Elegy with Two Portraits

Read by the author.

 

by Dan Clark

Featured Art: “Basa de Maya” by Madara Mason

 

The priest swings a thurible. Incense,

swirling and nebulous, encircles the cremation urn.

A few feet away, a husband weeps.

 

He’s not thinking how Oregon came to fill the ocean

of itself, how island arcs docked like icebergs

against the Idaho shore, where Mesohippus,

diminutive proto-horse, grazed beneath the juniper.

 

He’s not considering how Oregon drifted through

several versions of itself—savanna, jungle, desert—

then settled for a time as a placid, inland lake.

 

Instead, he’s remembering forty years ago,

a dance floor, a promise emerging,

all red-haired and smile, in the same way Da Vinci

 

painted Ginevra, young woman in three-quarter view,

whose eyes engaged like none before,

the part of her braided hair revealing noble forehead,

the background a green halo of juniper.

 

And he’s not considering how the continent

has yet to finish arranging itself—Pacific plate

subducting from the west, Sierras

pressing north, rotating Oregon like a cogged wheel.

 

Yet he finds himself in the second pew, rearranging:

how that red-haired promise faded into

the drinking, the stolen meds, the swerving

between fallen arms of railroad crossings,

this version of her unrecognizable

 

like Willem de Kooning’s Woman I,

full-frontal view: terrible, Paleolithic,

brandishing eyes of knives, breasts challenging,

margin of her body dissolving into background.

 

The priest swings incense, swirling and nebulous.

Twenty miles above Earth, Hubble steadies its gaze

the way he studies the pink of his thumbnail.

He watches himself in the pew,

feels himself disappearing—

 

he cannot hold the red-shifts steady, cannot keep

the margins from dissolving to ground.

 

 

 


Dan Clark’s work has appeared in The Beloit Poetry Journal, Cloudbank, English Journal, The Seattle Review, and WA129+, among others. A retired English teacher, he enjoys day-hiking Mt. Rainier, learning the lay of the land, coordinating Poetry Out Loud competitions, and searching for that ever-elusive swing in golf.  He holds an MFA from Vermont College and lives in Kennewick, Washington.

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