Four Poems by Marc Harshman

Big Things of Thee Are Spoken

The sunny wind proves deceptive, dropping 

the temperature as quickly

as these October leaves.

A slice of white bread is speared

on the neighbor’s fence and

below it their garden goes feral—

there’s been a death in the family.

A vortex of buzzards are lifting

the last corner of the sky

un-tethered to the forest.

The phone keeps ringing, eager, I suppose,

to give me an update

on how little time there is

before the next big thing.

That catch in my side, the sudden intake

of breath before I speak

should be ignored, a passing moment

like time’s clouds even now

returning with the new weather.

If I had a clean, white shirt I’d wear it

in honor of this day, how it feels

as peculiar as that respite

before my familiar misery

whispers its name once more.


Buteo Jamaicansis

In the middle of the cemetery floated a flat pool

in which stood, perfectly composed, a red-tailed hawk.

I paused, held my ground, nodded hello.

There were tear-drop stars on his white chest   

and his fierce beak pointed into this pool

so shallow his fur-feathery leggings 

were stirring in the breeze.

I could see just enough to get beyond

and sidestep the usual paths

between retina and cerebrum,

see enough to connect the beyond

with this moment, connect, and so be with

this other creature, be with

him beyond family, genus, and species, 

beyond field guide and life-list,

beyond the reach of Google and Wikipedia….

To be with became the superlative all of time,

and so I stood, as did he, and there came 

this moment before his great wings opened 

and climbed the invisible air into open sky,

a moment when, yes, we both flew  . . .  beyond. 


Sunday to Sunday

The half-finished attic
let down its guard
and heaven rushed through
singing its loud hosannas.

Mother floated there, unsure
why such commotion
should be 
all for her, but
it had been a long illness,
and she was ready
for a sweeter, longer dark 
than Oxycodone and Demerol.

Throughout the day the nightmares
had gathered their hatchets
and dripping faucets.
It was a tiring business:
of that, there was no doubt.

Few real doctors here, mostly
farmers familiar with butchering
and the no-nonsense kind of mercy
that simply puts down the suffering and infirm.

And it’s hard to please country men.
Contentment always contends with pleasure.
It’s not a kind of feathery care
with which they’ll be familiar.

There in his tent
with only a single candle
and his few books, the preacher was
perturbed that mother’s resurrection
had proved a half-way sort of thing, 
a screwball purgatory
to which we could only point
a proximate location . . . 

somewhere beyond that ceiling
and a bank of roiling clouds
north of the Tibbet farm.

We assured him how she seemed pleased
and we’d affix her name
as testimony to any Gospel
to which he’d like to direct us.
He figured it was good enough
and might make a change 
from brimstone and cherubim
and the dozen other arcane metaphors
with which he littered his sermons
Sunday to Sunday.


Vulpine Dusk

The pasture goes blue as the dimming sky 

pours itself into a placid sea 

upon which cunning bovines

ready their silent sails.

The rasping cough the fox drags across the night

must unsettle even these large herbivores.

Below the horizon the day has again buried itself

predictably without any explanations whatsoever.

Owls and crickets have already taken their places,

preparing their evening concert.

Only the cemetery remains nonplussed 

by the exchange worked out

between light and dark, its stones

predictable buoys in the shadowy maze

the moon brings to keep the balance.

Marc Harshman’s Woman in Red Anorak (Lynx House Press) won the Blue Lynx Prize. His fourteenth children’s book is Fallingwater: The Building of Frank Lloyd Wright's Masterpiece, co-authored with Anna Smucker (Roaring Brook/Macmillan). His collection Believe What You Can (Vandalia/WVU Press) won the 2016 Weatherford Award from the Appalachian Studies Association. He is co-winner of the 2019 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award, and his poem “Dispatch from the Mountain State” was printed in the 2020 Thanksgiving edition of The New York Times. Dark Hills of Home (Monongahela Books) came out in 2022 to celebrate Harshman’s 10th anniversary as Poet Laureate of West Virginia. His newest full-length collection of poems is Following the Silence (Press 53).