Jeff Hardin teaches at Columbia State Community College in Columbia, Tennessee. He is the author of two chapbooks and one poetry collection, Fall Sanctuary, recipient of the Nicholas Roerich Prize. His work appears in The North American Review, Hudson Review, Southern Review, Southern Poetry Review, Poetry Northwest, Southwest Review, Louisville Review, Cold Mountain Review, Measure, and elsewhere. His work has been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and Garrison Keillor’s The Writers Almanac.
ANOTHER TURNED DOWN BACK ROAD
led us deeper into countryside
my father hadn’t seen for months,
gone to work the Mississippi.
He’d roll the window down—
breathing in the honeysuckle,
listening for dove on powerlines—
and cruise along at tractor speed.
Soon there’d be a line of cars.
He’d only drag his arm outside
and wave them all to pass,
paying little mind to how they
stared or honked the horn,
no more than gnats to brush aside.
He’d pop another Pabst, then sip
the suds and slide a tape inside
the deck: David Allen Coe,
Johnny Paycheck, Willie or
Waylon. He only stared ahead
at where the road could lead,
though sometimes, for no reason,
he’d pull along beside a field,
cut the engine off. He’d sit
without a word, let the summer
sounds of evening crickets
have their say. The corn would be
chest-high, a green infinity a man
could get lost in. I thought back then
he must be sad to drive such roads;
but the truth I’ve come to know
is that he memorized the earth,
this place he had to leave behind
a few months every year—roads
and fields and creeks, the wooden
bridge he’d leapt from twenty years
before. And I’m his son, the one
who sat shotgun and saw it all
and listened for the few words
slipped out when a song would
end, words full of hollows held
in shadow and of dust the bridge
would cough—always slow, slow
to come, though here when said
and sure and stilled and always.
FROM AN ONGOING ARGUMENT WITH THE TIMES
How long since you climbed the oak tree’s reach for sky?
How long since you crouched to hide your face
in the long-flowing crosshatched swaying of sage grass?
So what if the mailman sees you—he secretly wants
to read all the letters and speak as an intimate
while the store clerk weighs the seedless grapes.
There was that time once—remember?—you slipped out
on the water and set the oars to rest, the canoe
like a thought that held you tucked away inside.
Over the tree line and then two hills, you could walk
all the way to the river and still be back before a soul
would know you’d gone. You could do this every day.
In another month or two, you’ll lower all the windows.
For now, cicadas ride the limbs of every tree for miles.
It’s a long way back, even from the last conversation you had.
REJOICING IN THE EARLY HOURS
I think I was born to live a boisterous life,
in the early hours rejoicing as others
of my household
slap against their briny shores.
Why not be pleased? I heard an old man ask
He pointed down a fresh-turned furrow,
and his breathing spoke the vowelless name of God.
Bombs falling for centuries to come may
rip apart the earth, but they will never halt
pulling that man from the ditch.
I want wisdom and immortality and the taste
of lemons. I want to gather all the maple leaves
and kiss their undersides
and place them on the wind.
How often in this life can I say “and?”
What good can come if nothing’s ever joined?
One word, then another
—a mighty fortress begins to rise.
THAT WHICH NOTHING GREATER CAN BE THOUGHT OF
Rain ticking through the window screen,
sky vast on the other side
of the vaster other side—
I bow here to imagine myself small, smaller,
no more than a leaf tipped,
letting it all slip and be gone.
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