John Lee Clark

Even when I fold my white cane in half
to double my chances, my batting average is still a joke.
I am much better at knowing which smooth stones
the ocean wants back from the shore.
But when there is a crack of metal and a rainbow
cleaves my mental sky, I see something
falling from one blue into another and then a gasp
of what I like to think of as pure white.

Walker Institute of Art

So much behind glass.
Outside, only one boob.
Graced with bird poop.
What good is art?


Traveling in the dark, we pull over for me
to sing into a bottle. Maple leaves
are burning somewhere in the distance. It fills
with warmth and the heft of my relief.


When it was clear my request for bail
would not be heard, not to say fail,
the roof nearly buckled under hail
sweetly trying to save me from jail.
Then I found hope hidden in the mail.
To protect it, I swallowed the nail.
Warmth flowed as I grabbed the pail
to throw up blood. Still breathing, I rail
against myself, for not setting sail
to chase after that certain tail.
My last freedom is to wail.

John Lee Clark was born deaf and became blind in adolescence. His work has appeared in many publications, including The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Hollins Critic, McSweeney’s, and Poetry. His chapbook of poems is Suddenly Slow (Handtype Press, 2008) and he edited the anthology Deaf American Poetry (Gallaudet University Press, 2009). He and his wife are the editors of the online publication Clerc Scar at and they live in St. Paul, Minnesota, with their three sons.

“Growing up, the closest thing we had to a front porch was at the house my parents designed and had built, in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. Off the driveway was this stone path that led to the front step—there was only one step—and this was the porch. It had two short white-painted fences that were decorative more than anything else. There was a large welcome mat, which covered most of the porch space. We never sat there or anything, but always went through it, in or out of the house. Now, we had a basketball hoop above the garage doors. I loved playing basketball with that hoop, even if I was going blind. My mental vision of the hoop gradually replaced my actual vision of it. But it was accurate enough so that I still made shots, maybe not as frequently as before, but still quite often. I’d see a bit of red, a bit of red, and just shoot. Later, my kinesthetic awareness of the hoop became such that I could make shots without looking up at all. One day, we had friends visiting and we agreed to go out for a game of HORSE. I went to our foyer closet and grabbed a basketball. As I went out of the door, one leg already skipping the step, I suddenly saw the hoop in my mind’s eye, to my far left, and before my other leg landed on the stone path, I did a skyhook with my right hand. When I got to the driveway, I found my friends in awe because I’d actually made the shot. I was pleasantly surprised–”I didn’t really expect that it’d go in, but it did. Later, I tried doing it again, because this was such a cool trick, but I never did make another shot like that. I guess it’s one of those things, like a poem, that you do without it being on purpose.”