CLOCKS OF RAIN
–are you all right are you hurt can you move how clearly men speak
through the blown-out window undo the seat belt undo the seat belt
and fall headfirst into the rain pulled from a wrecked car the side
of the road scarlet apples rolling here there each one a miniature
emergency a loop of cord a coat a scattering of glass hands shaking
water running down someone’s face dark trees behind a van
brushwork on a Chinese screen a fire truck police car glaze of rain
this is where it happened an ambulance with its doors opening
into a throat of darkness–
he’s moaning, blood in his hair.
grinds in my mouth.
Smashed air.The many clocks
of rain, slapping wipers jerk and lift of the tires the car silkily
veering off the wrong way on a wet road a long, vertiginous descent
frenzy of wipers this is how it comes gracefully the end of things
a guardrail a ditch a life closing with a little sound a click nothing
to fear brace hard the car slams into the rail on the driver’s side
hooks metal flips hurtles down the highway on the roof the wheels
spinning like a chase of deer–
inside out bones showing against shadow white puzzle pieces
nestled one against the other delicate skull wide-open jaw sinuous
length of spine in the hospital a doctor traced
smashed air. The many clocks
many voices are you all right are you hurt can you move how clearly
men speak through the blown-out window undo the seat belt undo
the seat belt and fall headfirst into the rain pulled from a wrecked
car the side of the road scarlet apples rolling here there each one
a miniature emergency a loop of cord a coat a scattering of glass
hands shaking water running down someone’s face dark trees behind
a van brushwork on a Chinese screen a fire truck police car glaze
of rain this is where it happened an ambulance with its doors
opening backwards to show watery marks on the ultrasound yes
you’re thinking it could be you it could be your bird heart beating
now now now.
Anne Simpson is the author of three books of poetry, Light Falls Through You, winner of the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and the Atlantic Poetry Prize; Loop, winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize and a finalist for the Governor General’s Award for Poetry; and her new collection, Quick. She is also the author of a novel, Canterbury Beach. She lives in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, where she helped establish the Writing Centre at St. Francis Xavier University.
A Word about the Poem by Anne Simpson
How do we write the state of shock? This was the question that came to me after I wrote the first drafts of “Clocks of Rain.” In these earlier drafts, I wrote a long poem, broken into sections, in which the speaker looks back on an accident some time after it happens. But then it became a story, distanced by remembering. It seemed to me that I hadn’t gotten inside the accident itself. I knew that it had to be much more immediate to work effectively. And the form had to change. I had to find a form for dislocation, something that would reveal a break in the temporal, so I came up with an entirely different poem. I cut it back, shook it up. I thought of how people get thrown around in an accident, even though they might be strapped into a car. Ultimately, I wanted the sharp realization that comes with a close call — that life is not just given back, but given back differently — breaking out of the poem.
How the Poem Works by Anne Compton
“Clocks of Rain” is reminiscent of Simpson’s “Seven Paintings by Brueghel” (Loop, 2003), the sonnet series that lamented the stopped clocks, stopped lives of the Twin Towers. “Clocks” is, however, an everyday tragedy — if there is such a thing — a road accident. The debris at the accident scene includes “a loop of cord,” undoubtedly a nod to the formal experimentation that Simpson began with Loop and quickens here. Referencing her earlier work, “Clocks of Rain” also extends the painter-poet’s interest in beauty and violence — the collision of those in everyday life.
Abandoning the stop signs of punctuation that make syntax negotiable, “Clocks” enacts pavement’s chaos on the page. Simpson, who devoted a section of Light Falls Through You (2000) to those very signs, creates in this prose poem the panic of an auto accident. Fragments trail between paragraphs. The poem, as much as the automobile, hydroplanes on the surface of its story: An accident happens, the driver suffers an injury, but narrative perspective remains uncertain. Point of view veers among first, second, and third person. The four paragraphs view successively the wreck, the moment of the accident, the victim, ending where they began, with the “many voices” milling around the wreck. This structure imitates the “Upside down” coming-to-rest of the vehicle, the “inside out” of the victim. With her signature tact, and painter’s eye, Simpson imbues gruesome detail with tenderness.
The shock of it all is signalled by the abrupt beginning — a dash; by the breathless, brief phrases jamming the moment; by the unmarked dialogue: thoughts and speech — inside the wreck and outside — are indistinguishable. Perceptions occur — “scarlet apples rolling here there” — but ownership of those perceptions is unclear. Form, here, forces the reader to “fall headfirst” into chaos, but it’s the heart — whose heart — that is at risk. Risk is what interests Anne Simpson these days. “Clocks of Rain” — the noun phrase metaphor of the title, repeated in the poem — “click” off a life. Like John Donne’s bells, which toll for “you,” these “Clocks” rain on everyone.
Anne Compton is the author of Processional, winner of the Governor General’s Award for Poetry and the Atlantic Poetry Prize, and Opening the Island, winner of the Atlantic Poetry Prize. Her most recent work is Meetings with Maritime Poets: Interviews. She is the editor of The Edge of Home: Milton Acorn from the Island and co-editor of Coastlines: The Poetry of Atlantic Canada, and the author of A.J.M. Smith: Canadian Metaphysical.