Four Poems by Marc Harshman


To sleep again in the house of silence,
he will carefully fold 
his coonskin Davy Crockett
under his pillow and reach 
for some stalwart story to hold him
up over the black roar 
of Mother not speaking, 
of Father not speaking, of the tin roof
leaking, of the closet’s shit-can smelling,
of the rotting corpse of grandmother mumbling
next door, of the other stories whispering, 
all the million little ones 
nibbling and bullying 
until tears begin feeding
the roar into flood.


It was in the back orchard I fell
          reaching for a Maiden’s Blush apple,
          sun-crowned with peach-pink cheeks.
Nothing but the air to fall
          through, the sky turning
          away, and I lay there without tears,
          just looking around for my breath
          and the apple clenched in my fist.
Under my jaw, the scar, a small worm of flesh.
It was my first boon from the long land of memory
          where screams drowned the night,
          then receded with the stitch-work
          of the mysterious old and their stories,
          stories like a skin within which I could hide, a skin
          wedded seamlessly to my nightshirt 
          that I could pull on over my head and so,
          on lucky nights, disappear and go deaf
          with only this ringing, as an old man,
          reminding me of what I’ve shut out
          and from which I’m still running, still falling,
          fists clenched, but the sky, the sky turning
          its cheek now, slowly, at last, towards me.


Pinned to the breast of the hill, a clutch of spring beauties,
          a living brooch, and within 
miner bees busy working for honey.
It’s April, and a spray of spidery twigs
frames the swift sky overhead.
Below, a grackle’s mechanical pacing 
of the minutes left within this poem 
calls me to attention.
Constable’s clouds are singing 
the dark songs of Hampstead and Keats
          …save what from heaven is with the breezes blown . . . 
How do I know this?
A poet told me.  
How else do I learn what matters?
I grab a fistful of coins and fling them
          onto the sloping lawn
          where they catch the sun
          like the eyes of Cinderella’s silver mice.
All goes on and outwards, even the stories.
The only flag to raise in the midst of all this
          is the white flag—you know the one.

(The quotation is from “Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats.)


In the bricked-up sky
          a late, azure light 
          pools along the horizon.
A moment later, three crows lift, silently,
          into the now spreading dark
          and are gone.
I turn away from the field, the west, turn
          towards the east, the woods
          looming with a blurring tracery
          of branch shadows and snow.
There is a balancing in these changes
          unrelated to me, yet . . . 
          I declare this moment has come 
          only to me, only now
          and somehow almost forever.

Marc Harshmans Woman In Red Anorak, won the Blue Lynx Poetry Prize and was published in 2018 by Lynx House Press. His fourteenth children’s book, Fallingwater, co-authored with Anna Smucker, was published by Roaring Brook/Macmillan in 2017. He is also co-winner of the 2019 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award. His poems have been anthologized by Kent State University, the University of Iowa, University of Georgia, West Virginia University, and the University of Arizona. Appointed in 2012 he is the seventh poet laureate of West Virginia.

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