Kathleen McClung

Renter Sonnet: A Leased Crown

She hangs her yoga pants, petite, across
our shared back porch, one clip for every sock
and bra and thong. So when time comes to toss
foul compost down the shute, I hunch and walk
like Quasimodo through this laundered maze.
It's vexing dodging Calvin Klein prayer flags.
Wait. That's unkind. I'm clueless what she pays
for lingerie. While hunched I don't read tags
en route to shute. Unneighborly, I know,
this metered airing of minute discord.
Wise souls quit rhyming their complaints and go
ring doorbells, speak aloud needs unignored.
When I at last grow bold, we'll have it out.
By talking trash, we'll make our peace, no doubt.

Renter Sonnet (2)

She's making peace no doubt between the kids
by yelling from the kitchen their first names.
I hear her weariness and clanging lids
and music (not my taste), but no one blames
her for this whirl of sounds. I only wish
for thicker walls, for space between, a yard
of elms. But no, we are conjoined, twin-ish.
We rent identical units. What's hard:
four people live in hers, and two are young
with baby teeth and pup tent beds. The man-
nineteen?-supremely new, invents egg song
they won't forget, then leaves, revs his sedan,
honks a farewell. Inside, she combs their hair
and bickering resumes. I say a prayer.

Renter Sonnet (3)

I say a prayer for cats dotting windows
and huddling under cars, spooked by this street,
the plump who snooze serene in rooms, and those
whose faces, sizes, names, quirks, and complete
health charts cram flyers tacked to poles.
Rewards are promised, coaxing safe return
of Spanky, Ringo, Cinnamon, Marbles,
asthmatic, microchipped, and shy. Who earns
these prizes? Anyone? Hope withers, wanes
in each apartment on this block. The time
we mourn does vary; some may entertain
their guests of grief for years, no new pets. I'm
inclined to wait, gaze through this glass, revere
the wordless, wild or tame, missing or here.

Renter Sonnet (4)

Come sketch the wordless wild. Climb narrow stairs.
Consider flakes of aqua paint as proof
of passage. Handrail wobbles, creaks. Repairs?
Phone Mr. Tong forthwith, say "fix the roof,"
sing "we are climbing Jacob's ladder." (No,
scratch that.) Arrive. Angle your face to sky.
Recall your father making his photo.
His art: half clouds, half homes we rent or buy,
all curves and edges, white, gray, black, squares, swirls.
Equation through his lens: the built plus flux
sums up to...what? A sonnet crown? A world?
Stand still. Four floors below cabs, scooters, trucks
and backyard orators blend, blur to mist.
No words but these. They'll stop if you insist.

Renter Sonnet (5)

They stopped. If I, nostalgic, click on DAD,
his e-mails, droll and tender, fill my screen.
Though archive's cobwebbed and dim, I'm glad
I saved a cache, keystroke keepsakes. It's been
five years. I would have liked to write today
and rhapsodize: "I walked in April sun
past Lake Street homes and gardens, past Fung Shui
Supply, Snow White Dry Clean, a new salon-
Face Slapping Spa-and new, chic cat and dog
boutique. The Christian Science Reading Room
moved out. I stood and skimmed the synagogue's
new e-billboard. Dad, every block's in bloom!"
"Must cost a fortune," he'd write back, "to own
a pet, a face, a shirt. E-mail trumps phone."

Renter Sonnet (6)

A face, a shirt, a glowing cigarette-
Alberto, single dad, each night curbside.
He paces, pensive, grim. He may have debt
or trouble with his ex. He doesn't hide
his woes; he sprinkles clues like ashes, small,
combustible. He greets neighbors by rote:
"Another day in paradise" is all
he says, his irony a dark, thick coat,
no hood or sleeves or warmth. Does it protect
the man? It may, for now. He pulls it tight
and squashes butts beneath his shoe, collects
them, banishing to compost bin, polite.
We share a roof, faucets that drip, and brief
salutes at ten p.m. I smell his grief.

Renter Sonnet (7)

At ten p.m., eye emptied parking lot.
Praise fog, lone owl. Stow briefcase, Shakespeare. Pile
those earnest midterm essays you have not
read yet. Hear wipers squeaking. Drive. Meanwhile,
your neighbors exercise, shampoo their hair,
or sing their kids to sleep or rage at God
or scan porn sites et cetera. Night air
consoles you, most of you, uncertain, flawed,
at home or changing lanes, resolving to
clean litter box, do dreaded laundry in
the morning--sheets, towels, rugs. If nothing's new
under the sun or moon, drive, breathe, begin
to mourn again, dear renter, freshly laundered loss--
a key, wet matches, yoga pants (petite), a cross.

Clutter Song

He's traced to cat fur, dust, his allergies
and pats down pockets daily: glasses, phone.
His crowded sink-bowls, mugs-cries out A squeeze
of lemon Joy! A sponge! Yes, I have grown
accustomed to his habits, to his lair,
as he, to mine: low mumbling in my sleep,
the ceiling mold, the drainpipes clogged with hair,
my stacks, unread. What curse to cling, to keep
so much, so long, past expiration dates,
past reason, rhyme! My love-wise soul-forgives
this hoarding, builds his crooked towers too, creates
sculptures of envelopes, all he receives:
appeals from orphans, monks, Greenpeace campaigns.
Concerned, but broke-like me-he saves, and he refrains.

Ticket Stub

I watch the Alexandria decay-
a husk, padlocked ten years, perhaps fifteen,
sadsack NO TRESPASS signs on entryway
ignored by mice, raccoons. Within, vast screen
once dazzled us before we each acquired
our tiny private slates, before all hell broke loose.
We've spun a kind of hell, each soul now wired
or rather, wireless, linked tight and yet obtuse,
like rusting chains on lonesome theatre.
Why fence an emptiness? Bring wrecking ball,
bring dynamite. Deliver walls from dust, obscure
spray-painted codes. This wordless marquee calls
for mercy, demolition swift and bold,
not limbo, not Eden marooned, unsold.

Many Visitors Have Been Gored

We seek more sky, more falcons circling slow
above us, stiff, screenweary, strapped with gear.
Beware: Do Not Approach the Buffalo,

grim signs, ubiquitous, command-as though
we would, we cautious ones, faux mountaineers
who seek more sky, more falcons circling slow

and fewer thumbtacked edicts, bright yellow
checklists of tasks to do and beasts to fear.
Beware: Do Not Approach the Buffalo.

We hike these trails for balm, touchstones to show
how canyons, geysers, wind outlive us here.
We seek more sky, more falcons circling slow,

observing, tracking all of us below:
Bees, dragonflies, field mice, bobcats, elk, deer,
aware, do not approach the buffalo.

Serenity's elusive, poised to go,
to lunge or gore when predators come near
in search of sky and falcons circling slow.
Beware: Do Not Approach the Buffalo.


Kathleen McClung is the author of Almost the Rowboat (Finishing Line Press, 2013), and her work appears in Unsplendid, Bloodroot, Ekphrasis, The Healing Muse, PMS: poemmemoirstory, A Bird Black as the Sun: California Poets on Crows and Ravens, and elsewhere. Winner of the 2012 Rita Dove Poetry Prize, her work was also selected by Naomi Shihab Nye as the national winner of the 2012 poetry contest sponsored by the Cultural Center of Cape Cod. She has been a finalist for the Morton Marr Poetry Prize and the Robert Frost Award. She serves as the sonnet sponsor/judge for the Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition and is a reviewer for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing sponsored by the Stanford University Libraries. She teaches at Skyline College and the Writing Salon and lives in San Francisco. www.kathleenmcclung.com


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