Wind for your sickness.
The moon for your sickness.

A river of night-
trees. Mossy patches

where something recently slept.
A hand-drawn sketch of
fish for your sickness,

red and ghost-
loamed. From your mother,

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for your sickness, a late
flock of snow-geese
swept up in a gust.

From your father, a cave
of violas in luminous
pitch. For the panic

desolation. For scratchy bed-
sheets, the gathering of tumors,
a dispensation traveling in

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far-nesses across the
galaxy-quiet of what is

to come. Dark-sunned,
you are swimming in schools.

For the despairing quality of
hospital fluorescence,

the secondhand alarm—
theft of time theft of

hope. The messages
arrive like flowers.

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For the common un-
contested light of dusk.
For tobacco moths

in clouds of wings at
the door. For the dawn-

emotion, a calm-in-vastness
that descends upon
what is. Upon the storm-

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tangle of branches, wing-
veins and hand-veins
shadow-shown on that pale

skin of sky. Too stone for
fear. Too brittle for

findings. From the powers that,
born on the site of sorrow,

fall in strands of smoke
across your sickness,
for your sickness,

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and carry and keep you.
That would keep you here.

Copyright © by Joanna Klink. Printed by permission of the author.

Joanna Klink is the author of three books of poetry, They Are Sleeping, Circadian, and Raptus. Klink taught in the M.F.A. Program at the University of Montana for seven years and is currently the Briggs-Copeland Poet at Harvard University.

The Arts & Academe poetry editor Lisa Russ Spaar notes:

André Hodier once described jazz bebop saxophonist Charlie Parker’s distinctive soloing, something he achieved not in the traditional way, by reconfiguring the melody, or head, of the tune, but by embroidering all around it, defining it by its absence. Joanna Klink’s “The Graves,” an advent poem in many ways—an incantatory, nocturnal vigil, a talismanic keeping-watch—riffs in a similar way around the unnamed center of the poem: the impending death of the ill “you” the poem addresses.

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From its first note, the poem peals with the anaphoric rhythms and accrued kennings of an ancient Celtic or Gaelic blessing, and the speaker, in intimate but also all-seeing relation to the sick subject of the poem, offers a series of gifts, prescriptions, remedies, compensations extended as though in receipt for, or to alleviate or even obstruct, the addressee’s afflictions: “Wind for your sickness. / The moon for your sickness. // A river of night- / trees. Mossy patches // where something recently slept. / A hand-drawn sketch of / fish for your sickness, // red and ghost- / loamed.”

One of the many things I admire about Klink’s lyric gift is her ability to conjure psychological experience through fluid shifts of perspective and point of view. The speaker makes us privy to both the subject’s domestic sphere—the sick one’s mother, for instance, sends “for your sickness, a late / flock of snow geese swept up in a gust” and the father offers “a cave / of violas in luminous / pitch” to ameliorate “the panic / desolation” and the “scratchy bed- / sheets, the gathering of tumors”—and also to the things the sick one cannot possibly know, fate, for instance, “traveling in // far-nesses across the / galaxy-quiet of what is // to come.” The reader feels, too, the “despairing quality of / hospital influorescence, // the secondhand alarm -- / theft of time theft of / hope”—a despair no child’s drawing or CD of golden notes can, finally, keep at bay.

“The Graves” makes a charged title for the poem, evoking as it does, of course, the destination of the body’s dust, our burial, our mortality—but also suggesting weight, gravity, seriousness. The shape of the poem—undulating couplets and tercets that call attention to the line—suggests, too, that Klink means us to think consciously of (en)gravings—carvings, markings, text, words. In a way, “graves,” in this context, becomes akin to “psalms” or “collects” or “ghazals.” Klink seems to be inventing her own poetic form here (and in fact another poem in her most recent collection, Raptus, is also called “The Graves”), a language act capable of confronting fate, “that pale / skin of sky” that seems “[t]oo stone for / fear. Too brittle for // findings.”

The remedial and recompensatory for that propels the first part of the poem turn into new prepositions/propositions as the poem culminates. We hear that the “dawn- / emotion, a calm-in-vastness / . . . descends upon / what is.” This “upon”—somatic and burdened—moves the poem forward. This “dawn-emotion” also descends “from” a more generative source:

. . . the powers that,
born on the site of sorrow,

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fall in strands of smoke,
across your sickness,
for your sickness,

and carry and keep you.
That would keep you here.

Klink’s “graves”—each startling image, as Robert Hass would put it, an elegy to what it signifies—bear the truth of Stevens’s statement that death is the mother of beauty—and, by extension, poetry, love, and a guarded, expectancy akin to hope.