Charlie Clark

Devil’s Drink

He knows every act is political,
and therefore a variety of sin,
so what he drinks makes so little
difference he can’t tell seltzer
from the body’s various syrups.
Such an easy thing to surrender to,
which is in others his preferred state—
indifference, compliance, complicity—
though still it’s unsettling to find
in himself such sentiments gain steam.
Or not unsettling. Understandable,
maybe, after all that’s squirreled down
his tongue. Even at the forking,
it’s smooth as marble sculpture after rain.

The Patron Saint of Forgetting

1. Under the Spell of the Patron Saint of Forgetting

On the fleshy part of my right hand, just below the gap that separates the fingers from the thumb, there’s a dot I’ve drawn in red.

It’s there as a reminder; of what, I can’t remember.

2. Why Milan Kundera Is Not the Patron Saint of Forgetting

If the sex in Milan Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting is not—as his opening description of the vanished Clementis’ hat resting on Gottwald’s head is—the relating of specific true events, it seems at least plausibly based on reality, though lamentably so.

Reading the book, one gets a sense of the many ways communism poisoned nearly half a century of Czechoslovak life, and how forgetting became for some a means of surviving that catastrophe.

But also there is a lot of sexual bravado in it.

A kind of skeezy need on Kundera’s part to prove he’s been around the block.

3. Confession to the Patron Saint of Forgetting

One summer I either never completed a poem or touched a woman.

I can’t, today, remember which.

Most of what I recall from that summer is walking the pavement, each pulse of blood a fresh failing.

I’d stand sometimes before the large medieval portrait of you hanging in the national gallery,

or the portrait of someone I started calling the patron saint of forgetting.

The tufts of fur coming through the neck of your collarless red tunic are meant, I think, to indicate a hair shirt, what the faithful wear as a way to keep their imperfections close.

Though in the painting your eyes are so vacuous, the staid arc of your chin fat like the flesh of a large domesticated animal at rest, so the hair shirt becomes proof of all you can endure while still continuing to forget.

I’d look at you a while then go out into a grassy little nearby square and sit,

oblivious as I could let myself be of the holes in the ground the rats and other things kept busy running in and out of.

4. Why Henri Bergson Is Not the Patron Saint of Forgetting

A friend recently suggested Henri Bergson could be the patron saint of forgetting.

Let me tell you what I know about Henri Bergson.

Henri Bergson was a French philosopher and the 1927 Nobel laureate in literature.

He argued intuition was more important than memory and wrote investigations on the nature of laughter.

He died of pneumonia in Paris some months into the German occupation of France.

I know all this only because my friend told me,

though I’m sure I’m simplifying and getting some of the facts wrong, as I wasn’t paying much attention when my friend was talking,

and also because my memory has never been all that strong.

When I try to picture Henri Bergson

I close my eyes and see the same dark nothing that appears whenever I try to picture any one or thing I’ve never seen before.

Standing there, eyed closed, thinking so hard of nothing, I laugh.
It’s not hard, then, to get from Henri Bergson to nothing.

Though getting to nothing is easy enough, it is not the same as forgetting.

5. Why I Am Not the Patron Saint of Forgetting

Though I forget so much—

I spend, it seems, easily, half my waking hours trying to recall, tip-of-the-tongue, amid so much distraction, what will not come—

I at least know that there’s something I’ve forgotten.

6. Fable of How the Patron Saint of Forgetting Accidentally Invented Revenge

So the story goes that the saint, wanting to shelter humans from undue burdens of mind, placed memory inside the Siberian tiger,

the saint assuming the creature’s territory reasonably distant from regions of human concern.

So the story goes that a hunter, lost and days from home, happened upon the Siberian tiger resting in a gulch of snow and fallen trees.

Surprised by the creature’s heft and beauty, the hunter shot it several times.

Later, having escaped, recuperated some and seething, the tiger spent days tracking the hunter as he wandered back to his home, a hovel on a frozen eastern curve of the Bikin River.

Before it showed the hunter how bright a memory burns,

the tiger sat among some nearby trees, waiting for the man to pen his dog, to lock his door, light his pipe, and sit, eyes closed before the dancing face of the fire, contemplating nothing.

7. My Vote for the Patron Saint of Forgetting

That thick-tongued young stable boy, the one from the turn of any century,

who wandered into the woods at the southern edge of the property and was never seen again.

He wasn’t an orphan, if that is what you’re thinking.

He came somewhere in the late middle of more children than the stable master and his wife the cook could keep count of.

The boy was docile, quiet, useless, mostly, most hours of the day,

his only real facility being how he could greet any foamy, cantankerous horse at the end of a day’s hunt,

take the rider’s reins, and, looking into the horse’s eyes, whistle softly to it until the horse stood as still as a wheel-rut puddle several hours after rain.

The staff called off its search shortly before two, not wanting to delay any longer the first bell announcing afternoon tea.

8. How This Poem Surrenders to the Patron Saint of Forgetting

That red dot I drew, there, on the back of my hand,

oh, let it be nothing but a bloodless circle.

Let it stand for anything forgettable,

from tigers on down to the dead.

Let it stand for those flowers I passed this morning.

What were they?

Asters, maybe?

Or white periwinkle?

A freshly potted bunch, whose buds had not, just yet, fully bloomed.

Charlie Clark’s work has appeared in Bat City Review, Best New Poets 2011, Blackbird, The Laurel Review, The Missouri Review, Smartish Pace, West Branch, and other journals. He studied poetry at the University of Maryland and lives in Austin, Texas.
Charlie Clark