Yesterday I met two writers visiting Edge Hill University, Chris Haven and Patricia Clark, both based at Grand Valley State University, Michigan. Not wanting to meet them without having some idea of their work, I tracked down some of their writing in advance.
I enjoyed Sitcom Mom by Chris Haven, an adventure in unreality of another Dorothy.
Some of Patricia Clark’s work can be found on the internet too, enough to beguile me into buying her book My Father on a Bicycle. Late last week the book arrived from the US – I unwrapped it – and promptly dropped it in the bath. Reading the now-dripping volume, I found this powerful poem, which Prof. Clark has kindly allowed me to reproduce in full.
For another day, I’ve aligned my breath with the river,
laced up my walking shoes and set out,
miraculous, really, some days believing
I could traverse the city, keep on walking,
carry my home on my shoulders, never look back.
Today the river flowed the wrong way, the water
churning and boiling, not much to be done
but stride off my sorrow and try to praise,
if I could, the good green buds swelling at twig-joints,
and fallen catkins, red and spongy underfoot.
Let me begin again as a wet thing wrapped
in hair, let me locate, finally, the triangle of a house,
another house, and then a third. Always on foot, the walk
to Visitation School, to the parish church, and the carefree
walk to the hill, the place that was mine alone.
For another day, I’ve given in to the spangled wet
of the river’s face, to my face, and to the dog’s
unfailing heart, our sixteen year alliance one
of stepping out, of sharing the bright air, of twinned
hearts, if it comes to that, bound with a leash.
A different day looms ahead, and the dog’s gait,
her stumble, foreshadowed it, so slight, though,
it might have been imaginary, let it go now, and some
cooling air breathed us both into action, and we set off
again, almost forgetting, not looking back.
What is it that darkens my way, that swerves me from
the path? A shadowy warp-monster seems to stalk
my steps, keeping me niggling and spirit-small
when that isn’t me. What lodges inside here opens
to embrace the riverbank verge, the fields,
and the willow cracked in half, ruined by the wind
last night. In truth, the hill never was free, or mine
alone. For another day, the compass swings wild
in its case on my jacket, the river the only landmark
to follow, its water a magnetic, quick-moving, force.
From My Father on a Bicycle, Michigan State University Press, 2005
Reproduced with permission of the author
I won’t try and stumble alongside this journey – but I will quote the inscription added to my dry but wavy copy: ‘Thanks for being a poetry fan – & for keeping water in the words.’