archives winter 2009



Plastic Man

Walking home from the post office,
looking at the books of superhero stamps
I bought, I can’t help but think that there are
people who know how to write off such expenses,
or at least have accountants who can,
people more capable than I am, people
for whom life is an ever-expanding pleasure
full of good returns on wise investments,
not the sort of blundering through debt
and depression that even a friend of mine,
mired in each and with no sign of escape,
thinks ignoble and undeserving of relief.
That’s life; it comes with the territory,
he said last night, summing up the love
that went rotten on him after just six years,
the bankruptcy he endured just to be alone,
then cursed the little phrase he’d turned.
We talked about these awful platitudes,
how each year we come up with more
though we don’t mean to say them 
and dislike being the sources of such
banal, uninvestigative choruses.
It’s why we decided to write each other,
weekly, and on paper, to force a recon-
sideration of the words we let fill our lives.
The talk then turned toward pleasure,
to those we each still have. He went on about
the comics of his youth, his boxes of them,
and the hours he now spends rereading each.
It’s why I’m coming home with these stamps,
thinking my friend will appreciate
the cheap fancy of the characters, their colors
and ridiculous powers, indicated in bolts
and flashes around their hands and heads,
and all their good intentions. I think
I might hold back one book of stamps,
for an investment of my own,
then think which hero I’d most want
to keep me safe. Last night my friend
said something about Silver Surfer
being the most existential of superheroes,
comparing his own bargained-for solitude
to whatever deal the Surfer struck,
kept alive to herald the ends of other worlds,
so he’s out. Superman too much a cliché
in a world of clichés. Batman too willfully
grim. Plastic Man I’ve never heard of,
but I like the way the backs of his stamps
describe him: reformed gangster
turned elastic and relatively good,
taking on a slapstick hero’s view of life,
goofing down to reroute fires, bullets,
the falling body of his doofus buddy,
Woozy Winks. Does he do relationships?
What about taxes? Because it’s in these
things that my friend and I need him most.
It’s how his metaphor best serves,
the red taffy of his body taking everything in,
engaged beyond the breach of our capacities,
able to expand, to hold and make right.


What to Call a Gathering of Flies

A corpse, my first thought, or a funeral,
for their tendency to hang around the dead.

Manslaughter, I thought next, like crows
bargaining a lesser charge, watching as

they shrouded a stretch of sidewalk along 18th,
rerouting the pedestrians. A Baudelaire,

I thought. Or else an epidemic. A harbinger,
I thought, because there seemed a message

in them and the contents of it bleak.
Given the way people gathered to watch

the grainy cloud, some with jaws paused out,
I thought Eucharist, sanctifying my first

impression. Or else an awe. Others kept
back, as though to share the air with flies

was to put a hand in Acheron. And they
did seem like something from the afterlife

or what would send you there. Black lung,
then, for their vague, charcoaled heaving.

Though more something come down
from heaven. A black hole, then. Perhaps

a void. Another person got it right
when he said plague. A plague of flies.

The phrase spread from tongue to tongue,
almost joyfully, almost sung, as though

there were something the flies could
spare us from for calling out their name.  


Charlie Clark’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Crazyhorse, Forklift, OH, Low Rent Magazine, Missouri Review, Smartish Pace, and other journals.