Patricia Clark is the author of six books of poetry, most recently Self-Portrait with a Million Dollars (Terrapin, 2020) & the author of three chapbooks. New work appears in Plume, Tar River Poetry, Paterson Literary Review, Westchester Review, I-70 Review, Atticus Review, Midwest Quarterly and elsewhere. She is professor emerita of Writing at Grand Valley State University.

Our Next Breath

My husband’s talking through the music on the radio,
some melodic jazz I don’t know, and telling all
about the bassist, how some years after
the record was made, he was diagnosed with bipolar
disease, from then on his life hit the skids, down
and down, homeless in D.C., addiction and more,
halfway houses and treatments that never worked.

Then one of the other players, a trumpet legend,
was shot by his jealous girlfriend at a nightclub
called Slugs in NY city. The stories bleed from one
to the next, while the sax, the trumpet, double bass,
the drums keep the beat and I’m unconsciously toe-tapping,
trying to listen. By the time the deejay comes back
on, Stan says all of the players are dead,

none left to hear this today, hear their own names,
or collect the royalties they are surely due.
Sometimes the injustices stack up so high, tilting,
they could topple and crash. Over ten days, there’s a war
in Ukraine, started by Russia for no good reason.
A million refugees trying to get out, find a place
to sleep, and stories on the news of people
scrambling to get on trains for Poland.

We turn off the news because it’s terrifying,
and there’s nothing we can do, but the next day
it’s the zoo at Kyiv that makes me cry—
fifty people have moved in with their families,
god knows how, to console the old Asian elephant
and calm the wolves, to cuddle the baby lemur
abandoned by its shell-shocked mama and give food
and water so all the animals can survive.

The other night I said we can’t give up joy.
Our friend David had to put his cat Leo
to sleep but plans for a new cat very soon.
I bend to allium bulbs tucked in the ground
last fall, soon to be pulled up by the sun and spring
rains. Next to our walkway, a clump of Scilla—
a startling blue. Going on as we can, looking up
and out, uncertain as our next breath.