featured in the poetry forum November 5, 2023  :: 0 comments

I carry a pen
in my shirt pocket

mostly it’s just
a pen in a shirt pocket

but once in a while
it leaks through

and makes an indelible
mark over my heart

and when that happens
people are moved

to put their hands
over their own hearts

and exclaim that my pen
actually had them believing

if only for a moment
that it was a matter

of life and death

editors note:

What’s it matter to you? – mh clay


featured in the poetry forum March 24, 2023  :: 0 comments

She was wearing a white button-down shirt
with snap buttons, waiting for me
to unsnap them. But I was shy and she was
in the driver’s seat. So she started unsnapping them
herself. She was 18 and had her own car already,
an old-fashioned Volvo named Bess. She had named it Bess
because Bess was an old-fashioned name. I was barely 16
and didn’t have my permit yet, but I had permission
as far as the snaps. We were parked in Bess with the lights off
idling in a green place somewhere in the twilight
of my childhood. Its real name was the Volvo Amazon,
derived from the female warriors of Greek mythology. But I don’t think
I knew that yet. And I don’t think I knew
she wasn’t wearing a bra. She’d already unsnapped
2 buttons, to show me how it was done and to show me
the little hollow between her breasts called cleavage,
an old-fashioned word that somehow also applied
to my busty grandmother living in Florida. I gingerly
unsnapped the third button. Someone inhaled audibly. Maybe me.
It felt like unwrapping a present that I’d only seen advertised
in magazines. Suddenly she unsnapped all of the buttons,
impatiently ripping the wrapping paper right off.
“Thank you,” I whispered gratefully, then just sat there
staring stupidly. Bess made a ticking sound
that filled the silence. It could have been
the spark plugs–you’re supposed to replace them
every 100,000 miles or so. Or it could have been
the oil was low, or the valves were maladjusted,
or the drive pulleys were worn out. What did I know about
what was going on inside of Bess, in that moment,
16 years old, stupidly staring, something like time, ticking.

editors note:

A beautiful bumble, a humble fumble. – mh clay

Youth & Beauty

featured in the poetry forum June 11, 2022  :: 1 comment

When I was young and good-looking
I mean really young like thirteen or fourteen
I mean really good-looking like Leanne Simon definitely noticed me
in the halls and in the cafeteria
even though she never said a word to me
when I was young and good-looking
and she was young and good-looking
in fact Leanne Simon was probably the best-looking girl in my grade
she was so pretty you just wanted to stare at her
and look for the flaw in her perfection
because there had to be a flaw but there was no flaw
and if she had wanted to be with me like go out with me
which of course she didn’t but just for the sake of argument
I wouldn’t even have known what to do with Leanne Simon
I mean I probably would have shown her my stamp collection
and my coin collection and my runner-up tennis trophy
or maybe the nutcracker my parents brought home from Denmark
with the intricately carved wooden handles
but I don’t think I would have touched her because
when I was young and good-looking
I was less interested in touching beauty than just staring at it
and looking for the flaws and not finding any
so I definitely wouldn’t have wanted to get in her pants
because I didn’t know what was in her pants and didn’t want to know
I just wanted to be around her and in front of her
and on every side of her especially her good side
so I probably would have shown her my record collection
and maybe we would have sat on my bed together
and listened to records and not even given a thought
to what two young and good-looking people might do
on a bed or in a bed but I’d like to think
that maybe I would have asked her to dance
which is one of the best ways to be around beauty
and examine its perfection from all sides for the flaws that aren’t there
but chances are I wouldn’t have had the balls to ask her to dance
as I sat there next to her on the bed listening to the music
and fidgeting with the nutcracker in my hands
after she’d held it in her hands and admired it and handed it back to me

editors note:

Ahhh, sweet sigh! – mh clay

The Curiosity Factor

featured in the poetry forum January 14, 2022  :: 0 comments

Don’t you love that it’s a thing,
the wretchedness
on the other side
spilling over, puddling
like transmission fluid or
blood, forcing us to slow down
because it’s all so irresistible,
so infectious that we can’t
look and we can’t stop looking
at the beautiful catastrophes–
beautiful for the way they
bring us together over them–
in a world where every last one of us
is stuck here with no idea why,
hoping and praying it’ll all become clear
somewhere up ahead,
the unseen hands of angels
bearing brooms, bearing stretchers
and wreckers with winches,
not exactly clearing it up
but clearing it away somehow
before we ever get there,
so we never know in this lifetime
what it was we were waiting for
or the reason for our long-suffering.

editors note:

We’re rubbernecking for righteousness. – mh clay


featured in the poetry forum September 20, 2021  :: 0 comments

And what if dying is like
that time I got out of school early
because I had an appointment
and I pushed open the heavy doors
and walked out into the day
and it was a beautiful spring day
or a late winter day that smelled like spring
and if it was fall it was early fall
when it’s all but technically summer
and there was a whole world going on out there
and it had been going on out there the whole time
that I was stuck inside with time
and teachers and rules and equations and parsed sentences
but now here I was among the tribe
of the free and I could go this way or I could go that way
or I could just sit down right here on this bench
and look around at all the freedom
that was mine and also the work crew’s
breaking for lunch beneath their ladders and also the woman’s
pushing her stroller along the sidewalk and also the man’s
walking his small dog and smoking a cigarette
and it belonged to the cars whooshing by with a sound like
the wind in the trees and the wind in my hair
and the wind all around me and inside me
and also above me chasing the clouds running free
and suddenly there was my mother
looking somehow a little different
in all her freedom and all my freedom
until she rolled down her window and waved
to come–now–hurry
because I had an appointment
which felt like a real buzzkill
and I briefly considered turning around
and walking away from her
and going off on my own somewhere
to be alone and free for a little longer
or maybe forever
but then I realized there was nowhere for me to go
except home

editors note:

