Tom Clark


A Retrospect

1   A Retrospect   1798/2008

Time's arrow, Orfeo, never turns around,
So don't look back.  Rocks and stones hurled round
In their diurnal course were all I saw go past
For a while, but before that, somewhere pleasant
With greenery and water, sweet, I'd go back

In a minute, just to look, had I chance,
How fine things were in the morning of the world,
Said the jumper from the tall building, halfway down,
To himself.  You must change your life.  Then he woke
Into the cold dark morning that is,
Shocked by the familiar impact
Of reality, that joke that is always
On the one who attempts to tell it, 
Once more having failed to change his life.


2   To a Ghost    1798/2008

I wrote and wrote, the candle light flickering
Upon the cottage wall, the smoldering fire
Fuming like someone in a not great mood,
Burning damp wood throughout the eco-slump.
A ghost kept coming and going, flitting
In and out of the woodwork of the poem
Through the holes chewed by Will, Sam and Charles
The three blind mice in my morality
Play, whose hero, a dark stranger Shelley,
Turned a whiter shade of pale revealing
He had never been really real
Alackaday!   I'd thought a phantasm was
Charles Lamb or Samuel Taylor Coleridge,
The gated community of my mind
Nether Stowey or London or the Lakes
In 1798!     The pure and simple
Wishful thinking of a perfect old fool
O Stranger!   You existed in my hopeful
Imagination only.   When will I learn?
There you were, daft thought, but then you weren't.
I made you up, Mister Lonely, going
Out the door of the poem before
Ever coming into the picture
With any clarity—for clear's not you,
As I've just learnt, vague memory person.


3    Lost at Midnight   1798/2008

And then a different kind of friend appears
From intimate historical woodwork, chased
By mice out into the open of this closed
Off little world.   No more beautiful
Than good, for all the good it's done you,
Or all the worth of being either
In an oh so old and timewarped world  
But is this in fact an either/or
And really, when you get down to it,
Isn't the good more or less identical 
With the beautiful?  The thumping you hear
Is the footfall of Beauty as she goes
Her morning rounds.  A sound may be a picture
Of reality as we imagine it,
Or should I say desire it, dear.  
And then, blink, we are our grandparents
Physically, yet estranged in our minds
From all but this, now.   North wind, power goes out,
A candle's lit creating shadow play.
Click Memory, unwanted, unexpected
Images Display;  pasts come flooding in, slow,
Flicking yellow glow on endarkened wall.   Hello
Interior landscape we've always
Traveled, Dear One, by a Lake of Dreams—looking
For that light-in-window fleeting house
Now a cottage haunted by passing strangers
Who were never there.   The night's cold,
Bells do not toll here at midnight any more.


4    Flash Player   2008

Strange to turn to old ghosts, watch ourselves dissolve
In their eyes.   They were not here to help us,
Merely to drag us back against our will
Into a dim becalmed past, then forward into
Occluded presents which yet feel too bright.


5   Click   2008/2046/2666

One may age ten years in ten minutes.
It's too quiet.   I can hear the crickets,
It's like a music of the spheres in reverse
Or is that the night-clicking computer god?
I believe in a world.   Is God or death more great?
This world is my world and will vanish with me
But while I click it goes on existing
In eternity—to 2046 or
2666, or whene'er the chips melt down,
A date which is of no interest to me
For I didn't have my chips on them
Because God is great, even when someone's
401K isn't.  I've lost Memory writing this.
I've aged considerably in ten minutes,
Maybe ten years.   Distance is closing in,
It's too quiet.   I can hear the crickets
Singing God and death out of existence. 


6   Isolation   2008

Is it ocean sound or wind in the big dark trees
Or is it simply time passing in my mind
And not crickets but car tires hissing by?
Days, nights full of ghosts.  I made them up
In unsplendid isolation, didn't I?
Think I did it all wrong, sometimes.   Nights, days,
Is the other's presence real?   Light and shade
No longer so easy to keep apart, the dark
Parts invading the bright parts making gray
A kind of frightened sun not seen for weeks,
This moment always just a moment away
From that moment, the moments bleeding
Into one another until at last they stop.
I feel open to anything, they do not.


7   Slide Area    New Years Eve 1969

One dreams up metaphors—bright light,
Deep shade, shifting animal information
Patterns coalescing, changing, thoughts too swift
To "read," if intelligible at all
Then only as curious complication
Felt and lived.  Kaleidoscopic window
Mosaic of colored glass and agates
We all gathered at that windswept beach
Through which blurred images of melting faces
Loom up, reflective of self or other as
Vague ghosts of poets past are put to rest,
Later we're all strung out on the cold beach,
Nightwaves pounding, whitecaps collapsing
In foam-swirl upon driftwood littered
Strand, neath trillion starred black heavens,
Time passing,  the undercurrent then turning
Back toward China, all eyes drawn to the vast
Infinite sky, its deep blue dome concealing
All the pain to descend over coming years—
Forgetting now washed over all that, all this—
Ocean Parkway, slide-reft, no longer exists.


8   The Fault at the End of Time   2008/1968

Keep returning in my mind as to a Pole
To that lost idea of a paradise
Located in a long ago Bolinas,
O Ghost, as we remember it thus.
Time passing in foggy places is slow,
The senses recall woodsmoke, eucalyptus
Odor acrid on the air, frogs singing
Though no more were those the days than this is;
And, speaking, one nonetheless thinks it's
Not language we'll need to escape this crisis—
No one's talking about getting out alive—
Too late to flee, as if escape existed,
To any of one's  paradises lost.   Try
Bolinas a belated Lake District
Circa 1968 for instance
One designates this as it was then in one's mind—
This place of water and sweet greenery
This fault in space at the end of time,
A place separated from America
As in the beginning paradise
Was separated from humankind
By a fault—and so it was apes became
Separated from paradise—in paradise
Every thing has its own sign, so that
There was no need for language, in paradise
One could converse with herons and with pines            
Without need for other kinds of signs
But all of this was happening on the other
The other side the other side of the fault
Line that separated humankind from
Paradise and paradise from humankind
And so too then in the end it was by
A fault that we were separated
From that paradise.





Fidelity, after long practice, to
The things that have crossed one's path in life,
Moves one to find "history" in a morning,
A moonlit night, a transitory patch
Of sun upon grass, the turning of a cat's
Sleek head over its shoulder to look back
Into one's eyes, a lifelong lover's touch,
The memory of the shy sweet sidelong
Smile of a friend one may not see again
In "this life"—these things define home
To one now that one lives largely in one's mind—
As though there had ever been any other
Place—once born, once having existed—
In which to somehow locate a world 
Because brief hours before fadeout life becomes
A late awakening, much as one assumes
Is the experience of "lost" generations
Whose youth is turned back toward childhood by
Dreams; just so one's own dim youth now at last          
Appears a kind of slumber from which the slow
Process of waking took a half century
Or so, as time now opens up its eyes,
Yawns, stretches, struggles in dark to discover
Where it is among whirling things, places, years.
But of course one will never fully emerge
From this fog, nor in one's heart wish to do so,
For mere excursions don't suffice on visits
To dead cities—excavation too's required,
Cries out the hungry unborn poem
Within us, demanding to exist as
If alive