John Clare

Talvikki Ansel Click to

tanselTalvikki Ansel was educated at Mount Holyoke, Indiana University and Stanford, where she had a Stegnar Fellowship.  She has published in Atlantic Monthly, New Republic and Poetry and has received a Pushcart Prize.  Her books are My Shining Archipelago, which received the Yale Younger Poets Award in 1996, and Jetty (Zoo Press, 2003).  She lives in Rhode Island.  “John Clare” originally appeared in Shenandoah 45/3.

Spondee; name –
damp earth and distance. This
is what it’s like to leave – first
the dirt, robin perched
on the handle of the spade; Mary, up-
ending a bucket for him to sit
while she hisses the milk into a pail,
ear pressed to a flank, lap,
the fern owl’s nest. Enclosure, 1810 –
the first act, the moors
all cut like quilt nap. Blue
thread of pain. – Why does anyone
think they can step back? (me,
when I close my eyes I
can see the hill beyond
the larch, cows like specks – )
Homesick? Blue flax, birds’ eggs,
he writes: the moor, “its only
bondage the circling sky.” The blackbird
In the coppice churrs, “we have no name for
burst of spring.” Doctor Allen
feels the perfect dome, ellipse –
ellipsis – of his skull; phrenology at Fairmead
house for the Insane; vicissitudes of weather
the subject’s mind. The Flitting, “summer
like a stranger comes…I envy birds,”
sweeping clear sky. John Clare,
“my life hath been one love,” escapes:
wet ditches, Mary, “my life
hath been one chain of contradictions,”
in search of Mary – dead now
three years, eating grass.
And this: when he dies the villagers lift
the lid of the coffin, see if it’s
he, keep mid-night vigil; keep
at bay a London surgeon wanting
to slice the top of his skull, to study
the tempest settling.


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