Issue 18 – Spring 2010 – Jennifer Clarvoe

Jennifer Clarvoe


Island of Opposites 

          after a child’s drawing


Somewhere in the Ocean of Truth and the Sea of Lies 
On carefully labeled tracing paper 
Under unlabelled skies, 
Equipped, as is proper, with both legend and scale 
Lies the island where we unfold our tale. 

To the east, the double-rivers of Upper and Lower Youth, 
Flow in blue magic marker— 
To the west, twin Death 
Rivers, too. And a tiny Stream of Disgust 
On Withered Hill, amid the shrubs and dust. 

Two faces, Janus-like, a pretty girl and a crone, 
Appear in the contour intervals, 
As if age and ugliness alone 
Define what oppositions matter most—
The swampy brow across from the Wisdom Coast. 

The labels are written with curlicue flourishes—
A trilling B and C for the Bay of Crime— 
Unconscious wishes 
That nothing harder oppose us than time? 
The tracing paper has yellowed to a shade I’m 

Fond of, just as I am of those silly magic markers 
(Two shades each of green and blue!), 
Neither one so dark as 
A rebuke or a threat. 
Not yet.



Words: the world’s detritus, instant’s ash, 
             Mere human spit and sweat, dust into dust, 
             The literal body, flesh worn out on flesh, 
The faithless ricocheting gutter-blast; 
A mighty engine’s burps, the good man’s gas 
             Backfiring, and the hungry gut’s great chord, 
             The universe reduced to something less, 
Cacophony unmarked, unheard, unfeared; 
Hardness, and strife, and woe, and hate, all curst, 
             Debased offal, sadness of the worst, 
             Hell tricked out in costume, whores undressed, 
The murky way, the bawd of Paradise, 
             Sirens in the cross-walk, blood on blood, 
A sea of stench; and nothing understood.


High Time

This high won’t wear off till late afternoon. 
In the drift of drowsiness, in the silt: sweet sift. 
It’s as if we’d been fired by fantasies 

and these first flakes were the foreshadowings, 
the fault-lines of an underground unease 
we can’t ward off for all the salt 

in the deep blue sea or butterflies in China. 
This high sizzles on the skin, as if the mind 
weren’t flicking its jaded switches behind the screen. 

Let cool be cool, and then let dry run dry. 
You don’t forget the heartache in the high—it turns 
us on, then turns its back on us. No idea escapes 

itself, which is to say, we don’t escape. 
So each night’s drought may dry our tears to salt, 
but day breaks nonchalant toward the next high.


“Island of Opposites,” “Words,” “High Time” from Counter-Amores by Jennifer Clarvoe, forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press. © 2010 by the University of Chicago. All rights reserved.



Jennifer Clarvoe is professor of English at Kenyon College. Her first book of poems, Invisible Tender, won the Kate Tufts Discovery Award and the Poets Out Loud Prize.