C.N.P Poetry 

  • Cathexis Northwest Press

Selfie with Percy Bysshe Shelley; Selfie after Reading the Buddha’s...; Selfie with Robert Hayden

By: Clif Mason

Selfie with Percy Bysshe Shelley

Voices arise

from the vast miasma

of the distressed & depressed,

the recently deceased.

Laments arrive

from the deepest chasm

& chiasmus,

chiasmus &


asking us to speak the names

of the forsaken

into a feckless wind.

The moon is a tenebrous,

post-penumbral rust,

as if it has slept in oceans

for unnumbered years.

Millions of souls

have perished.

If we were, each of us, to become

the most tuneful

of tuneful birds,

would that be the metamorphosis required?

Tell me, is this super flower moon a forgetting or a remembering?

If a forgetting,

what is it we are so determined

to forgo,

and why?

If a remembering,

how can we be certain

we’ll bear up

under our bodies’ trembling?

The rose-smoldering,

moldering moon

weeps its blood, solders it,

into jet immensity.

Selfie after Reading the Buddha’s Fire Sermon

Mind is burning,

dust in the streets is burning.

Whales are aflame,

from blowholes to flukes;

coral is aflame.

What canticle can I claim

when millions

are determined to sing

the song of the anaconda

of grievance & cataclysm?

Their chant is long

& unbroken, & every note

is chaos & fire.

Dreams & memories

are stabbed by a thousand

fire stilettos.

Skyscrapers & shopping malls,

basketball arenas & football stadia

are erupting

in big muscular bursts of flame,


with delusions of grandeur.

Perfumed love letters

are kindling—

a burning desolation of ardor

& praises & heartbreak.

Governesses & accountants,

opera singers & farmers—

all are engulfed

in unbridled flame.

Cemeteries & mausoleums

& columbaria are burning—

rolling, roiling flames

of perpetual & imperturbable peace.

Corrosion & rust & salt & rot

& corruption are burning.

Cliff divers & bridge jumper

are burning—

fireballing like Icarus

as they plummet.

Aerosols & aggravated assaults

are burning.

Art museums & galleries

& botanical gardens

are burning,

incandescent hungers,

ancient & new, rosaries

& mute resurrections of fire.

Tent cities are burning,

canvas combusting fast

as the lace of moth wings.

Parasites & paragons

are burning—guttering

candles of sputtering flame.

Fire hydrants & fire trucks

& fire stations are burning—

thousands of backdrafts

eradicating everything.

Tax fraud & stock manipulation

are burning—vile, putrescent

tumors of flame.

Fire makes neon tubes shatter

& zip lines whip

through the air.

Departures without homecomings

are burning—

pierced by fire arrows

from endless bows.

Oil wells across the planet

are burning—

oh, the black acrid

carcinogenic smoke,

choking lungs,

making bowels boil

with flame.

Regrets & shame

& humiliation

are burning,

like liquid nitrogen

poured & pooled on the body,

blistering as it evaporates.

Poetry readings are burning:

narrative northern lights—

strings & streamers

& flaming green sheets—

& lyric bioluminescence

& epic fire tornadoes.

Public monuments

& personal shrines

are burning,

leaving nothing behind,

not even char.

Lethargy sinks into dull,

listless, irresolute embers—

lamentation into lambent

grief-stricken flickers,

heartsick flaming tears.

The canopies of virgin forests

& ten thousand beach umbrellas

are aflame.

Songbirds & raptors,

cattle & coyotes

are burning.

Hospital workers

& first responders

& gowned patients

are igniting—untold thousands

of instant immolations

that leave carbon shadows

on walls & floors

& gurneys & operating theaters.

Resentments & petty jealousies

& backbiting are burning.

News desks & yoga classes

are burning,

law & the social contract

are burning—

flames rising up

a towering wall, like the Red Sea

lifted by the fingers of God.

The entire world

is burning.

Everything corporeal

& incorporeal is burning.

Everything that can

& cannot burn is burning.

Selfie with Robert Hayden

We march with the derelict moon from one end of damaged night to the other, until that star appears, like a great incandescent stone, that makes shadow of every other star. As daybreak burns to ribbons of airy nothing the space round which, full-bodied, we stride, the star makes of us its torches, & the word Change is those torches’ lambent light. We chant the anthem of a meekness that will not, though humble, be humiliated. We sing it in the gutters & basements, the garbage dumps & C-suites, of the grief-born, post-apocalyptic, bleak, & wounded night. Starlight sings to & ignites the starlight in us, & despite the plaguey year, we burn.

Clif Mason lives and dreams in Bellevue, Nebraska. He is the author of Knocking the Stars Senseless and three chapbooks: The Book of Night & Waking (selected by John Sibley Williams for the Cathexis Northwest Press Chapbook Prize), Self-Portraits in Which I Do Not Appear, and From the Dead Before. He was a Fulbright Fellow to Rwanda, Africa.

Interview with the Poet:


How long have you been writing poetry?

Clif Mason:

Since my senior year in high school. The late Mary Jewel Ledbetter was my English teacher in Pierre, South Dakota, and she asked us to write about the General Prologue to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. One of the options offered was to compose a poetic response. I wrote a brief modern update, complete with (sometimes wince-worthy) rhyme and (shaky) meter. Mrs. Ledbetter was very encouraging, however, seeing past the faults to the promise. I began writing poetry more frequently the summer after my freshman year of college.


Can you remember the first poem you read that made you fall in love with poetry?

CM: Throughout high school we read mostly prose, but also some drama and poetry. The poet whose work really inflamed my synapses was Shakespeare. We read three of his plays, Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet. His language created new neural pathways in my brain and forever changed my thoughts and feelings about the expressive capabilities of words.


Who are your favorite poets? Any specific poems?

CM: There are far too many to list, so these few will have to stand for the many (in no particular order): Marianne Moore, “The Fish” and “What Are Years”; Robert Hayden, “Middle Passage,” “Those Winter Sundays,” and “Runagate Runagate”; Ocean Vuong, “Self-Portrait as Exit Wounds,” “Aubade with Burning City,” and “Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong”; Adrienne Rich, “Diving into the Wreck”; Pablo Neruda, “The Heights of Macchu Picchu,” “I’m Explaining a Few Things”; and “Love Sonnet XVII”; Federico García