Selected by Bunkong Tuon, Poetry Editor

Grant Clauser: Three Poems

Happy As

In high school my friends and I would drive around
in Stem’s van, high as kites, we’d play a game
called Happy As and name three things
we were as happy as, like apple pie,
skipping school, making out with so-and-so,
then try to beat each other with joy
until the weed buzz wore off. One friend
shipped to Kuwait after graduation, then Afghanistan
in the first wave, and never came back.
Another dropped out of college for rehab.
The third I bumped into ten years ago
with not much to say. Me bald. He’d gone gray.
Worry and doubt, those close companions of age
worn across our faces like tattoos.
Other troubles roam around in blood cells
for years until they find something inside you
to break. Joys too, but never by themselves.
I wanted to ask him what he’s happy as,
if he could name three things, and I’d try to top
his list with mine. Happy as the bills paid on time.
Happy as a call from the kids. Happy as the resting
heartbeat that’s been wrong about so much.


Planting Pawpaws

Their seeds look like coat buttons smeared
in the fallen fruit’s ripe custard.
Pushing four of them into compost pots
in fall for planting is a category of defiance,
a confidence that seasons and shadows,
sunlight when it comes, will be kind,
that life will limb into sturdy bones,
that bones will leaf and bloom, and blooms
expand to fruit settlers here called
Hillbilly Banana, or Quaker Delight.
A complicated sweetness that surprises
in a season when everything else is dying.
My therapist friend says you can talk yourself
into hope, a new life, but it’s work
to force something bright from a dark place,
like searching the woods for a fruit tree
that bends between borders and wastelands.
A neighbor gave me a bucket of them,
and I spoon the pulp, seeds and all,
directly into my mouth, smooth
the small stones with my tongue and spit
them into my palm. Some may rot
in the planter, may be scavenged
by squirrels or broken by ice in winter,
but if I’m lucky, if all the promises nature makes
with fingers crossed and eyebrows furrowed,
then one day I’ll lift ripe pawpaws
off the ground and give you some.


Lower Hawk Run

A thousand times I’ve studied
the whir of water when a trout
sips my dry fly from a riffle,
and each still stirs me like a child
surprised with a toy. The small joy
of it. Like how perfectly hemlock needles
drift in the current at the same speed
as my elk-hair caddis. I bend
my knees slowly into the river,
careful to not disturb the resting
of time, believing water itself
is time pushing and pausing, adding
to itself, all of it eventually
to an abyss so great even the sun
can’t reach the end of it.
This trout. This fly. This dash
from hiding into morning light.
Let’s all be children again, finding
delight in small surprises, bending
our lives with the ease of water
flowing over stones, great things
moving through us.


cover of Muddy Dragon on the Road to Heaven by Grant Clauser
Muddy Dragon on the Road to Heaven by Grant Clauser

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