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  • Jo Clark

Beacon

By Jo Clark


Garysburg, North Carolina is a bird sanctuary.

So is Auland and every other empty nest town slinking into swamp on coastal plain. 943 people live in Garysburg.

Less people than beating wings.


I move slow as the parched creek that

runs eastward, so the signal is easy to

see— spread in the street, pointing to

red-wolf country, black bear crossing.


I park on the pecking order road. Struck

by the silence of a sixth extinction. I, the

only sound this town contains.

Framework of metal screeching synthetic mockingbird’s song.

Down here, on the asphalt, the ground is hot beneath my cheek—

skin crackles like yolk across the

dashed yellow line. We lay beneath a

goldfinch sun.

The crumpled body of a cooper’s hawk

orange eye turned skyward—the

ground is no place for a bird in

Garysburg. Splayed wing outstretched,

reaching for sky where it is safe


in Garysburg, bird sanctuary the cooper’s hawk has a punctured feathered chest. 943 people, less than being

a bird in Garysburg means you are supposed to be safe.


all my family does is forget

After my grandfather who remembered

nothing but how to stare;

And my grandmother who reached for me,

called me mama;

And my mother, who said,

when it’s me, take me out back like a sick dog.

On the last day I can remember it,

I will take my sisters’ hands and I will say

listen, I have so much to tell you:

I am thankful for memory

for every soft crevice

of my collapsing

brain. Purple eyes

closed and drifting

out into the field behind

our childhood home.

Rubbed ragged

by blue jeans pulled

over icicle legs,

all of us, long hair, baby

bangs and wanting the great

expanse of Cowbone Creek

to curl into our arms, too.

Do you remember the way

the haybales on Claribel’s

farm rolled so soft when

the calves nudged them?

How we wished

we too, could make

such gentle lines, waving

our limbs like threshers

against the grass?

Do you remember

the ticks wedged

into our socks?

When I went down in the ditch

running

from the old dead tree?

Do you remember the way I dropped?

Tell me again.

Take me outside and

tell me again, how pretty

I fell.

These Keys I Hold

I hold the keys to every home I’ve ever known—

the backwoods grotto, moss-made and elm-reared. I learned forest

baths in the redbud river and the language of fawns, untouched

and scentless, gentle, quick and clever, I was prey

protected, too innocent to be ensnared, too

busy plodding through dawn sod and autumn’s heavy breath.

To the broken down barn where Navaja once breathed,

a world of beasts gone by and I, a child, growing into unknown

years. Blurred and buried, she slept, rippled belly, hindquarters. Hitherto

unmentioned, that fall when my Father let her body rest.

I hold that key to her slumber too, I hid it where we would pray

to St. Eligius to keep her. I went back once, left every blade of grass untouched.

At the bottom of the swimming pool, puckered vinyl, concrete touched

by burning bare soles, our baby toes dancing across the heat, clumsy breath

of midsummer. I lived there too, algae infant turned chlorine prayer

sat by slipping garden hose, sipping out of thumb-and-index tea-cup. Overgrown

butterfly bush, frothing with life. This key rests beside the pile of stones, crest

of waterlogged hair, in finger-woven braids and my mother’s hands, too.

One home, browned golden by oven heat, built from six pies all sweetened to

the ink of heritage’s pen, thundering footsteps, as she boisterously ouch-ed,

hot pan in hand. And the slow squeal of the kettle, churning out a test

of sound and speed. A glass table top smudged by eager fingers and dog’s breath.

This key is slick from canola oil and broken egg shell thrown

Across the tile. I can only grasp at it before it slips—the junk drawer’s prey.

Perhaps, a seven-hour journey to an island forgotten, stunted in time—stuck prey

to mosquitoland and the ghostly swing of a pirate shanty. This home is either too

new to root in, or too easy for the old soil to give. Half sand, grown

into revolutionary graveyard, old bike chains twist like friendship bracelets touched

by ivy and the names of soldiers and sailors alike. She set this key in my hands, breath

of sea breeze and kiss of phantom figurehead. I took it and kept it in my chest.

And yet of all these homes I’ve known, I return to that clearing within the forest

where I found cow skulls and wishbones, a field empty if not for wildflowers, or pray

our footprints trail, rushing like the creek that cut through the earth, wreath

of goldenrod. The coyotes with their yowling would lure me back, too.

As if to say—sister wild, come run with us beneath a buck moon, unbreached.

Sun-day child, turn your eyes toward a world nocturnal, a window unknown.

I cannot stop hoarding the homes that I’ve known. I review them without rest

for fear that I’ll forget the faces I found there, too, or the feeling of the morning’s breath.

I repeat and hide these moments, prey to age and decay, safe within my chest, a world untouched.

Jo Clark is a poet and student at the University of Virginia. She is studying Medieval & Renaissance Literature and Poetry Composition. She is also a member of the University's poetry slam team.

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