Mudlark Poster No. 133 (2016)

Five Poems

by Pam Bernard

Marsyas’ Howl
the victor departs
whether out of Marsyas’ howling
there will not someday arise
a new kind
of art—
		     — Zbigniew Herbert
If not winter, what must Marsyas 
have felt, so artfully flayed, his visage 
stripped from him, all of a piece, until
his fingertips were the last 
to know wholeness. 
He could see his countenance
lifted from him just as this snow
is lifted from us. Two fists 

remain under the Rose of Sharon,
the last of a long winter’s screed. 

A rabble of earth emerges on the hill,
almost green, vulnerable, the stream 
that promised to return, now
a river of Marsyas’ tears.

Field, Imagined
The field that you are standing before
appears to have the same proportions
as your own life. 
 		         — John Berger, About Looking
Boulders cleared with stone boat and ox 
form the boundary, once the virtue 
of someone’s hand, one who would 
abandon tillage to pasture.

Thrush and sumac, dragonfly and vole 
thrive in a world humming with purpose, 
where at the inconsolable center
a wolf tree spreads.

Flattened woodreed and broom are
evidence of the raccoon’s nightly haunt, 
hepatica and bloodroot blanketing the knoll 
at the end of winter—each receiving its shape 
from that which it opposes.

Spittle bug nymphs encased in foam
survive in the elbow of a stalk of wild rye.
Plant hopper and bluet, barberry moth 
and bold-faced hornet appear,

            Then the field quickens as wind 
sweeps up, opening, closing, opening 
again—breathing, finally 
breathing—saying everything 
is within you to know.

Prayer for the Children
The impeded stream is the one that sings. 
 		                     — Wendell Berry
Goodbye to the bedroom, dark 
and drafty, wakening always 
to shame—no call for help, no 
sound at all—to the myths, 
molded to keep the children 

quiet. Goodbye to the covenant 
breakers, the apologists 
and deniers, evaders smug 
in their corners, to the liars 
and harmers, to the do-nothings.

Goodbye to users and exploiters, 
manhandlers and promisers, 
to deceivers and those 
who scar and debase, whose 
dominance wins every time. 

May rain climb the foothills. May 
the mongrel who once menaced 
the back meadow of the children’s 
dreams wag its whole body 
toward them, smiling.

The Fates
Even in the hardness of things 
meant for good gone bad, even 
when the bleak days took their place 
among the ordinary, Clotho worked,
cleaning and carding, until the roven 
fibers wound round the distaff 
shimmered cloud-like, so that when she 
teased a bit between her fingers 
to hook securely to the spindle,
she might, in the quiet of her day,
spin the thread of life.

On she labored, filling spindle 
upon spindle, each its own bright refuge,
until Lachesis, the prudent sister, 
was moved to measure the thread, 
so as not to be wasteful, and Atropos, 
blustering in from the fields, 
red-cheeked and breathless, lifted 
her shears with little ceremony 
and cut the thread.  Someone 
had to make the decision.

At the wide river Clotho hid 
among the tumblestones,
rounded her back to loneliness.
Then something fell over the grieving land.
Meadows browned to wither and the sheep 
began to wander from the valley.
People took to quarreling when they 
should have been shearing, so when 
lambing time came newborns 
snared in their mother’s wool. 

In the dry riverbed, Clotho stirred
among the stones, which over time
she had come to resemble. Above her
floated a day moon, flat and bloodless, 
in a sky penciled with clouds. Then, as if 
she’d gone wool-blind, as if  someone 
had doused the candle of the sun—
everything went black. Even the wind 
inhabiting the great trees ceased.

Yet she knew this region, so 
utter in its darkness, it could not
darken further, and Clotho stood up
in that darkness and dreamed sheep.

White House on South Montowese Street
I’m eleven or twelve and fly 
over that house, holding tight
to a four year old self as if 
my small body were a suitcase—

the stand of birch as it was 
then, barn already half gone, 
rhubarb growing poisonous 
by the back steps.

Mother is busy in the kitchen,
butter knife in the jam jar, 
jam purpling the white white bread.
At the round table she sits, an 

anthem of light shifting 
imperceptibly through summer 
curtains and onto her 
sturdy shoes, set square 
on the speckled linoleum.

I am there too, opposite
her, afraid of the dark where 
my legs dangle, under the flaps 
of the tablecloth with big 
strawberries on it,

Three me’s and Mother.
And still I cannot speak.

Pam Bernard is a poet and painter, an editor, and an adjunct professor of creative writing at the New Hampshire Institute of Art and Franklin Pierce University. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the Graduate Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College and an AB from Harvard University in History of Art. She has received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Creative Writing, two Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellowships, a MacDowell Residency, and the Pablo Neruda and Grolier Prizes. TriQuarterly, Prairie Schooner, Cimarron Review, and Nimrod are among the many journals in which her work has appeared. Of her four published books, three are full-length collections of poetry, and a novel-in-verse, entitled Esther, was published by CavanKerry Press in 2015.

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