Ryan Clark

Two poems by Ryan Clark


After a house is an airbase,
what is left to trace
of the ferocity of war.

Rinse a locality unclean of
toxic fuel lying in the dust,
to see if cancer reaches in, tongue-swept,
to see if earth drags us into its diagnosis.

Take care, Madail Avila,
one of fifty-five thousand Terceirenses,
who said: It is a very big coincidence
that there are so many cases of cancer
within the same family and in
the same geographic area

A swell crashes into the city of Praia da Vitória,
as if the picturesque seawall could be written off
as décor, as useless fortification.

What is left to protect.

Weave a series of locations
with the stretch of loss filled in
by heavy metals, hydrocarbons, or PCBs.

Drape whatever design is created in this
so it might coat the food chain
and accumulate in bodies.

We sing of poisons that are hidden
under the carpet
as just one example of
facing eighty-eight thousand liters
of fuel spillage.

Spin a record—
this is the sound that
lets us see contamination in a framework
we are ready for:
a failing of our city on a hill,
the adjacent base
a flesh-eating virus; frame of
four times as many eye tumors;
frame of deferred authority—
we have a different focus for now.

What urgency can you feel
in a smudge on a globe.

A hotel instead of compensation
is a line drawn from toxicity to opportunity
for American business forces.

After the formation of a tumor, launch a Marriott.

Enough hotels for a living tourist is a way
of forgetting the dead. The development of apology,
the Pentagon announced, may be reduced,
the sigh of remorse expendable.

Economists estimated that the failure of care is soundless,
is just sand drawn away by the wind.

Say a state of growing disuse is a runway deserted,
living quarters fenced off but empty inside.

Shook off are the workers serving the base;
shook off the cleanup of water tables; shook off
what the base owes to the island as a home,
as a raft afloat for years left with the threat
of holes cut into its floor.

Set two hundred and five million
dollars annually for fifteen years
to smooth the transition from
the departure of foreign military,
and feign shock as Washington says no.

The budget of flight must always yield a return
to the land, each touch back to the earth a sort of crash.

Here, a crash site is Main Gate, is South Tank Farm.

When the U.S. and Portugal monitor wreckage
technical experts reach a conclusion
on how best to sway side to side shuffling feet.

For what is the cost to help, and could it sustain the market.

Can I guarantee my children a good life here?

Feel what is abandoned in a frame of force
filled in with the guise of protection.

We become used to seeing guns at the gate,
fences that cut, and the deep presence of
fighter jets and tankers shaking the walls.

Health has its safety off.

Can a scorched earth pull itself back
if it has no capacity to take a stance.

Its field is now in remission,
a forged quiet, not to be revived.

Here is a family waiting in place,
hair follicles fed with hydrocarbons
flailing in a rush of air.

—Homophonic translation of the article “’Americans leave behind scorched earth’: US refuses to
clean up ‘carcinogenic waste’ at Azores base”, which appeared on RT.com on February 22, 2018.


  • 1.        The United States – Portugal Standing Bilateral Commission holds a fire in its folded hands, and it burns not their skin, but the taste of ash is on the tongue of each Terceirense, with each flame an ember of such massive error.

  • 6.        How might negotiation take care rather than years that rot away like some forgotten flowers fusing themselves to a grave. How is the grave forgiven. How do we fail in the initiative to reach out a line of apology, say it among others.

  • 7.        The technique that hope becomes is not the chief activity of an airfield.

  • 8.        So you say, If they If they If they, like you’re casting some spell of healing. If they act now there is no dying. If they listen and see there is no need to fall apart at the sound of the surf as it fights its way toward us. If they only and if they and only. So you say, you say.

  • 9.        What is stressed as strategic covers like a parachute the substance of a life, of a return of relatives for a funeral. How we run beneath, then hold it down as tight as possible.

—Homophonic translation of excerpts from the 41st Portugal-U.S.
Standing Bilateral Commission report

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) and Arizona SB 1070: An Act (Downstate Legacies, forthcoming), and his poetry has recently appeared in such journals as Barzakh, DIAGRAM, Posit, and Fourteen Hills. He currently teaches creative writing at Waldorf University in Iowa.