ONE POEM – Ryan Clark

Photo by Hector Ramon Perez on Unsplash

Air Base as Arrangement of Frame1


1.
The scene begins with an opening shot of wooded hills
and a narrow stretch of valley, so much green 
on every part of the image you forget 
this is a video report 
on environmental damage.

This is a shot to provide you with something to lose, 
a way to know what is refused life.


2. 
Cut to the sound 
of a geiger counter,
a field at an edge 
against a darkness of trees.

A wall of rocks stacked 
over themselves at the crease
is a failed form, a sieve
we spill ourselves through.

Below the wall the soil
leeches contaminants
from an artificial hill rising
out of the field like a wart.

It carries the past
of the Lajes air base,
its spillage a definitive
memory of illness.


3.
When airmen think back on Terceira
it becomes a contaminated field,
everything so full of nostalgia.

A favourite assignment cannot carry guilt,
cannot fail to reassure when the drudge
of military life grows empty.

A thing happens, is forgotten for years 
until acknowledged in a video shared 
to a Facebook group for Lajes vets.

This is inside and outside the confines
of memory, what spills over. How severe
the shutter of blind eyes—

they grow stuck, fat in their frames.
It’s so prevalent in this environment,
calm choke of the damp.

A stance is not adjusted, but the weight 
of contamination will gradually drag
your view out of the soil and back

to the flash of boots.


4.
The video allows for drone 
flyover shots of Praia da Vitória 
before following a man down 
the hallway of a university.

At his office he offers 
with his eyes an urgency,
counting on his fingers 
the matter that poisons us.

The view shifts as a series
of overhead shots convey
a movement of rock wall
containing the island in a
field of graph paper.


5.
In a new frame, a cow very casually
turns to look at the tan buildings and red roofs
huddled off to the side of a flight line.

It gives, is now a man pressing his gaze
at the same scene—here we sever
our concern from the cow, eradicate
the false fellowship with the nonhuman.

This is just a rhetorical play to provoke
sympathy under the guise of B-roll,
a fashioning of image unironically
confirming what is not at stake, not really.

As the view shifts from images of land
to local citizens, we lean in to promise
to the video that none of this is our fault.

  1.  Homophonic translation of a transcription of a video report by Ruptly titled “Portugal: US base in the Azores linked to inflated cancer rates, environmental damage”, published on their website on February 21, 2018.

Ryan Clark is obsessed with puns and writes his poems using a unique method of homophonic translation. He is the author of How I Pitched the First Curve (Lit Fest Press, 2019), and his poetry has recently appeared in Barzakh, DIAGRAM, Fourteen Hills, Posit, and Bear Review. He currently teaches creative writing at Waldorf University in Iowa.

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