the poetry that matters

Clint Frakes

Clint Frakes currently lives in Sedona, AZ. He has recently received the James Vaughan Award for Poetry and the Peggy Ferris Memorial Award for Poetry. He is a graduate of the Naropa Institute and Northern Arizona University writing programs and received his doctorate with emphasis in Creative Writing from the University of Hawaii in 2006. He is currently working on his second full book of poetry, entitled Citizen Poems. He has published in over fifty journals and anthologies since 1987. His recent work can be found in Nexus, Bamboo Ridge, Hawaii Pacific Review and Tinfish. He is the former editor of Hawaii Review and Big Rain.

Mystery Not Always Unkind


And who am I?  the man sleeping at the border asks, that in my love dream sleep I have become the guardian of the lion?

                                                                                --Robert Duncan


John Berryman where did you put those translations?

It’s already November & I’ve conjured 23 oceans in my search.

I looked first under that black Minneapolis bridge,

then wide Nebraska & its tiled stations,

murals of gone bison

& righteous soft red wheat,

    Oklahoma draped purple in July, like the time

the cop let me and the yoga girl off with a warning

                                & we ambushed the Super 8 swimming pool

unbathed & thirsty.

Wyoming was to me just a blown PCV on hot prairie

& we picked sage until the cavalry came,

     patient in our dark skin.


Farewell then and now to land speculations.

They say you cannot tear a cloud in half,

only stare it down until one of you breaks.

After I licked my lips in the crosswinds

it was half a yellow moon that dried me,

     fresh out of the pool

under the aching unrest of spheres.


   I am not King of the Dead,

but rising in the ranks

                                                eons behind those Jains brushing the earth

with sapling brooms

     not to accrue the assassin’s weight

                 in a step.


Something beautiful always emerges from underfoot:

the smell of wet volcanic soil,

                                                                     lean yarrow;

                                hummingbirds push on honeysuckle--

& even in Detroit

hawks dive,

just like you,


John Berryman,

I can love what I can’t understand, but

it takes an ounce of grace & seasons more kind.

Let’s dance then & now

even if we are poorer than we are sad

                with fathers fallen under the plow

           & the old Appaloosa curling its lip,

     brought kicking to the final field.







Kaliyuga I



The boys danced in their sleep for centuries

with the noise, the acids, the cures & the glass:

40,000 starving miners before the sacred plate of roses,

children yelling from fire escapes & verandahs.

There was no rest.

No one cared for the river

or mounted the great horses

or reckoned the length of the blue beach.

The five Pandava brothers lunched with industry,

sold otter pelts & seal fat by the shore,

hocked the circumference of the lotus,

dislocating the sky from the points of the stars.



Since then the glacier has thawed at Mt. Ararat

revealing the Ark & the fate of the Japhethites.

The surviving cannibals rebuke the mysteries of magnetism & light

& bicker over the petty remnants of Einstein’s bottled brain.

Wilhelm Reich, our martyred sage forever in contempt of court,

vanishes in his cell with the secrets of orgone & rain.

The bones of cast-off infants baled and stacked

in convent cellars like the vaults of Pol Pot.

Sixty million bison demand compensation.

No one has teeth.

No one rides the boxcars upward

or sees the yellow noise of the tambourine.

The moon has been razed & salted &

the sky’s turbine wobbles.



Antonin Artaud who gathered & ate God’s starry green flesh

one dawn among Tarahumara,

when will you rise & convince people not to work?

When will you rid Manhattan of its pesky anemone of sleep

& raise Walt Whitman over the barbed wire

to marry him again to his thousand suns?

When will you restore the lost tale of the human face?




they are lost in the parlors,

lost beneath the planets they harvested

& can recount every detail.

The Lord sleeps;

the naga laze;

the bull teeters on one leg &

a legion of embalmed deities

have no one to dream them.

Draupadi too, the mind beneath these five senses,

has forgotten Vishnu the Preserver

who sleeps on chaos like a bed of leaves.

She has forgotten the little backdoor to the temple

& the hidden recesses of the soul,

the common flower names that might have pulled us free.



Vagrants have lit fires behind the stadium

while children gather at the river in bright vests with violins

singing to the deposed queen & her martini glass.

A shirtless boy writes his name in a column of ash,

stares up for the familiar blue star.

The sky reddens & avatars collide like drunks.


There’s something frantic in the air:

the phantom rulers and chaste youth

search for catatonic fathers

multiplied in the belly of night.







Mail from Tunis

   for Emily


Your unacknowledged clay

teeters on a ruddy peninsula & you,

wren-like with a butterfly caught in your throat.

None will touch you without first

knowing severest hunger or

lean internal difference.

