Poetry / Charlie Clark
:: Arnold ::
Honestly it is awful the August heat smell and waves rising from the freshly repaved lengths of blacktop the morning sun’s light glaring so brightly across it even silhouettes of the old dotted white lines now buried beneath the tar shine faintly through though silhouette is not the word I am looking for neither is pentimento though with it in mind my line of thought drifts to the way in old paintings X-Rays can expose for instance inscriptions thought better off hidden on a Dutch cartouche or the profiled ghost of a begging man’s face melted along a saint’s lapel and with that I am returned to the table where after her own digression into the way looking at the work of Lucian Freud all she sees is Francis Bacon’s mastery peeking through Liz said palimpsest and so dignified my description of words lovers wrote each other across their windshields’ interiors words needing their bodies’ heat present to arise in this heat I say palimpsest and receive such a sudden breadth of her bearing it is like the lone blunt laugh she gave absolute as a knuckle rapping table wood at my suggestion that the pleasure had the third time through Dumb and Dumber could rival that of Throne of Blood is now and forever part of my narrative of the term so too her saying how strange it is given the long plight of the human animal’s living that we don’t all have to the point of pain a need to see nightly the fire- brightened faces of infants gently rocked to sleep that the Barbarians were just the poor saps who hadn’t learned Greek yet her oblique tenderness toward anyone’s insomnia and the many balder things she quietly conveyed with all sincerity put it in an ode do it before the subject comes back an elegy don’t have heroes casually inquire hard don’t smoke unless you must walk know no matter how hard on the nose this may strike you you know or soon will come to all the ways the body is imperiled that you must determine to cherish yourself yourself that when your heart declines to continue when your tongue goes black the best requiem you can hope to receive will be the one set forth by the sewing of your soul’s own seeds
From the writer
:: Account ::
I started this poem shortly after attending the memorial service for my former teacher Stanley Plumly. At the reception after the service, I reconnected with Elizabeth Arnold, another former professor whose tutelage in the classroom and example as a writer on the page were and continue to be tremendously important to me. I’ve read her books, The Reef, Civilization, Effacement, Life, and Skeleton Coast, greedily, as they have come out—usually rereading all of the previous books prior to starting the newest one on the occasion of its release. I find it an illuminating way to take in the work of a poet I adore, to see how the new work connects to the work already available. It is also invigorating, as a writer, to see just how many fresh surprises and pleasures I find in her work, even after so many rereadings. Her attention to syntactic and visual detail is unique and unparalleled. I particularly appreciate the way her work can toggle between, or simultaneously conjure, a very frank and particular understanding of the perils of bodily human existence and a joy activated by language, history, travel—all the things the body can engage in/with to pitch said perils in relief. They are haunted poems whose specificities refuse to be haunted. Each time I encounter Liz’s work, I am reminded that hers is a means of intellection I would do well to model in my own life and writing.
Thinking about Liz, and thinking about honoring my mentors (I had been working, on and off, on an elegy for Stan for some months after his passing), I decided it was important and necessary to celebrate Liz as a writer and thinker. This poem is the result. The initial drafts started with memories of certain exchanges and comments I recall from the workshop of hers I took in (I think) the spring of 2001. Particularly, I had the fortunate (and admittedly humbling) experience of discovering, mid-class, that I did not know the meaning of the word palimpsest (which, as the poem indicates, Liz used to describe a part of the work of mine then under discussion). Liz was delighted at the opportunity to introduce the term; the conversation soon wandered more generally into the pleasures of specific words: their sounds, their meanings, their etymological roots. It is particularly instructive to have the lived experience of learning the meaning of palimpsest etched into my memory in this way, the term becoming a palimpsest revealing itself and this broader swath of experience. Liz made language activate for me. I am grateful to Liz for this, for how she serves as a model, and for the restless/flawless body of work she has produced over the years. I continue to be her awed student.
Charlie Clark studied poetry at the University of Maryland. His work has appeared in The New England Review, Pleiades, Ploughshares, Smartish Pace, Threepenny Review, West Branch, and other journals. A 2019 NEA fellow and recipient of scholarships to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, he is the author of The Newest Employee of the Museum of Ruin (Four Way Books, 2020). He lives in Austin, TX.