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Clayton Adam Clark lives in St. Louis, his hometown, where he works for Health Literacy Missouri, a nonprofit that helps healthcare organizations simplify their communications so more people can get good care. He also volunteers as an editor and board member for River Styx magazine. He earned the MFA in poetry at Ohio State University and is currently seeking publication for his first full-length collection. Some of his other poems are forthcoming in Harpur Palate, Southern Humanities Review, and elsewhere.
His dead mother’s spring traps, well seasoned
with peanut butter daubs, failed their task,
so he pushed a new glue trap behind
the oven and left for a night’s work.
After, with a fork, he flicked the trap
onto the floor. Smaller than his thumb,
a mouse lay fixed at its side, right legs
pinned under the skull and ribs. Its shit,
the small, abundant releases, stuck
in like fashion. The pretty gal said
at the hardware store, These work real good,
though a touch inhumanely. He pinched
the trap between his finger and thumb
and hoped the mouse still lived till it writhed.
Dammit, he yelped, the trap adhering
his index to the tail, and peeled it
away, straight into a plastic bag.
Outside in the dawn, he heard a squeak
but wouldn’t look in the bag. A plea:
For a favor I’ll tell all you want
to know. He spoke into the plastic,
whispered doubts, then raised it to his ear:
No one can save you. He laid the bag
on the lawn and stomped it with his heel
once, as asked, then twice more to be safe.
The second catch was dead by the time
he got home, the fight fossilized—prints
of clawing, living. A manic heart
bursts as the mind bucks for freedom from
the skull’s grip. The third and fourth worked on
breaths and bore no concern for the man
who tossed them into the kitchen trash.
He prayed for grace and hush unmoving
in the house no one would seize him from.
—After Encased – Four Rows, 1983-93 by Jeff Koons
In the year of cell phones, Internet, the first
artificial heart (he lived one hundred twelve
more days), and my birth, Koons started to make.
While I yawned forth head first from the vulva
of my parents’ married mistakes, Koons conceived
twenty-four basketballs (of two brands and three
different skin tones), in original packaging,
in four columns of six—plus futuristic
plastic building-block casing for each ball—
and called it Four Rows. Of such creation
some people say, “Anyone could do that.”
In this case it’s me: that year suicide bombers
murdered three hundred in Beirut, the IRA
bombed UK Christmas shoppers, four million
starved to death in Ethiopia, and when Koons
was done a decade later, my parents had only
made a basketball team of sons and killed
(like half a million Americans that year) a marriage,
but I was (sure I was) uniquely angry. It takes
so long to see the constant: encased basketballs,
my little travesties. How lovely, though,
the singular surprise to tilt one’s gaze
and finally see Four Rows as four rows.