Two Poems by George Elliott Clarke

At Gettysburg


Tons of trees smack to smithereens!
Accumulated kindling!

Pines crash down about us —
Instant toothpicks!

Men turn into meat — rare, medium, and well-done.
Happy horseflies corner Anthropology.

Nothing so vigilant as bleeding.
Every cannon belch

fashions artisanal apertures
of eyes, assholes, lungs.

The pounding ricochets
torch wheat and corn and cotton.

Cowards run, stumble over legless feet,
cropping up in orchard and pasture.

Or step upon some mumbling husk,
convulsive ruins, a squelching statue.

If only bare flesh could blunt bayonets!
No: Bone’s as crushable as a rusty tin.

Dying, grown men ain’t shy to beg
to see mama one last time.

Each one bays like a butcher.
Luckily, wounds don’t hurt long.

A pack of horses, avalanching,
pitches upon the invalids.

Whole regiments become front-line coffins:
Case baby-faces ranked in caskets.



Gettysburg is a green furnace —
an incinerating inferno of grass.

In the cannon-splayed fields,
smoky al fresco
the anguish of metal among milky fire —
I survey Gehenna’s frontier —
Hell recovered —
thousands of cadavers congregated
like pale, rotten mushrooms —
fodder for a prudent farmer.

Thanks to all the leaden lightning striking soil,
cemetery worms jump and butt against caskets.

We living get to taste Tiredness.

Sooner or later, though,
the battlefield’s again a field
as silent as Sunday prayers
and as sanitized as a lawyer’s crimes,
and all is shiny,
thanks to the cleansing ranting
(what outdins noise)
that is rain.


[Ottawa (Ontario) 14/09/14]



Bellocq Snaps Ophelia


Guitar notes, piano notes, part, fall, rise —
like curtains.

Under beautiful lamps, leaning —
almost invisibly physical —

men slant toward their ladies
with ambiguous camber,

or a female head graces a male shoulder,
as some lips deceive by compliment,

some hands deceive by coins,
and throughout the cathouse,

horrible smoking sears and suffocates.
Now, a charitable trumpet brays,

clearing space for the piano’s
cascading pizzicato,

what’s Ragtime, its moneyed scales,
but the Americanization of the French Can-Can?



Vodka gets to the point;
shoots straight from throat to guts to bowels;

or, merged with orange juice,
brings on hyperventilating Hysteria:

The brothel is the acid test of Marriage.
Husbands either begrudge the grip of wives;

or, tamed by the repulsive honours of whores,
deplete their gold,

and fantasize about cutting the throats
of their own children.



The jazzers’ unfrugal playing
accents the fugues playing out

in beds, where Jazz squirts
in incidental darkness,

becomes the bitter daylight
unfurled in hurled-back sheets.



Now, Ophelia transports long legs
and tan, sporty breasts

to bad boys whose suits are curtains
and to bastards raking in tens of thousands,

per annum, the confidential rich,
who like to party in smog and scum.

The curs like to snag a custom slut,
and bitch, bitch, bitch!

A chilly Madonna, despising Euphoria,
Ophelia steps lightly on the pine staircase:

No creaking in her wake;
she’s as level-headed as a cat.



White pearls against pale, violet skin:
The camera digests her, gathers fog.

Slender, immaculate as a gem,
she’s been a sex toy since Kindergarten.

I put Innocence aside,
for that’s how clouds wipe out light.

True: Ophelia came sideways out the womb,
destroying her mother,

and half-strangling her own self.
Hers is a downfall lesson:

To go to bed a wild thing,
contriving filth and disease —

the Nana of Naw Leens —
with incomparable ivory skin —

garmented only in sunlight
and/or cigarette smoke —

but lips and tongue kept cat-clean
by licking toilet seats and bowls.



I spy in her Malevolence
disguised as Indolence,

her vagina incubating razors.
She awards me a sunburst smile,

but she’s as deferential
and as arrogant as worms.

She is a successful whore —
one of the richest octoroons,

unless she be caught with a black crow
caught fast in her white, pussy jaws.


[Fort Lauderdale (Florida) 28/04/15]



GEORGE ELLIOTT CLARKE is Canada’s Parliamentary Poet Laureate, and served as Toronto’s Poet Laureate from 2012 to 2015. He has a clutch of prizes and a trove of books to his name. His newest are the unblushingly erotic Extra Illicit Sonnets (Exile, 2015) and The Motorcyclist (HarperCollins, 2016). The Sewer Lid pieces are from his epic, Canticles, due out from Guernica Editions this year.


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