What Is (War)

By Joanna Klink Joanna Klink
And if all those who meet or even
hear of you become witness to what you are—

a white country of blight beneath the last snows of
spring. Could we remain quiet on earth

and bear it, the war we make inside
what is—it’s a long time to be here, to be still,

to feel the rot inside now—bone-scrap, char, sheets of stars
at the edge of a field where we are once again

taken from ourselves. Could we remain here,
witness to grief, one last bright dire call-and-reply,

each birdsong or siren extinguished where some
trueness abides, some portion we have lost our right

to claim or know. It comes into any mind that would
perceive it, leaf-rot, speech-rot, the deliberate ribcage

of the deer, these abrupt chalk cliffs over which
the confused animals fling themselves, and you,

obscure, receive no response that is not suffered
as the days grow long and distortions

come to seem the natural course of things—
what trees whose creatures stray into space—

and they find they cannot land though the eyelid
struggles open—no answer, no resolution—

a window opened to the mute green world,
weedy and driftless, a wind drilling rain, dirt,

the parameters of uncertainty, of hope,
what we might be against what we have done,

bees crawling through the lips of the one
who would say the earth turned into sour flesh

What strange rooms, what soundless movement of sky
over desert where the flesh again is beaten

and the emptiness extends itself while some old man
looks on, a raptor in waiting, the sand-field

around them blown thinly toward sun—no longer
ourselves in the afternoons, evenings,

weak, vague, clutched at the mouth—
because we did nothing, because we lost count.

Joanna Klink, “What Is (War)” from Raptus. Copyright © 2010 by Joanna Klink. Reprinted by permission of Penguin, a division of Penguin Group (USA), LLC.

Source: Raptus (Penguin Books, 2010)

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Poet Joanna Klink

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Subjects Nature, Landscapes & Pastorals, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, War & Conflict

Poetic Terms Couplet, Free Verse

 Joanna  Klink


Joanna Klink earned an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a PhD from the Johns Hopkins University. Her collections of poetry include They Are Sleeping (2000), Circadian (2007), and Raptus (2010). Her work has been included in numerous anthologies, including The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry (2011). Of her work, Klink has said: “In poems I am trying to find my bearings through a world that at times feels . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Nature, Landscapes & Pastorals, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, War & Conflict

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Poetic Terms Couplet, Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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