Dying to get home… – mh clay


featured in the poetry forum January 9, 2021  :: 0 comments

Every poem should have a bird in it — Mary Oliver

Cynosure, gravid, pabulum,
were just three of the many
unusual specimens
I’d been lucky enough
to glimpse in the last few days.
And then I was at the dentist
when I heard risible singing
from behind my hygienist’s
face mask: “These muscles
around your mouth,” she said,
“are your risible muscles,”
and I reached for my metaphorical
binoculars and feasted
on risible perched at the edge
of that noun phrase,
where I’d never seen it before.
It was a rare sighting and I could sense
the dinosaur DNA of that dactyl
going all the way back to the Old French rire
and the Latin ridere, and maybe
I felt a little ridiculous
as I offered her my invisible
binoculars and she declined because
she was wearing a face shield
over her face mask, and her hands were full
of my teeth. Nevertheless, I know she appreciated
risible the way I appreciated it
when I heard its song–which sounds like
laughter–emanating from her own mouth
as I sat there with my mouth open
wider than song, wider than laughter,
as wide as a baby-bird mouth.

editors note:

The birds for us. – mh clay

Getting Back at the Bullies of Junior High

featured in the poetry forum July 25, 2020  :: 0 comments

You were nothing but question marks,
pushy, bellying question marks, weren’t you? weren’t you?
with no contexts but your chesty, end-quote girlfriends,
turning up in my autobiography now, annoying

as typos. Why I oughta
delete you once and for all with one
stab of my little finger! And maybe I will!
But not before I’m done with you, not before

I’ve had some fun with you at your expense.
This is my turf now. My story. You could say
I’m God here, and you’re… whatever I say you are.
And I say you are nothing but little boldface punc-

tuation marks, come to an unfortunate end, sentenced
to eternity in this poem, which is kicking your butt
by making you the butt of every joke in it.
And I think it’s going to be a very long poem,

and I think it’s going to be published simultaneously
in many languages, and in all the best magazines
with the biggest readerships. And now I’m thinking
it will be the title poem of my next collection,

and also my Collected Works, to be published posthumously,
which I know is a big word for you, so let me tell you
what it means. It means I will be at peace, and you will be
still suffering eternal humiliation in this poem

which between you and me is beginning to bore me now. After all,
I have better things to do than waste my time
with your poem. Maybe I’ll just throw it out with you in it.
Maybe I’ll burn it. How about a little fire, question mark?

But it isn’t over until I say it’s over. And I say
it needs polishing. So go ahead, use your sleeve.
I’m going to sit over here now and take a nap.
It had better be brilliant when I wake up.

editors note:

Here they are, bested and beaten. Bully! – mh clay

Recycled Sestina

featured in the poetry forum May 5, 2020  :: 0 comments

It’s hard to feel good about
single-stream recycling

and those enormous receptacles
with the name Harvey written on them
trundling up and down the highway going
who knows where?

They remind me of that sestina
about recycling, the one with my name on it
and plastic, paper, glass, cardboard, aluminum, tin
thrown together in a kind of calibrated jumble
in every stanza,

each recycled end-word coming up
again and again, like in a tumble drier,
the whole thing revolving
around a single bad idea. It was garbage

and I never published it. But E.L. Harvey,
the waste management company with the big receptacles,
has other ideas. And Harvey is published on the broadside
of every truck in the fleet, all of them hauling around

the same questionable idea. I’m stuck here behind one now
in traffic going nowhere, thinking about
my poem. It all gets sent over to Asia, you know,
for processing. Then they send it back over here. Talk about

waste. Talk about pretense. I mean that would be like me
throwing away my sestina, then translating it
into Chinese. Then rehashing it here and putting
my name on it. Then waving it around in your face
like it was something to feel good about.

editors note:

When you think about it, we’re all recycled materials. Let’s self-regulate, Folks! – mh clay

Poem at the Breakfast Place

featured in the poetry forum August 12, 2019  :: 0 comments

The girl who rings me up at the breakfast place
is wearing a T shirt that says BREAKFAST SANDWICH
across her chest. “How’s the breakfast
sandwich?” I ask her, not looking at her breasts
because I am by nature a fearful and shy man
and because I like talking about things without referring to them
the way you sometimes can in poems. “It’s really good,” she says,
and gives me a smile that says she doesn’t
like poetry but likes this poem so far. “I would love
to have that breakfast sandwich every single morning
of my life,” I tell her as I give her the money
for my Earl Gray tea and apple cruller. “You must change
your order,” she says, misquoting the last line
of Rilke’s “Archaic Torso of Apollo.” I look down at my cup,
my cruller oozing apple, then furtively at her lovely young
torso. “Life!” I correct her as she hands me my change,
frowning at me now, not with displeasure but
concentration, like she’s really trying to get this poem.

editors note:

It’s the most important meal of the day. – mh clay

Still Life with Bottle

featured in the poetry forum March 8, 2019  :: 0 comments

The empty bottle the wino left
has a beautiful shape to it,
you have to give him
that. Tall, curved, downright
voluptuous. He left it here
next to an empty pack of Kools
on this park bench as a gift for you–
the evidence of his work.
It must have taken him much
of the morning to polish off.
A kind of workmanship itself the way
it grew inside him as the bottle grew
empty, and he grew more and more
himself, glowing warmly
the way the light filling the bottle
suffuses it with a fugitive warmth
now that the sun is high and he
has departed, leaving his art
or his garbage here for you
to marvel at or deplore,
depending on your point of view.

editors note:

Every wino is an artist; every artist, a wino (not all wine flows from bottles). – mh clay