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Spring/Summer 1996, Volume 13.2

Poetry

 

Jeanne E. Clark


Jeanne E. Clark (M.F.A., Ph.D., Arizona State University) currently teaches at Arizona State University. Her work has appeared in
Willow Springs, Blue Mesa Review, Hayden's Ferry Review, and others.

 

Prison School

I graded papers in the afternoons,
The table was 4x9, inmate built.
They only stayed through the morning.

Today the school ward door opened. Norm Henry,
The principal, talking to someone,
The sound of feet, fast and hard, down the hall,

My name backwards, NeeGee, not Jeanne,
Joe Spinner, breathless, at the top of the steps,
His fatboy arms full of lilacs, grey T-shirt,

Chinos, the wet blue sneakers closed with velcro.
He had been fishing, he said, for the first time.
Joe Spinner threw the lilac branches down.

I asked him how he liked it. Joe Spinner said
The lilacs were for me. These lilacs were,
Joe said, the only living things he could catch.

 

Joe Spinner

Joe Spinner, whose face is a flat iron
Whose face is thick, yellow milk
Schoolroom paste hardened on a bristle brush
Whose walk is the strike down an alley that makes a pinsetter jump
Whose walk is a schoolyard seesaw
Whose voice is the frozen lake breaking
Under December's first skaters
Joe Spinner, again, whose teeth are the rap of knuckles against a door
Whose teeth are pegs in the joints of fine furniture
Whose mouth is a locked closet
Lipper on the deck of a whaler
Whose words walk backward out a door
Whose words are grayed laundry
Whose thoughts are the felt of a chalkboard eraser
Whose thoughts are a rolled up newspaper
Whose head is hard water under a speed boat
Joe Spinner, whose head is the egg of a Mute Swan
Whose hair is the sharp spine on a blue gill's back
Whose hair is the morning grass of the Governor's front lawn
Whose eyes are the blue tips of kitchen matches Whose eyes are boiled onions
Whose eyes are the split galls of a felled oak
Whose hands are charged with powder
Whose hands are a bluegown's tin cup
Birds full of buckshot jerking in mid-air.

 

On the Day Before Joe Spinner Was Made,
There Was a Train Engine Out-of-Control

I go to meet the train and the train comes to meet me
Embracing me as if I'm returning, as if I'm saying good-bye.

The train's deep sighs enter a mountain.
We come out on the other side the same.

Two trains: a black chicken,
A black cat without shadow.

The train is the body of Joe Spinner
Without hope of resurrection. Car after car, it multiplies.

The train's conductor is blind, revealing
Destinations and Joe Spinner's dumb cargo.

Who is Joe Spinner that comes out of the wilderness
Like pillars of smoke with all the power of love?

Who is this barren chariot?
Joe's Spinner's bed ready for war.

Plains and grasslands, farms of Ohio, tell me:
Has the train I want come this way?

Train after train, travel's endless recurrence.
It's a lie to say I never wanted to board.

A train wreck, Joe Spinner is created from hope,
The crash of impending bodies.

My beloved is mine. A train engine
Out-of-control, brakes pushed to floor.

 

Time-Life Sends a Photo-Journalist

I don't want to say anything
Into that microphone, their stories
Protected by the laws of the State of Ohio.
You'll have to take your pictures without me.
The men in this block are retarded. They don't know 

How they got here. The smart cons
All have stories, all of them framed,
A woman, best friend, a brother.
Evenings after work, I help the slow ones:
They killed fifteen men.
They burned down the Junior High School
While the principal was in church. Their families
Turned out for the trial. You know,
After a story they sleep better.

I get letters all the time. One today said, I got
A doctor of divinity degree and $25,
Please, honey, let's get married. Another day,
A retarded man, Joe, brought me
An armload of lilacs. He had been fishing.
He said this was what he caught.

I have a boy, 11 years old. We moved
Back into my mother's house.
She keeps notorized copies,
John Dillinger's mug shots
And fingerprints in a kitchen drawer
Next to the silverware. Dillinger,
The most famous man my mother knew.
She worked the desk the day
He shot his way out of the courthouse.
My hometown is famous for that day,
The man Dillinger killed being his first.

The summer after my husband left,
I met a man from New York.
I took time off. We went sailing,
St. Mary's Lake. Here's a picture.

I think about quitting, going back to school.
The prison's gone crazy. Last winter,
An inmate got out. He followed me.
I can't take much more. My mother asks me,
What will I do with my boy?
You think I could write
The captions for these pictures.

 

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