Gatekeeper of Spring by Harlow Clark

Vor dem Gesetz steht ein Türhüter
–Franz Kafka

K. is the gatekeeper to spring
Marching me through February.
Vacuuming the chapel and halls I listen
To K cleaning the schoolhouse
Trying to make a home there
Waiting to be called up.

Biking town to town and street to street
I hear the mazes of Amerika
The gatekeeper before the gatekeeper before the gatekeeper
Before the law, vor dem Gesetz,
Knife passing from hand to hand
Before the final plunge and twist.

Hearing twenty-one hours I found myself back
In Brent Chambers’ German 3 class at Provo High.
“Time for a donut run,” Herr Chambers said,
“Take my car.”
“It’s just across the street.”
He threw me his keys anyway.

The parking lot became a steep climb
Till I saw the rollercoaster cars
Coming straight for me.
A movie cliché rescued me
As I jammed the car in reverse
And roared backwards down the tracks
Just ahead of the coaster.

Back on the ground
The parking lot gatekeeper stopped me.
“No leaving the grounds during school hours.”
“I’m coming right back.”
“No leaving.”
“I’m not even a student here,
Just come for a visit.”
“We’ll see about that.”

I defeat the gatekeeper by waking up–
Down the hall, down the stairs, back up the hall
To the bathroom.
Stepping through the curtain at the foot of the stairs
I glance across the family room.

Outside the sliding glass door
A tall brown head
Cylindrical like a Tiki god carved from a coconut log.

I step forward to examine the texture of the bark.
The head turns to me,
I see the body sitting at the edge of the lawn
I back away, knowing when I bring back camera the deer will be gone.

For a year I mull this scene
Till one Saturday night
My friend e-mails an invite to celebrate
Spring with a poem for her blog–
Ends Monday.

The next day in Sunday School as King Benjamin teaches Atonement
I remember today is Orthodox Easter.
K. Chi. Chi Rho. Chi Rose.
Like a medieval deer he bounded
Over the gatekeepers,
And the gatekeepers of gatekeepers of gatekeepers.
No gatekeeper,
No twist of nine inch nails,
No stone coasting down a roller before a garden tomb
Could keep him from springing the gates of death.


Harlow Clark pedals to work down what was a 2-lane country road when he moved to Pleasant Grove, Utah 18 years ago. Since the I-15 interchange went in Sam White Lane (Sam White’s) has been bisected by Pleasant Grove Blvd and partly rerouted. Just before the lane goes over the freeway there used to be a veterinary practice. In an interview for a news story the vet told Harlow he could gauge the transformation of north Utah County from rural to urban by the disappearance of large animals from his patients. Harlow traces the transformation by the disappearance of the home and veterinary hospital and the appearance of a two-story office building (though by New York City standards the whole state is rural). He became aware awhile back that he has written several poems featuring animals, and is working them into a chapbook called Dinosaur Water.

*Competition entry*


8 thoughts on “Gatekeeper of Spring by Harlow Clark”

  1. Thanks, Mark. Occasionally I remember my dreams well enough to write them down, but it can take a lot of mulling before I know where the poem is.


  2. I’ve been wondering how I can use the one I had about chasing a bad guy onto a ship, getting shot when I came out from under the curve of the hull to shoot up at him, chasing him into a meeting in a room with glass walls all around, and putting a gun that turned into a staple puller to his head when he came out to try and run past me.


  3. Mark, I’ve been thinking about your dream off and on, and if you really want to turn it into a poem I suppose the first thing to look at is the emotion connected to the dream. Humor? confusion? frustration? excitement?

    Then look at what words are most important to you. I’ve always been astonied at Dennis Clark’s ability to pull implications and shades of meanings out of his words. Then I took a creative writing class from his father, who told us that Dennis makes a list of the words he thinks will be important then makes a list of their etymologies, connotations, denotations, synonyms and antonyms and tries to work as much of the list into the poem as he can.

    I try to do some of that, though I’m not as systematic (or diligent or patient) as Dennis. Apparently Wallace Stevens did the same kind of thing. I read somewhere that when someone from his insurance office was going to Hartford he’d have them stop at the library and copy words from the OED. By hand, since this was before copiers.


  4. Sarah, I just saw your comment. Thank you. We might be about the same age, but I confess that I only know about NIN because in 1995 during the first semester of my short teaching career a student did his term paper on industrial music and explained that the band’s name refers to nails used in crucifixion.

    The heavy-duty dangerous band when I was his age was KISS, and someone was kind enough to tell me that, no, they really didn’t think of themselves as Knyghtes in Satan’s Service. I didn’t listen to them or other heavy metal rump and rollers. (I was enamored of classical / romantic / opera / musicals– I have large lacunae in my exposure to popular music.)

    One day I happened to turn on Fresh Air and Terri Gross was interviewing Gene Simmons. He said he didn’t use drugs and wouldn’t date women who did, because if he was going to have sex with a woman he wanted her to experience him, not some drug haze. That was when Terri Gross said something like, “Gene Simmons you seem awfully full of yourself” and he said something like, “and you seem awfully boring.”

    When Doug Fabrizio interviewed Gross on Kuer’s Radio West ( she said she and Simmons had been trading barbs throughout the interview and he had refused to sign a release for WHYY to post the show. Fabrizio said he just happened to have audio of it, and played the part I just mentioned, but I don’t have a link to that show because Radio West has taken down a search link to their archives.

    I duckduckgoed the phrase ‘terri gross kiss interview’ and there are transcipts and mp3s of the Gross/Simmons exchange freely available.

    Stephen Fullmer, who was teaching at UVSC at the same time I was, and still is, just appeared on KBYU FM’s Thinking Aloud,, talking about a class he’s going to teach on the philosophy of rock. He said his sons think of KISS as bubblegum rock.


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