Today's poetry for today's world

Clemens Starck            


Clemens Starck has made his living as a carpenter and construction foreman in California and the Northwest.  He is the author of five books of poems: Journeyman’s Wages, Studying Russian on Company Time, China Basin, Traveling Incognito, and Rembrandt, Chainsaw.  He is a recipient of the Oregon Book Award for Poetry as well as the William Stafford Memorial Poetry Award from the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association.  He lives outside of Dallas in the Willamette Valley of western Oregon.




To buy Rembrandt, Chainsaw, click on the cover.








I’m thinking about Rembrandt

while filing a chainsaw

that used to belong to my neighbor Lloyd Cooley,

a Stihl 017

I got at the yard sale after Lloyd died.


I’m thinking how Rembrandt

over the course of his lifetime created

nearly a hundred self-portraits, and also I’m thinking

how one of those pictures

of everyday life in Holland in the 17th century

might include

a carpenter in his workshop filing a saw.

Some things don’t change.


It’s late October.  Time to reconsider

everything.  With each stroke of the file I can feel

steel biting steel,

leaving each tooth with a razor-sharp edge.




from Rembrandt, Chainsaw, Wood Works, 2011.




To buy Journeyman's Wages, click on the cover.








         Call Joel (eves) 623-9765


Smack in the public eye

at Ninth and Van Buren, tearing down

an old house—

“Not demolition, dismantling!” says Joel.  Slowly

we make the house disappear.

It takes a few months.

We do this for a living.

                 Our sign says:


Neat stacks of it on the front lawn

around a dormant forsythia—

shiplap and siding, and over here

we have two-by . . .

That pile is already sold.


We also have toilets, sinks, remarkable

savings on bent nails,

French doors, free kindling

and more.  Lots more.


. . .


With the roof off

a house looks more like a cathedral,

rafters outlined against the sky.

A pair of ragged priests,

stick by stick we celebrate

nothing.  We are making the shape of nothing,


an absence.


And when we have finished,

what will there be at Ninth and Van Buren?

A square of bare earth

where a house was.

Sidewalk.  Foundation.  Concrete stoop.

Two steps up

and you’re there.





from Journeyman's Wages, Story Line Press, 1995.




To buy Studying Russian on Company Time, click on the cover.








Job’s nearly over,

me and Maloney all that’s left of the crew.

Sunk in the hillside,

hundreds of tons of reinforced concrete

formed in the shape of a drum

ninety-two feet in diameter, eighteen feet deep—

it could be a kiva, or a hat box, or look from the air

like a missile silo.


It could be a storage tank for toxic waste.

It could be a vault to house

the national treasure.


In any case, it’s finished,

ready for backfill. Now it’s the earth’s.


And I’m left with Maloney,

who likes to drink beer after work

and tell stories.

Construction stories.  Ex-wife stories.  Stories

like how he clubs possums to death with a two-by-four

when he finds them

prowling in back of his warehouse at night.


He laughs, telling the stories.


Maloney quit drinking once.

After a year and nine months he decided he’d rather

die of alcohol

than boredom.


I know what he means.  I work

for Maloney Construction.

When it rains we work in the rain. When it snows

we work in the snow.

I am Maloney’s right-hand man:

when he laughs I laugh too.




from Journeyman's Wages, Story Line Press, 1995.




To buy any of Clemens Starck's books, click on the covers.








Chances are I’ll never tell

the story of how I found myself

adrift at sea

in a twelve-foot dinghy with a single oar;

or how, once, in the mountains

called Sierra Nevada,

trapped on a snowbound freight train,

my intrepid companions and I

existed for several days

on a fifty-pound sack of frozen marshmallows.


In retrospect

you could call it adventure, but at the time

it was nothing special.  Anyway,

some events—like cloud formations

or teenage children—

are completely inexplicable.


My ambitions were nebulous at best.

All I ever wanted to be was a glass blower

or a wood carver

or failing that, a utility infielder.

A career in the Foreign Service

looked promising once, but I couldn’t feature myself

in formal attire

on a balcony overlooking the capital . . .

What would I be doing there?

Serving cocktails

to the Peruvian attaché’s voluptuous wife?


And so it is that I stand

on the sagging porch of a tumbledown house

regarding the lunar eclipse

through binoculars held steady by my stalwart left hand.

With the other I gesticulate wildly,

but fail to observe

any change

in the shadow cast by this earth on the moon.





from Journeyman's Wages, Story Line Press, 1995).







Writer's Comment: For me, poetry is the trick of making something as insubstantial as a piece of language appear solid and durable.              




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