clara poem

This is a poem Clara wrote when she was sixteen. It was published in her high school’s literary magazine.

Hard Head

Stare at the naked sun with me again
Until we think we’re going blind
Because of our burning eyes,
Rather than some gnawing hunger.

It seems like years ago that our
Blue flames were smothered
With regret hidden in pillows
Like medicine in ice cream.

It was only back when scraped skin
Made tears, but we could chew
chocolate and savor the taste.
Soft words made soft hearts.

And soft heads were a delicacy
Rather than worry. It was back when
We stuck our our dirty tongues
Just to catch a dirty raindrop.

It was back when blood on hands
Could be cleaned by an apology
And when once we loved without impurities.

Now days drag behind like a
Silent airplane ride and
The only things that satisfy
Are those we have to hide.

I haven’t read this poem in nearly four years. To me it’s nearly unbearably haunting in its sad beauty, its lament for the lost time when one “loved without impurities,” its starkly strict meter in the concluding lines that sort of culminate the pulse of the poem’s quatrains.

“Stare with me.” The poem begins as supplication (not, as I read it, a command), asking us to share a blinding that is perhaps a relief from a “gnawing hunger.” Bodily, sensory experiences constitute the heart of the poem, and bodily harms make manifest other harms, those interior and permanent.

Once when she was away, I sent Clara some of my fingernail clippings. I wanted some sort of physical presence with her, and I hoped also that the oddity of it might please her. I think it did. She has a similar sort of presence with me, in some of her hair that’s saved in my drawer where I keep stuff that’s particularly important to me. The funeral home supplied small vinyl zippered bags, which I guess they keep on hand for this kind of thing. I’m so very glad that my papa thought of this.

“Stare with me.” The poem begins with an implicit “you.” I’ve been thinking a lot lately about our need for other people, and particularly the humanness of helping and needing help. I think it’s important in this poem that the speaker does not feel alone.

In the days, weeks, months, years following her death, one of my recurring griefs has been that she knew she needed help, and sought it, that I had been one of those trying and trying to answer her and help her, that she was receiving help. But my help wasn’t good enough and then suddenly I could no longer help her. Everyone I tell this to kindly reminds me of what is logically true. I suppose that it wasn’t my “fault,” that I “did all that I could,” and so on.

And yet.

I’ve had the beginning cantos of Dante’s Inferno in my mind over the past year or so. He’s trapped in dark night in the selva oscura, prevented by strange beasts from climbing a hill toward the rising sun.  All that’s left is to cry out for help. The Virgin Mary hears his cry, and, via the good offices of St. Lucy (bearer of vision) and Beatrice (beatific), sends Virgil to guide him through hell. With his help, Dante makes it to the light on the other side.


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