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Grant Clauser, four poems

The Neighbor Killed Snakes

Each spring they swarmed the Jehovah woman's garden,

ten or twenty a day, hundreds in the length of a week.

Somewhere from an underground nest, they bust forth

like weeds, bamboo shoots you can't keep down.

And in the afternoon sun, before her daughters

got home from school, she'd chop them

one by one with a shovel, or crush their heads

with the heel of her gardening boots, trouble

their tiny bones into red and blue stains

then leave them for her husband to clean up.

I'd find the strays he missed, broken backs

with their heads still on, tongues forking in and out

and try to save them, take them home, hide

their bloody stripes in the shrubs around our garden

until one day she caught me, told my dad, called me little devil

for stealing, called me sick for playing with death,

that I'd always been that boy in the neighborhood,

the one caught with blood on his hands.

Fishing with Ghosts

Lowlands around the creek

are all jack-in-the-pulpit and fern.

Dod arranges rocks into a circle,

raises a fire from ash we left behind.

The salamanders we caught as kids are gone.

So is the smell of honeysuckle,

but the honeysuckle still grows

like a fog rolling down the hill.

I say something about Jim.

His silver motorcycle and white helmet.

Our lines sparkle over the small dam

but no trout rise.

He says something about the good old days

before every memory had a dead person standing in the doorway.

I say good old days are paint on an old shed

where we keep the tools, ax and shovel,

that bike rusting against a rotting wall,

things we need sometime.


Some days in spring

the moon hangs around

long after its light

should have gone out.

Dogs bark from farther off

than I should be able to hear.

Senses that trigger regrets—

the meat factory my daughter

hates because she sees

trucks pulling down the road,

pink snouts and haunches

pushing through metal slats,

hundreds of them, the smell

of their rendering travels

from smokestacks two miles away.

It's then I remember

what Dod told me in 1985,

how he stumbled once

upon the off boy, the one

kids picked on since grade school

and because no one was around

he tripped him, then stood above him,

fists and threats and something unknotted

in both of them until the off boy,

16 or 17 at the time, cried

and peed himself there on the street.

Dod left him and asked me later

if I thought the boy had told.

I said no, he's probably used to it,

and we both forgot, smoked our joints

and dangled our legs off a bridge

over a river that ran

over rocks, that carried pebbles

and silt and the moon's reflection

to someplace neither of us

had ever been

or ever planned to go.

Elegy for the Lehigh Thermometer Works, 1945

The factory supernova'd

its exit like an A bomb,

lit the Catasauqua night sky

for hours as it fell beam by beam

into ash and asphalt,

heat enough to melt

glass, let mercury run free

like water to the iron works

next door where tank armor

baked till it glowed.

Nana, as a girl,

ran with the others

to the place she made

thermometers for the war,

leveling quicksilver into glass

to tell the quick from the dying.

All as one, a thousand thermometers

burst their keepers' bonds.

When the second floor crashed

into the first, firefighters

gave up and watched it burn,

using just enough water

to keep the row homes safe.

The whole town's fever

rose like a rebellion.

All the heat they could suffer

in one gold moment

when flames finally reached

the treetops, turned bare limbs

into torches, called every citizen

to witness that enough

was finally enough.


Grant Clauser is the author of Necessary Myths (winner of the 2013 Dogfish Head Poetry Prize), The Trouble with Rivers, and the forthcoming books The Magician's Handbook (PS Books) and Reckless Constellations (Cider Press Review Books). Poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, Gargoyle, Painted Bride Quarterly, Tar River Poetry, Southern Poetry Review and others. He also writes about electronics, and fishes and teaches when he can. He blogs occasionally at Twitter: @uniambic

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