The Incorrigibles: St. Anne’s Institute, Albany NY

Poems By Christina ClarkChristina Clark

 Christina Clark is a teaching assistant and MFA candidate in poetry at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Her poems have previously appeared or are forthcoming in Pinesong Awards 2011, Coastwatch, Windhover, Main Street Rag, Green Briar Review, and Off the Coast.

 

 

New Arrival

Here, the sky bleaches
white. Leafless

oaks branch snow
like so many bird skeletons. Here

they give you a name, a cot, a box
to discard your gutted

locket, your torn
skirt and mud-caked Mary Janes.

They give you
a broom closet, a bucket

to piss and pray in when you
break the rules. Each window

a mouth stitched with cotton,
silence. At night you

tip-toe to the ledge, peel
back the curtains, your moon-belly

swollen with fist and skull—a child
you never asked for, a child

they’ll take from you. Soon
it will be April. Down below, weeds

choke through the frozen garden boxes.
Mary’s stone eyes, her lips

gloss with frost—
begin to thaw.

 

Laundry Instructions
 
Run cold water through blood-
stained sheets. Let the red
fade to pink. Burn the rest
out with bleach. Hang dresses
and shirts in an arid place
to prevent stink. Let damp
waist and sleeve flutter
the wind. Breathe.
Don’t breathe the wetted-
bed, dirty-child scent
of orphans’ linens. Close your eyes
to the chemical sting. Don’t
think about what city
he’s in, whether he can count
fingers and toes yet or whether
he’s tasted rainwater,
fresh snow. Open your eyes
to the clean white
before you, the sky
beyond these sheets. Imagine
you are that sparrow
on the telephone line,
millions of electrical
currents, thousands of voices
humming through your veins—
one of them’s bound
to be his.


I wake to her starlit silhouette

at the window, the shadow
of calf, thigh, hip—a girl

perched on a stone ledge, pale arms
extended, sleeves
feathering wind, her body

prepared for flight. I grasp for downed wrist, gown-
hem and cuff, pull her back
from the edge. Our bodies slam

linoleum. The slap
and shuffle of feet. She whispers,
Help me, but I can only

breathe into the blonde wisps of hair
nestled at her ear. The crack of a Sister’s fist to bird-
boned clavicle. A tooth

knocked loose from the root.

They drag her
down the hall, down the shadow
mouth of a cellar

door. Hinges ache
shut. Rusted key
turns rusted lock.

Some nights I hear the fleshy thump
of breast or wing against the panes, the bright
spark of beak

pecking. Some nights moonlight
glosses glass perfectly, illuminates
two handprints flickering the dark.

 

The Incorrigibles
(1955-1969)

Abigail was dragged out of a dance hall
jazz-tongued and slurring
cigar smoke. She spit
booze on a cop. They sent her here
on a charge of “incorrigible.”

Geneva’s hair hived a dozen
love notes, two jawbreakers
and a handful of atomic fireballs.
The nuns chopped it off.

Tabitha finger-taps messages into the stone wall by her bed.
Meet me by the east window at 3am.  

Ruth confessed to a classmate
in Home Ec. He forced
me on the bed, ripped
my hem. I ran. Now she scrubs
bloody sheets with the rest of us.

Ellen’s stepfather wouldn’t leave
her alone. He left her black-eyed, lips
split, speechless. She
hit the streets at thirteen years old.

Holly woke to bruised
night, a stranger’s sweat, the watered
-down pulse of streetlamps and eggy
stink of alley sewage. Father
forbid an abortion. She had no idea
she’d bleed weeks after
they took the infant.

Carol can’t remember the words
to the turntable tune
that spins in the dark whorl of her ear.

Sally babbles nonsensical
streams of vowels
in her sleep.

Wendy knotted seven bed sheets
only to fall thirty-five feet, her black hair
splayed out like wings. The nuns found her face-
up, mouth cradling night.