Elegy to be Breathed at the Grand River

Choose a fall night. Choose October’s last night
when the costumed children go door-to-door, scaring

only themselves. Remember the year a little girl
cried at our door, saying, “I didn’t want to be a bride”?

The girl turned and flounced away while her mother
laughed. This elegy is for the girl. If you choose

a good night, the ground will exhale along
with the river, a shimmer of leafshine, russet,

maroon, amber, scarlet. Notice how those
colors ripple in the water, inviting you in.

No one swims in the river, but fishermen
wade out there to the middle, avoiding

sudden holes, hitching up hipboots, sliding
felted boots along, feeling for stones.

Elements of sorrow and goodbye are fitting
for elegy. I’m going nowhere but home,

holding the little girl’s hand, trying to tell
her I could be her mother. It’s not going

to work. The sass between them is bond
and DNA. When I spit in the tube, mailed

it in, my cousins proliferated like fruit
flies. Who are they all? The family lines

tangled up like mistaken birdsong—
is that a great horned owl or a boy

hoo-hooing for an echo? A kingfisher
or a maraca being shaken at the nearby

Mexican restaurant? This elegy features
refreshments—ghost food and sweets

for the journey. White cauliflower steamed
and dipped in melted cheese, mashed

potatoes and milk, a trout amandine covered
in cream. Chocolate mousse in ramekins

and an almond tart to end with. Take your
sweet time. Let’s wash it down with wine,

as purple as dusk coming on, or as the bruise
the girl’s wrist shows, from her mother’s grip.





Patricia Clark is the author of Self-Portrait with a Million Dollars, her sixth book of poems, and three chapbooks. She recently retired from thirty years of teaching in the Writing Department at Grand Valley State University in Michigan, where she was also the university’s poet in residence. She has new work forthcoming in Plume, The Southern Review, North American Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, and Cimarron Review. Her poem “Astronomy: ‘In Perfect Silence’” was chosen to go to the moon in November 2024 as part of the Lunar Codex.

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