Clif Mason – Four Selfies


Selfie with Pablo Neruda

He walked around the neighborhood,
talking to himself, muttering the words
of invisibility and suspending the law
of gravity. He dreamed he drove
a car of shredded paper.
At a certain speed, it lifted off like a kite.

He heard a piano play dance music
from another country.
For a time, his breath didn’t make
the moon grow, his touch didn’t make
the dead star live again.
On the street desperate men
sold knives made of blue air.
No one knew they’d been cut
until they collapsed
with a shirt full of blood.

What did he say beneath a cadmium
comet, facing the buffets
of a phosphorous wind?
Did he choose to sing the ballad
of the inconsolable,
heat-stroked with loss,
or to chant good luck charms
for the destitute?
Or did he go further and fill the air
with waterspouts
and floating labyrinths?
He didn’t ask others the nature
of his task.
He simply sang threads
of light into night’s ocean,
silent fins dividing dark waves.
He sang until his fingers turned
to glass and shimmered
when he held them up to moonlight.

He beat unknown rhythms
on the tympani of verbs and let
the trumpets of nouns announce
themselves and parade through scales.
Words became the mongoose
that seized the cobra,
the wolverine that stood down
the polar bear.
He cast the spells that undid
every desperate story.


Selfie with Amy Clampitt

Solve the rebus of the spider’s web
and you will bounce and balance
on something light as air, ballasted
by those who accompany you;
breathe and your blood brightens

and your mouth blooms rose
in a garden of faces; ride the white
water engine over rocks and stumps,
and drink from stalactites
in a cavern’s heart; burn the mountain

until the lamp glows in the charcoal
of the moment, gleams like glass
as it melts and returns to the shore
on which you stand singing,
and the song sweeps out from words

on a torn scrap of paper,
and the blood races with the song,
flaming as it flows, until the song
is the blood and the blood
is the song, flaming as it races

from the land to the sea
to the stars to the single point
that is the song and the blood
that is the beginning and end
and beginning of everything.


Selfie with W. S. Merwin

The task is not to do well
the often achieved,
but to attempt what never was.
The tinkling of glass—
is that the world shattering
or the breaking
of a snow globe
slipped from the hand,
impeded only by air.

He rings a bell made
of woven twigs
and the music stays
with him all night.
Walking today
with a tall horse,
he fills his ears
with many sentences.
Hummingbirds hover
drinking from the ground
cloud wrapped around
the bushes and trees.

When the fog burns off,
chorus frogs swear vows
of silence and blue
dragonflies practice takeoffs
and landings for hours.
He asks directions
of a bumblebee and it says
Remember your middle name
and the day your mother
was born.
As bee imperatives
go, this one, it seems to him,
is less gnomic,
more transparent, than most.

He mimes his own
unsuspecting walk onto void,
certain the nothing will buoy
him up, and he will not only
survive, but thrive.
An invisible path will rise
to meet his feet.

Is this a story with no
characters, or characters
with no story. The answer
isn’t readily apparent.


Selfie with Isabel Allende

It was the summer she kept walking
out of disappointment
into something more.
Not success exactly, and certainly
not victory, but something more
like the rose thorn she gripped.

She endured a second
until the magic took hold
and, in an instant’s reversal
of field, she pierced the thorn.
She pointed at the air
and spun about and there
was rain. She smacked
the river and there was flood.

She knew that one day, if she said
star, a new star would condense
from a nebula’s hot gas,
condense until it glowed
and burned and burst
with unquenchable fusion—
and a new light adorned the darkness.

And when she knew that,
it was nothing to persist.
She wore discipline like a new dress.
She could see her future
as clearly as others
could see the present.


Author’s Statement on Beauty

Beauty is always fresh and fantastical, even when the subject is ordinary and familiar. We discover beauty if what is known becomes strange—as phantasmagorical as if we had never seen it before. The unwonted is wanted. Beauty may be ordered and symmetrical or it may be angular, jagged, and asymmetrical. It doesn’t matter, so long as it strikes our eye and ear as magical and new. It must be mesmerizing in its strangeness. Neither pain nor grief is beautiful, but the wisdom gained from them can be, if presented in such a way that even humanity’s oldest truths appear fresh-minted. They strike us as all the more profound for being strange to us. Beauty must shock us with its curiosity and peculiarity, though its subject be wholly unexceptional and customary. Beauty always finds a way to undercut our expectations.


Clif Mason’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in many magazines in America and England, including Evergreen Review, Southern Poetry Review, Crosswinds Poetry Journal, and Orbis. He is fortunate that his work has been awarded prizes by the Joe Gouveia Outermost Poetry Contest, Writers’ Journal, SPSM&H, Plainsongs, the Midwest Writers’ Conference, and the Academy of American Poets.  He has also been the recipient of a Fulbright Award to Rwanda, Africa.