by Clayton Adam Clark
Law I: Every body persists in its state of being at rest or of moving uniformly straight forward, except insofar as it is compelled to change its state by force impressed.
Law II: The alteration of motion is ever proportional to the motive force impress’d; and is made in the direction of the right line in which that force is impress’d.
Law III: To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction: or the mutual actions of two bodies upon each other are always equal, and directed to contrary parts.
— Sir Isaac Newton, Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica
We wiped the closet ceiling with bleach water,
and the mold paled. You edged and I rolled on
ultra-white paint, and we praised our triumph
too soon—green-black crop circles emerged
later that week. We learned to destroy first
the source of moisture. Waiting for men
who tuck-pointed our decomposing mortar,
we researched the spores, their precarious urge
to float and take up residence in our lungs.
Mold either succumbs to the animal’s resistance
or kills the host, then dies—the dying patent,
though most tolerate anything for its deferral.
A teenager spelunking Missouri caves breathed
the fungus that eats bat droppings and died
from histoplasmosis. But his leukemia
was in remission, so immunocompetent,
we’ll likely be all right. With repeat exposure
to microflora we grow hardier. Remission’s a disease
asleep, and so much happens to the dormant,
their unseen trajectories. We’ll stay alert. This time
we armored ourselves in masks and latex gloves
when we killed the fungus growing in our house.
Sweetgums loose wicked seeds that clot
our sunburnt grass. The year we couldn’t shoot
fireworks for lack of rain, the basement walls
dehisced in autumn,
rain impressing through
concrete pores and sloping toward the drain.
Don’t ask what this means for our foundation.
I try not to
think of brown recluses, their autumn
exile to warm, moist homes.
You and your bugs,
you said, but I found one in our bedroom
and replied, I knew a guy who lost a chunk
of forehead to a bite. You went to sleep
while I sprayed toxins where wall and floor
second story to basement, and soaked
our thresholds. Dead leaves on the carpet
triggered double takes, and I stirred up
basement storage—the rakes for scratching
gumballs from our lawn—to scare out fiddlebacks.
I killed one, but can there be just one?
some spiders pose as venomous. That night I woke,
already standing, from a dream of spiders
in our bed. I ripped back the covers and yelled,
though even as you fled—What? Where is it?—
I suspected the violin
spiders an echo snared
in my skull. Panic is a communicable disease.
Like a plumb bob tapped into swing,
the next winter’s the coldest of our lives.
After a night out you ran to the tub, stripped,
your lower half beneath the faucet.
I rolled my pant legs and sat on the ledge
behind you, submerging
my ischemic feet,
a near-necrosis. Our capillaries admitted
blood again. The next day you showed me
that colored the tips of your toes,
as though the return of blood had been too stark,
the farthest vessels from your heart now ruptured.
Two air movements, one a cold front,
the other warm, collide, abusing the aged
sycamores in our park. The city will
dispatch men to chainsaw the fallen trunks
of hundred-year-old trees into rutted
cylinders, then grind them down to mulch
and bed saplings. No thing recedes—it persists
elsewhere—but I feel me slowing down.
At twenty, we parked most nights in a park
overlooking the Meramec’s floodplain—
the hillside bequeathed by a man who built
landscaping machines—and fooled around
in back, exerting gambits around our bodies’
mathematics. We got busted once, perhaps
the night that nights first start to lengthen
and the soybeans launch into reproduction.
No, Officer, we didn’t drink this summer
solstice. I was later stopped by a possum
while jogging near our first home. A standoff
beneath a streetlamp—we didn’t vocalize,
but in running opposite ways we confessed
to a shared interest. Measured against the level
stacks of bricks, a possum is as wild as we get,
yet it thrives so long as it avoids people and cars.
I think we’ve known what’s lost. We drive
interstate to visit extended family for Christmas,
speeding by winter wheat and bison farms.
Bison refuse to be cowed, but the few
families that survived American slaughter
reside on tracts of treeless land cloistered
with high-tensile steel. They eat prodigious
sums of grass until a more humane death.
The outcome seems different to us still eating.
I’ve sometimes wanted to change who we’ve been,
but our bodies plow toward origin. The prayer
placards lilt along a dormant soy field—Hail Mary,
full of grace—we pass at eighty miles per hour—
the lord is with thee. I wait for the return
of wildness—blessed art thou amongst women.
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb—
a billboard: Did you defend the unborn?
You’re in my body. Have you observed me
slowing as I accumulate more of you?
I’m more in you, but we’ve no blessed fruit.
I feel a daring resistance in our physics.
Unlike cattle, the bison can graze in winter,
shoveling ice-topped snow with her muzzle
to root out grasses latent underneath.
CLAYTON ADAM CLARK lives in St. Louis, MO, 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 were recently published in The Southeast Review, Bayou, and elsewhere.