By Abriana Jetté, Ph.D.

Sayreville, NJ, USA


In my classroom, when students read one another’s poetry, I set them on a task of identifying lines that might be reused. I ask them to locate phrases, individual lines, or complete stanzas that, author willing, might be purposed into something brand new or adapted for some other project. No piece is ever finished, I chime because I believe it. (How many times have I written the same scene? Still, all the times to come.) Towards the end of this conversation, students and I inevitably start to talk about a crown of sonnets, a group of sonnets linked through the repetition of a line.

I’ve named this exercise “The Returning”, as in “what lines do you want to return to?” Saying something once doesn’t mean you’ve said what you’ve had to say about it completely is another thing I say to my students. So my students search for lines to reuse, and when they find some, they talk to one another about the poems, about the lines, and about the writing process. It almost always comes down to process in my classroom: how did you do it? Why?

In the spirit of this lesson and in consideration of the power of returning to and reusing lines, I recommend the poetry of George David Clark.



Clark’s poem “Ultrasound: Your Picture” begins with an inscription to Henry Thomas Clark, 10.7.14, then reads:

                                   “We’ve framed an ultrasound
                                            of you and Peter

                                   holding hands
                                            (or almost) in the womb”

The “you” of the poem is Henry Thomas Clark, whom readers learn is Peter’s twin. Of the ultrasound, the speaker describes the “moon-bright arms / crossed in a black balloon”, and with these images, the poem prepares us for a turn. The child is “moon-bright” before he is born, as in, already beaming with the celestial, and the womb is a “black balloon”, foreboding, not safe. Our “you”, we realize, is no longer alive.

The “we” who decided to frame the ultrasound picture transform from parents to what Karla M. Hollaway, James B. Duke Professor of English at Duke University, terms “vilomah.” Vilomah can be defined as “against a natural order”; Hollaway suggests we use the word “vilomah” to describe parents who have lost a child in the way we might use the word widow or widower to refer to a spouse who has lost their partner. Vilomah. The “we” are no longer just parents, they are parents who have lost a child. The decision to frame the ultrasound picture and place it in eyesight was not just any decision. With every decision, memory’s sting. 

George David Clark

In the poem, the parents try to shake their grief by reminding themselves that their boys stayed together through creation and through death. Others try to shake the grief felt by the parents by remarking that the death “was somehow grace.” The speaker disagrees. “Grace”, the speaker insists, was what “spared Cain’s life / and later gave Eve other / sons.” Considering the brotherhood (or lack thereof) between Cain and Able, the poem’s pulse is heard: the speaker wishes his dead son could have gotten a chance to know sin. The poem ends:

                                    “I wish you’d had a chance
                                            to hate your brother.”

“Ultrasound: Your Picture” is not a sonnet, per say, though it is a poem composed of fourteen couplets. One might argue that “Ultrasound: Your Picture” is a sonnet exploded, a sonnet that defies its natural order. When writing a crown of sonnets, it is the last line that gets repeated. “I wish you’d had a chance / to hate your brother.”

The sentiment of the final line stems from two places. The first obvious but still wrenching truth is that Peter and Henry will never fight. In fact, it’s Peter who has the will-haves; Henry has not. But the second, more ambiguous notion is that the speaker will never have a chance to feel anger or bitterness or annoyance at Henry, too. He will feel towards Henry nothing but pure untethered love, one single everlasting emotion. For parenthood, which is often a wave of guilt and shame and anger and bitterness and adoration and exhaustion, the single emotion is not natural. When the speaker wishes that Henry “had a chance / to hate” his brother, the understanding is that as a parent of two sons fighting, the speaker also wishes to be a participant (leader, perhaps) in that family drama, too.

Clark’s poem “Your Mirror” begins:

                                    “I wish you’d had a chance
                                              to hate your brother’s

                                      charming smile,”

What has been said is not all that could be said. There are one hundred poems Clark has not written rooted in the grief of this wish. “I wish you’d had a chance / to hate your brother’s / charming smile”, the poem begins, as it plays on the relationship twins are meant to share in terms of balancing one another out.

“Your Mirror” is as much of a continuation of “Ultrasound: Your Picture” as it is its own individual poem, which is to say that twins live as fully independent unique individuals as much as they are beings crafted and created in the same womb.


In the poem, the speaker images what his son might have been like had he lived. The speaker imagines that the brother’s charming smile would “softly chafe / your laugh”, and evokes images of typical brotherly tensions provoked by misbehaving and forgiving.
Again, I wonder, what is being forgiven? More than the wished for quarrel between siblings lingers. Clark writes:

                                           “We have the future tense

                                   for Peter, while you’re left
                                            at one night less

                                   than one night old,
                                            my son without a likeness”

Phrases like “we have” for Peter contrasted to “you’re left” for the baby hinge on the borders of blame or a shame of no reason and of no end. A bereft culpability meets me at every turn. The echoes of if only.

Understanding the multiplicity of meaning and the poignancy of repetition, Clark repurposes his words. But, not always. “Song of the Imaginary Friend” exists on its own, though the poem reflects some of the speaker’s emotions found in “Your Mirror.” In the poem, the speaker takes on the role of the imaginary friend. The friend is “yarn-haired” and “bug-eyed” and will “take the blame.” The imaginary friend sings:

                                      “Give me
                                      your stains and sweat
                                      your small wet cough

                                      against my neck”

The “small wet cough” serves as a sign that this imaginary friend and its plea might be Peter’s playmate. The suspicion is confirmed at the poem’s close as both real and imaginary minds crave to understand why

                                      “you’re lonely, Mother,
                                      God. My bite

                                      is fair. Give me
                                      the grief
                                      to which I’m heir.”

The choice to arrange the poem in tercets reflects the triangular relationship in the poem: mother, child, imaginary friend. This isn’t something that’s supposed to be noticed immediately, or sometimes, even at all. The craftsmanship of Clark’s work impacts the unconscious before we are able to logically recognize its deft. For example, the reversal of vowels in “grief” / “heir”, the “i” and “e” positioned as reflections of one another, those two unique, adaptable entities, remind the unconscious of the twin boys whose lives were, just like that, switched. George David Clark’s poetry works as a kaleidoscope; each line crystallizes into another image, our focus is blurred then crystallized with a quick turn of line.



George David Clark’s Reveille (Arkansas) received the 2015 Miller Williams Prize and his more recent poems can be found in AGNIThe Georgia ReviewThe Gettysburg ReviewEcotoneThe Southern Review, and elsewhere. The editor of 32 Poems, he teaches creative writing at Washington and Jefferson College and lives in western Pennsylvania with his wife and their four young children.




George David Clark    

Abriana Jetté, Ph.D.  



Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Abriana Jetté, Ph.D., is the editor of the anthology series Stay Thirsty Poets, as well as a poet, essayist, and educator. Her work has appeared in The Seneca Review, Plume Poetry Journal, Poetry New Zealand, River Teeth, among others. Her research interests include creative writing studies and alternative pedagogies. She currently teaches at Kean University and is a regular contributor to Stay Thirsty Magazine.

All opinions expressed are solely those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.