The Remembering Time
When I was seven, I ran down the street
with a live fish in my hand.
I put it in a barrel of rainwater,
where it lived all summer,
its whiskers menacing the mossy bottom.
When I went to school, I forgot the fish.
One day in November, I remembered
& broke the ice skin from the barrel.
The fish was gone.
A neighbor with amputated fingers
sat on a patio & smoked.
He said sometimes he dreamed
his lost fingers tapped him on the shoulder.
He turned to look but there was nothing there.
He wanted to find them & rejoin them
at the first knuckle. He told me
he didn’t believe they were lost for good.
He said he would learn the trumpet
when his fingers returned.
I didn’t know what had happened
to the man’s fingers.
The fish might have bitten them off
when the man had tried to grab it
from the barrel. & the man might
have killed the fish in revenge.
I liked to imagine the fish rising
in the moonlight shining on the water,
rising & swimming in moon currents
all the way to the river.
When he thought I wasn’t looking,
the man grimaced.
He knew the fish was never coming back.
After the battle, we planted the bones
& tiny skeletons sprang up.
The maker of bricks had died.
He wouldn’t be replaced.
The maker of flags had died.
No one had noticed.
The maker of poems had died.
She couldn’t be replaced.
Gravity pulled a river
through night’s dead helmet,
pulled it like a long black scarf.
Instructions from a crumbling text:
Place thyme under your pillow.
Nightmares will be dispelled.
Place thyme in your armor.
You will be fearless.
Place thyme on coffins.
The dead will glide
into the next world.
Strap time to your wrist.
Five years will be subtracted
from your life.
We wrote ballads of betrayal,
sonnets of deceit.
Manikins led the quelling.
Thousands turned to dust
& the city rode the horse
of lassitude & distrust.
The sky was the color of absinthe,
a submarine appeared
in the middle of a field.
As stars drank indigo from the sky,
the moon rose.
Milk spilled onto African onyx.
The bear beat an anvil in my brain. He hammered
out metal patches for new gaps in the skull’s plates.
He didn’t care if I felt my heart was full
of billy clubs & jackknives. The bear banged
until my head rang like a Tibetan singing bowl.
He said, We have important things to do,
& you’re just wasting time—as usual—
on ‘life’s arresting ambiguities’.
A flock of grackles burst from my eyes’ pupils.
I didn’t like what he was saying.
My fingers became manic drumsticks
as if the whole world were my cymbal & snare.
I said, A man on the street stole my kneecaps
& bartered them for toiletries & a grapefruit.
The bear said, See, that’s what I’m talking about.
That’s what happens when you don’t
take care of business. Now where do you think
we’re going to find a new pair a kneecaps?
They aren’t making spares anymore.
I said, One of my friends said all I needed
was to inject myself with a plasma television
two meters wide & it would cheer me right up.
The bear said, Oh, yeah, like that’s going to help.
I said, Someone at work said none of the Ferrari
Enzos that had ever been or ever would be made
would never go from zero to sixty in three-&-
a-half seconds on any of the highways in my life.
The bear said, So what’s it going to take
for you to wake up?
You have to do something now,
& I mean Right Now, or it’s all over.
I said, OK, OK, I get it.
Now would you stop banging that anvil?
The bear looked at me a while with those eyes
big as the moon & black as its far side,
looked at me & said, So, get dressed & let’s go.
What are you waiting for?
I walked through summer's green mirage
& watched sun’s first rays anoint
each flower & grass blade, each butterfly
& bee. The old mortician, Time,
began to dog my steps, shedding darkness
like a lamp. I became fully blind by noon.
My glasses clung worthless to my face.
I stumbled up a sidewalk in a panic,
& trying to remember just where I was,
hugged a mailbox as if it were the world’s
keystone. At last I ventured out again,
hands before me, as if I were reaching out
to touch a world I’d lost. I stumbled over
uneven meetings (matings?) of pavement,
falling & scraping my knees. I nearly ran
into an approaching dog, but I heard it shift
& skitter away, nails clicking. At the street
corner I hesitated, but hearing no car,
crossed to the safety of the other side.
An hour later, for no discernible reason,
the blindness began to lift, & by late
afternoon my sight was fully restored.
I shuddered as I recalled that blackness
curling like smoke, a swirling inky stain,
encroaching upon summer air.
I was entrusted with delivering a box
to a destination one year’s travel away—
by horse & ship, by elephant & unknown
flying machine, but mostly by foot.
The box was two hands square
& one hand deep. It was made
of a dark wood smelling of a thick,
musky fruit & painted in intricate
geometric designs, hundreds
of thin lines, red, black, cobalt, & gold.
Sometimes the box felt as if it were filled
with some stone denser
than any stone could be.
A single stone, for it did not rattle
Sometimes the box felt as if it were simply
a sheath for air, sheer as silk.
The box had a simple metal clasp
but no lock. I’d been told that I was,
under no circumstances,
to open the box & look within.
The desire to look grew more intense
every day. Thinking about the box,
I’d lose track of the walk for days on end,
though my body still made its slow
progress. I would be plodding unawares
on the edge of a precipice, feeling the most
painful curiosity, the most urgent longing
to unclasp the lid, open the box,
& see its mystery revealed.
But those who had entrusted me
with this task knew me well.
I did not slip the clasp & lift the lid.
Who was I kidding? Of course I opened it.
The box was a story,
the story of many stories
from the remembering time,
& the story was a poem—
Clif Mason's poems are forthcoming in two collections: Knocking the Stars Senseless (Stephen F. Austin Press) and Self-portraits in Which I Do Not Appear (Finishing Line Press). They have also appeared in in the chapbook, From the Dead Before. He is fortunate that his work has been awarded prizes by the Joe Gouveia Outermost Poetry Contest (chosen by Marge Piercy), Writers’ Journal, Plainsongs, the Midwest Writers’ Conference, and the Academy of American Poets. His work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and he has been the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship to Rwanda, Africa. He lives in Bellevue, Nebraska, with his wife, a visual artist. He is Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Bellevue University.
"'The Remembering Time' brings together elements of magical realism, surrealism, modern lyrical nature writing, and the Native American oral tradition to make a kind of poetic creole, something that is all of these things but none of them exclusively. I draw continual inspiration from the fiction of Márquez, Morrison, and Okri; the poems of Neruda, Lorca, Merwin, Kaminsky, Bishop, Moore, Smith, and Clampitt; as well as the tales of Native American trickster heroes. Echoes of these works can no doubt be heard, a shadow chorus, behind the music of the poem’s sections and lines. These are not allusions or homage so much as poetic muscle memory."