Wednesday, your skirt traversed the Amherst earth

moth-like & veiled,

a warm miracle

as you interrogated each capsule & calyx,

your mute chestnut bun aimed at

mighty periphery,

sheets of your mind delivering

the edge of place.


When the mail from Tunis came

with saffron & nutmeg you commenced

banging spice for cake, barefoot among

incessant folds of nimblest light

bursting upon the tree—

a pail of milk,

a fly’s wing flexing.

At 4 pm something shifted—

you ran fast upstairs,

closed the door.


Your volcano came timidly

as words crash upon the eye

& your daily bread of the sky

with each cloud a horse’s head.

The guest leaves the house,

a bead of brandy in the glass

& your door still quiet as infant’s breath

until the cunning reds of morning

ignite this ellipse again.







Desire # 15

(another late valentine)




Today was foretold by stray headlights &

the crumbs that escaped the broom.


Everywhere I see necklaces of hearts

but no necks. Memory is the slickest fraud.


I’d direct you to the landscape as an alternative

but it’s been stolen back by the Sioux.


Please settle for this photograph of a cotton field

from the Great Depression, drowsy afternoons


in Acquiescence, New Mexico,

a long inappropriate stare at the checkout line.


Settle for this white orchid in raging bloom

I bought so the girls at the office would envy you.


Kuan Yin’s thin equanimous hips suddenly divided

the gallery between the righteous & the forlorn.





Santa Fe is a misleading town with its fossils & stalagmites

& I always returned with new wounds, a cornhusk for the altar.


I never danced naked in a green plastic apron,

cooking Sunday meatloaf to Van Morrison tunes.


Overstated to say tragic, but there was

your purple dress, my colony of hands.





For the ancient Chinese, stone was the most refined

spirit energy & I am soon to be a facet of the San Juans


taking sharp chinooks on the cheek amid the brinks

of what love favors in this shadow country:


bedrock shelves of  winking aspen,

a Cavendish prayer to smoke.





They say the jewel between man & woman glitters only

a few seconds a day & we must burnish the possibility.


A  waterbird’s wings bang through my covered veins

as if your body promised the sky on the other side of my skin.


But after all these deaths I know what Love loves best:

when we still love in Her certain absence


her seldom-sought little sister, named :

Loving What Remains.







Flintstones In Hell


The stoneroller Flintstone-mobile descends through treacherous Chinese corridors as I watch from a plush, red theater chair. Wilma & Betty are in the back, Fred driving as always, Barney at his side—all with hands on laps, blinking, unaware they are plummeting deeper into a raging inferno. Cartoon-skinned, black-eyed & oblivious, they roll into Hell Café, feuding: Wilma jealous of Betty, Betty lusting Fred, Fred wrathful at Barney—who is witless in his plain brown skins. They ape a bleak Cocteauian drama, unaware of their mortal sins, ignorance & aggression--trapped in Jurassic karma. I watch, no longer at a theater, but with them in the stone café, pretending to read the Bhagavad Gita. And Betty! I’m digging her, the only one to notice me, as I’m a semi-etheric being in their reality. She is the chance of salvation for the lot of them. A generic bartender with criss-cross stitching at his neck, a few strands of hair, blinking black eyes & blue tunic observes them from the end of a long, limey corridor: the accountant of akashic slate ledgers. Am I their angel brought here to minister their sad delivery to Hell?  I order a muffin, brooding at my dolomite table, knowing I’m already too involved with Betty, though she’s only an inken image, her spirit fastened & multiplied in my imagination from countless pajama cereal box Saturdays. Fred, forever orange-clad & angry shouts at the root of my cortex. Barney, the suffering doofus stumbling at the quarry, confounded by the slightest complexity of cause & effect—who had the nerve to beget him, even on a sketch pad?  Wilma: forsaken & jealous, German-like in her ironed white apron. I am clueless how to angel them & quote randomly from the sacred text: poorly translated maxims from a blue chariot-riding Krishna:


“I tell you all the soul is uncleaveable, unburnable;

nor can it be wetted or dried; eternal, all-pervading

& immovable is he from everlasting time."


A reptilian cockatiel squawks the final hour from the cold wall. They are fit to be consumed in their own impossible religion, returned to the bardo ink well & source-pond of all image, absolved of every fraud and pretense in the paleo buddha-fields of child memory.








While the Coals Are Still Hot

  (something is about to be lost)

       for Michael Puleloa


Pyramid building is dead:

lost to time & jungle,

the mathematicians of Maya

folded camp & fled.

Serpent angels of Cobá

will read your aura now for food—

just look for the bent & chafing hat

weaving silently through Chinatown.

To what end was so much stone hammered?

What of the pollens & balms?

The regulars at the Green Dragon Lounge

slam their glasses on the bar,

bragging genealogies.





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