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C.N.P Poetry 

  • Writer's pictureCathexis Northwest Press

Ocean Canticle; After the Mass Shooting at Robb Elementary...; Daybreak Light Rejoining...

By: Clif Mason

Ocean Canticle

We choose not to leave the dream of the sea.

Immortal jellies float, transparent as windows,

in the water, & the sun dies into & is

resurrected from the unceasing waves.

Does music trace the flight of garrulous gulls?

Light the blue whales’ starless chambers?

Love seeks perpetual day or perpetual night.

Time, to no one’s surprise, refuses to comply.

Love is willing to drown to learn how to swim.

After the Mass Shooting at Robb Elementary School, Uvalde, Texas

The hurt lives on in the brain’s dire library of pain.

Every day we walk, without knowing,

straight into a lair of impaired hearts.

How can we make calculations about continued risk?

How can we look into our children’s eyes?

Daybreak Light Rejoining Daybreak Light

Everything that disappears

Disappears as if returning somewhere.

Tracy K. Smith

I can not make my fragments whole today.

Words that should stitch & hem & adorn are torn,

syllable from syl lable. No seam holds.

If these mer- legs do not fuse, I will drown

in these oceans of light that should be my home.

In these oceans of light that should be my home,

if these mer-legs do not fuse, I will drown.

Sylla ble from syllable—no seam holds.

Words that should stitch & hem & adorn are torn.

I cannot make my frag ments whole today.


Each day our poems must eat a feast

of ball bearings & tar sand oil,

enriched uranium & artificial islands,

oxygen minimum ocean zones

& floors of plague patients on respirators.


Questions for a future archaeologist:

How many words did this society have for the infliction of harm?

More than can be readily counted.

For the expression of love?

Not nearly enough.

What artifacts revealed their kindness?

Items have been identified as possible, but their interpretation

is in dispute.

What artifacts revealed their tenderness & care?


Why can’t we distinguish their prisons from their cities?

It was easier for budgeting & policing functions to consider

them one & the same.

How long did they ride the horses of rage & contempt?

Long enough to destroy most of their hope.

Did they ever breathe the oxygen of empathy?

Yes, but it was heavily polluted with distrust & suspicion.

Did they create art or merely products for mass consumption?

Both, though the glut of the latter sometimes smothered

the former.

How often did they betray the dreams of frontline workers?

Workers saw their dreams evaporate in their hands every hour.

How deep was their complicity in crimes of domestic terror?

More than they could ever allow themselves to admit.

Why did they consider mercy a fatal weakness?

In acts of mercy, it was impossible for the enemy to feel

the full weight of their dominance.

Why did they prize revenge over forgiveness?

Revenge caused fear & so reinforced their sense of power.

Why did they prize fear over respect.

They were unable to recognize the difference.

Why did they value vehemently articulated passion over science?


Why did they value cynical calculation over sincerity?


What scale do we use to measure their guilt?

Until something more precise is invented, the Richter scale.


Spell breaks spell, &, though once enspelled,

we find ourselves unspelled & broken, irretrievably broken

& bereft, left with only time & air on our hands,

only time that betrays again & yet once more,

until nothing remains to betray.

For nothing is less faithful

than time.

How long before we forsake what is always

forsaking us, before we turn from what can never

satisfy or support or reward our trust, never regard

or return our devotion?

Now, before the moon falls

completely from our grasp, let us embrace the star

that sets moon & us aflame at break of day,

to burn beyond movement & moment, brokenness

& betrayal, beyond the rupture & rapture & spell of time.


Do I beseech the moon, write the moon, break the moon,

like some mirror slipped from fingers to shatter on floor tiles,

implacable as such tiles always are? Do I hesitate

to pick up the shards? What choices do I make, unmake,

re-make? Do I suspect the moon pieces are fragments

of the language by which I have always shaped my mer-

self & learned whatever it was could be learned,

before words shifted in time & adapted or adjusted

or meant less or more than they had before

or became opaque where they had once been crystal?

Do I suspect new words, better words, will emerge

& fashion or reveal whole new aspects or qualities

or conditions or pre-conditions of the person I am

or might become? Do I suspect the moon shards,

every bit as bright as I would think those pieces

would be when reflecting light from the daybreak star,

are fragments of time as well as words, fragments

of the thoughts those words can speak & pronounce,

shout & scream, whisper & caress & kiss.

& the syllables & sounds, though at first confused,

fuse again in your hands & on your tongue,

fuse softly as daybreak light rejoining daybreak light—

light healing light—until there is nothing

that is not daybreak & words that speak daybreak,

& the mer-person I am swims faster than dolphins

or whales through oceans upon oceans

of daybreak light & time?


Clif Mason lives with his wife, a visual artist, in Fontenelle Forest, in Bellevue, Nebraska. He is the author of the collection, Knocking the Stars Senseless and three chapbooks: The Book of Night & Waking (chosen by John Sibley Williams as the winner of the 2019 Cathexis Northwest Press Chapbook Prize), Self-Portraits in Which I Do Not Appear, and From the Dead Before. A Pushcart and Best of the Net nominee, Mason is a Professor of English and Humanities at Bellevue University and an erstwhile Fulbright Fellow to Rwanda, Africa.

"These poems are related in that the same subterranean river flows between and connects each of them, just as a river connects towns along its length in the above-ground world. 'Daybreak Light Rejoining Daybreak Light' was composed first. It is a lament that comments on a number of the cultural and environmental traumas that the United States has experienced in recent times. It ends with a flurry of questions, which become increasingly buoyant and animated, as if in the act of self-questioning can be found the beginning of healing. 'After the Mass Shooting at Uvalde, Texas' was written not long after 'Daybreak Light' was finished. Like many, I was knocked to my knees by this horrific event, but I felt I had to respond to it, to bear witness in my own small way. The original poem was about four times longer, but I felt it necessary to cut it to a stark core—which left these five emphatic lines. 'Ocean Canticle' appeared a couple of months later, and it felt as if a shift had occurred silently in my consciousness, a shift toward the restoring of health and balance."


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