From Ben Clark and Dana McKenna


At the end of the day you visit me in my nest

When I come to,
I list all the things
I have ruined for you.
Snow, white wine,
watering houseplants,
leaving the house.
You say you never cared
much for any of it.

Your future is lush with lambs
while I stare into the eyes
of a three-headed dog.
I feel it in my wrists again,
and start a list of names
in case I’ll need them. Billie,
for both a girl or cat. Nicknames
for clouds. Old buttermilk sky,
Mare’s tail, Woolpack. Words
that feel pretty. Supine, footpath,
half-moon, noontide. When I ask,
you can’t list a thing, not even
your brother’s middle name.
What else are you unable to list?

I read all living organisms
have the capacity to grow
but wonder if some are
not meant for this earth.
You offer a new list,
late season bloomers.
Toad lily, phlox, goldenrod.


this too shall pass

like it or not
            the warmth
of your pain

is a part of
            my skin

walls between us
            we listen
for movement

but slow
            our breath

of who should speak
            first or
at all

hours grow
            dark hides
of dust

where the curve
            of your face
should rest

a handful
            of flies drones

you ask for me
            to remove you
from the earth

or pull the weeds
            that have taken root
to hold you

close or
            to leave
while I still can

my love the fog
            through which
you walk

is not you
            or permanent
just a temporary

absence of sight
            remember instead

to sweet pure
a rainbow pressed

through the glass
            our eager hands
bathed in light

you ask me to explain
            the space between
hard and soft

but we both know
            my tenderness
is not exacting

not a tool capable
            of language
or carpentry

more a clumsy
of quilts hand-

sewn by
            a grandmother
I miss

sweet certainly
            but not
a solution

my soft weight
            only useful
burrowed into

offered up
            a simple
balm a nest

            a tender slow

listen under
            the mattress
place one stone

tap open night
            on the curve
of a spoon

sleep a yolk
            to swallow whole
no question

if thoughts close in
            like the cyclical
cry of locusts

drown them out
            fingertips fluttering
a wooden table

or rest your face
            under the soft
hairs of a brush

or stack your spine
            fingers clasped
behind your back

repeat the words
            and so is
everything else

and so is everything
            else and so
is everything else

my sweet the relentless
of the ghosts

that burden you
            and the dark
terrors they ask

you to speak
            are no melody
you need welcome

or fear
            or feel shame
for repeating

into night’s
            opaque shell

eat berries one
            by one from
a beautiful blue

ceramic bowl
            teach yourself to sing
the alphabet

in a new order
            you can rehearse
when you wake


                    when you wake imagine the sky as you think it should be

I wake to him, but not next to me, remember
                                               we can't help but seek out faces in inanimate objects.

I shift my body limb by limb until I'm
                                               floating again, then another dream of

my mother with red hair. She invites me to enter a contest.
                                               He'll be home Tuesday, his hands, warm smooth field stones.

I wash my face, look up, ask if I'm dreaming.
                                               Flick lights on and off, to be sure.

Check if my bones will
                                               pass through one another.

Follow me to the water,
                                    and we’ll abandon our gravity,
                                                                      our old unwelcome shapes,
                                                                                             in this moon-pulled remedy.
                                                            But you don’t even own a swimsuit,
                                    must use a different set of muscles
to wade through the day.


I think I can save a bad week
                                    by booking an overnight stay
                                                                      in my own town,
                                                                                             riding the ferris wheel,
                                                            sitting alone
                                    in the hotel sauna.


It can’t always be low tide,
                                    though my body, this vessel, seems
                                                                      more ocean than not, dragged,
                                                                                             not drawn by the moon,
                                                            its celestial fingers pressed firmly
                                    into the seabed
of my bones, my blood.


Still, like the owl
                                    I season my tea
                                                                      with tears.
                                                                                             While the water boils,
                                                            I steady one hand at the nape
                                    of my neck,
to hold in the currents.


In today’s meeting, we talk about forgiveness

We sit in a circle, and weave strings around our fingers.

Two women compliment each other’s hair from across the room.

On the way home, there are holes in every fence. I hold my breath.

Smashed fruit flesh sticking to my feet.

My left eye twitches whenever I cross the street.

I notice my reflection, with a hand in one pocket, and think I look cool.

The moment passes quickly. I breathe

early evening hose water, lit coals,

find myself somehow at an evening mass,

place my forehead to the floor, make the sign of the cross.

I imagine a figure wrapped in yarn, head hanging deeply, balanced

on a chair too small.

My mother would tell you I’ve been doing this all along.

Dana McKenna and Ben Clark.jpg

These poems were written by Dana McKenna and Ben Clark over a two-week residency at Art Farm Nebraska.

They both live, work, and write in Chicago, Illinois.

© 2018