Joanne Clarkson

Girl Who Loved the Varied Thrush

for Anna

Anyone can know the backyard
robin. It takes a woman at home
with shade and under-glow, a person
of patience to wait out the troubling of duff
to expose the sheathed, autumn-dusted
wings. The thrush come
at unlikely times, a morning breathy
with mist, chilly in the months
between old fruit and new. She
pauses in her washing, holds the rivering
comb still. She risks tardiness
to follow the almost invisible
whistle down to where they
forage, where robins might have been
yesterday. And now these cousins
with red-golden brows, a dark collar
separating throat from breast. Welcome
she murmurs barely parting
her lips. Welcome my shy ones
who wear variants, who make what is unusual
beautiful. Who make the years
of learning to discern feather from leaf
worth time. Whose moment creates self
from the knowing of a single songbird.


How to Build a Bat House

for Barbara

The black careening wind first wedged itself
up under slats of siding
by the front door. His cancer in remission,
she had more time for housekeeping,
was hanging wind chimes when
she sensed their day sleep, examined
streaks of white that smelled almost
sweet. At dusk in their zig-zag

shadow she glimpsed individual faces,
big-eared, buttoned-eyed
with no malice, children they never had,
returning, lost dogs limping home
at the end. One bat, she read,

can eat a thousand mosquitos in one night
or 60 moths. They use echo to make sense
of darkness. Once a year they birth
a single pup that hangs upside down
in the pocket of a womb.

complained as she knew they would,
as though cancer circled their rooftops,
peeking into the sins of their windows,
threatening rabies. Even with her bad hip

and shoulders sore from lifting, she sawed
a square of plywood, roughed the inner
surface, climbed the ladder to nail it firm
the way the diagram described
as if all her life she had been learning
how to build a bat house just in case
some wild miracle arrived.



Grandmother in the morning
takes me down to the lily-of-the-valley.
I bend to touch white
dew. I am three or four. Already
I know the words for lilac
and daffodil. This spring

it takes everything I am
to bloom again, more scent than
dream. Autumn is easy. I know
what it means to lose, become lighter
even in darkness. But to unfurl
brilliant once more. To create
the long purple throat, the pink occasion
for rain, wears my spirit
thin. Music has eroded it

and romancing color. And the chance
to know fervently a companion
soul. Yet here it is: the early
sun. The body can divine just so much,
can transcend just so many times
before the heart’s electric
becomes lightning, then
still. Rhododendron, iris, tulip
whose only fruit is beauty. I walk

with grandmother among the azaleas.
I am what she left behind in the greening
field. Is this why we bring
flowers to the grave site? Why I too
teach my granddaughter
the abecedary of blossoms?


Totem Pilgrim

I study these animals sitting on each other’s
shoulders, carved from one cedar. 
Muzzle and beak, sheathed wing and claw,
the folded ear. Their smooth eyes
hold no iris, no pupil, no need
for light. Splinters softer than fur,
feather quills finer than how I comb

my hair. I have never been brave enough
to claim a totem or to let one choose me.
Have never dared to pray in the wild,
to let the knife of the carver
hunt with my heart, labor of months
or years, never really finished.

But once I fed a deer from my fingers, 
an apple wasps had pocked, oozing
sweetness. I felt the pull of flesh
and fed myself the final bite. Closest
I have come to totem.


Joanne Clarkson

Listening is essential to my meditative practice. I am clairaudient. Inspiration, enlightenment, and peace come to me in sounds and voices. We live near the ocean and forests and close to mountains. I am blessed with an abundance of bird song, wind, and waves. In addition, I love to read my favorite authors aloud and memorize lines. I enjoy gathering snatches of conversation and discover lives through borrowed words. My Guides offer phrases in my dreams. I am so grateful for my ears! I am most connected to the world through everyday music.

Joanne M. Clarkson’s full-length poetry collection The Fates won Bright Hill Press’ annual contest and was published in 2017. Her chapbook Believing the Body was released by Gribble Press in 2014. Her work has been featured in many journals and anthologies. Clarkson has master’s degrees in English and Library Science. She has taught and worked as a professional librarian. After caring for her mother through a long illness, she re-careered as a RN specializing in Home Health and Hospice. Taught by her psychic grandmother, her hobby, since a young child, has been reading palms and cards.

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