disappeared. Dying all at once

in the acrid air.

Joan of Arc

Give me the unfilled space between hunger 
and the morsel it can’t quite reach.
	                          — Stephen Dunn
Because fire is relentless, we cannot
imagine its patience and delicatesse.

Its circumspection. Only that desperate
lust, the way it surges and strains.

How the wind is its enforcer, the bearer
of burning news. How the grass

crackles in its grave. But imagine something.
cooler in the shadows. A secret kind

of wood as well. The kind that fire has
watched from afar, desperately in

love. Approaching slowly, because love
is fire. Their vows are like tinder,

the purity of conviction, her gown hanging
its ashes in the air, the holy cloud

of smoke unfurled around her face. The lovers
entangled, rising in flame, the sear, 

the sudden sacrament of desire.

Wild Words

Dictionaries are the graveyards of language.
	               — Simon Dentith
Not unlike that famous Remington,
the one of the weary bronc-

buster, wearier bronc. Both
worn in the saddle. Tired and

spent. Exhausted. And you said: Let 
them loose! in your cloud of Western 

words, free, frenetic, ranging
wild across my ears. Something

in the air. Brambles, tumbling	
sagebrush. Dust devils. A

summer sandstorm of every
syllable. And I said: Say

it again! just as all the 
Appaloosas reared and rushed   

like desert jinn, surging and unstoppable,
in the charging ions of the air. 

The Last Poem

You will not know it as such. It 
will even come casually, perhaps

as a sunset’s setting punctuation
or a lily’s evening robe. The quietude

and assurance of tomorrow. A promise,
a small guarantee, it seems. Taken

for granted. Continuity. A calling of
dreams then, a kind of weariness, the

silence of a life. Something passing
in the dark. Something gone. And

there, there on your desk, the scatter,
diaspora. Remnants in moonlight. 

Scraps at the edge of dawn. A few 
lines waiting their turn, their completion,

like hands reaching out, grasping, finding
nothing, nothing now but night.  

John Valentine teaches philosophy at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia. His poems have appeared in various journals, including The Sewanee Review, The Midwest Quarterly, Southern Poetry Review, The Adirondack Review and Rock Salt Plum Review. He has had five chapbooks published with Pudding House Publications and one chapbook with Big Table Publishing.

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