Today's poetry for today's world

Gary Lark


Gary Lark is a retired librarian, storyteller, carpenter, janitor, salesman, and hospital aide.  He lives with his wife Dorothy and a cat named Fish.  Without A Map is his most recent book, published by Wellstone Press (2013).  Getting By, won the Holland Prize from Logan House Press, 2009.  He is the author of three chapbooks: Men at the Gates, Finishing Line Press (2007), Tasting the River in the Salmon’s Flesh, Traprock Press (2005), Eels and Fishes, Coos Writer’s Series (1978).  Lark has had poems from Men at the Gates and Getting By featured on The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor.  His work has also appeared in North American Review, The Sun, Orion, Borderlands, and Hubbub among others.




To buy Without a Map click book cover.   






He was my father’s age,

still tall and sinuous

with glinting eyes

and haunted dreams.

Bataan lived in his blood

like a virus: the retreat,

half rations, the capitulation,

miles of thirst, dysentery,

the everyday random death. 

He had carried a friend

the last twenty miles

only to see him beheaded.


He slept with a Ruger .44

under his pillow.

It had a special sling

in his truck.

His wife had talked

him through thousands

of nightmares.

In 1976, with cancer in his gut,

the best surgeon in our

small town, one David Tanaka,

was to operate.


He surrendered to anesthetic

while the .44 rested in his wife’s purse.

Through a colostomy

and another surgery

there came a hard diplomacy.

The son of a Japanese family from Fresno

treated him with respect, with deference

for the driving story that lived

in this man.

The patient lived another twelve years,

now and then stopping for coffee

with the enemy.




"Hard Diplomacy" published in Hubbub.                    

from Without a Map, Wellstone Press, 2013




To buy Gary Lark's books,

click any book cover on this page.




Getting by




I grew up at the end of a dirt road 

on a creek you’ve never hear of,

off a spur, that if you drove up it

you wouldn’t know why

when you got there.


Daddy drove cat for old man Stimpson

until he rolled it down the mountain

and broke his back.  They said he was lucky,

being thrown clear.  But Daddy said

pain talked to him every day

and he didn’t like the conversation.


I started picking ferns, barking chittam

and selling mushrooms; made spinners

and tied trout flies; got used to getting by.

We ate venison and rabbit, nettles, 

quail and grouse, trout and crawdads. 

I learned to drink thunder water

on the spine of Mitchell hill.


When I was grown, Mama gave me a hundred dollars

she’d saved; told me to go to town. 

Get a job, she said, make a life. 

But I didn’t want to change tires,

stock shelves, or join the army. 

She withered up after that

tending her little patch of flowers

along the path to the spring.


Forty years later, I’m still getting by.

I’ve planted trees and cleaned toilets

for the parks, but I never left the woods,

even when I had to sleep in my truck.

There’s still a place or two left

to pick mushrooms, and I get along

alright with the dope growers. 


I’ll deliver illegal smoked salmon

if you get word from one of my regulars.

And when you hurry your kids along

in the grocery store, I understand,

I won’t be there long.




“Getting By” appeared in Pemmican, the chapbook Men at the Gates,

Finishing Line Press and Getting By, Logan House Press.  It was also

featured on The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor.    











Standing thigh deep

in the Yachats river

the fly drifting under a shadow

I wear my father's shirt.

His body in mine

I in his shirt

our hands move

in similar patterns.


I've the turn of his mouth

in my reflection.

Our language is mostly silence,

but somehow from his father

to me there comes this patchwork

of sensations.


The river swirls

around my knees

tugging me downstream

under the trees.

A long quiet pool.

A cutthroat takes the fly

and three arms set the hook.




 “Fishing” appeared in Fireweed and the chapbook Tasting the River

in the Salmon’s Flesh, Traprock Press.  It was anthologized in Voices

in Winter Rain and Let Us Drink to the River, An Anthology of River Poems.             






Night on the Ward




Chirps, snores and whistles float from dorm rooms.

A barrage of hallucinations hector bathroom runs.


Between cribbage games and bed checks,

under a hallway lamp, Reggie tells me

that the door to heaven is in the nebula of Orion.


A muffled shrill follows Walt as he begins to pace,

voices spinning around his withered self.


Survivors of Salerno and St. Lo, Midway and Okinawa,

the gassed and broken from the Somme to Pleiku,

this ward, these men, lost in the landscape

of political war and easy rhetoric,

thrown away, here.


Does the catatonic dream all the time?

Are delusions and paranoia hijacking their nights?

Where are the replacement parts for damaged brains?


In the slant of morning light

we pass medications, watch for seizures,

shave their faces and walk them to breakfast.

The shuffling feet sound like dry leaves.




“Night on the Ward” appeared in Hubbub, the chapbook Men at the Gates,

Finishing Line Press, and Getting By, Logan House Press.




Writer's Comment:  I generally like the poetry to speak for its self. 

And after doing workshops and such, my advice has boiled down to read

good writing, go for a walk, and find some solitude.




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