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David M. Harris

Poetry

Birch #611

{At Colgate University, the trees are tagged and numbered}

 

I am one of seven, all of us

numbered, not named, other than Betula,

the name we all share. We die young,

for trees, a century and a half, but form

great forests in the northern latitudes.

Not us, of course. We are only seven,

in our tiny park amid the road, never

to be more. Our many seeds fall or fly,

and some few land on welcoming soil,

to be swept up or plucked or cut

by humans and their machines.

We seven stand alone amid the other trees,

amid the road, never to be the forest

of our destiny and dreams


 

Garrison: Nostalgia

 

The snow off the plow would blast

the mailbox off its post, down the hill,

until I learned to bring it in 

when I heard the forecast. Another time

the aesthetic vigilantes painted it black,

They didn't like pink. You couldn't see 

the house from the road -- too many trees.

I worried about the big maple. If it fell 

the wrong way, the house would splinter.

It was in a named place, no town or village,

but a post office and a train station

immortalized by Edith Wharton. Someone

saw a bear, once, behind the library,

and many of the roads were named

while I lived there. I lived quietly,

with a dog, and was mostly happy.


 

Just Rocks

 

On the professor's desk,

a dozen lumps of stone. One 

may be granite, but all gray stone 

looks like granite to me. Beside the door,

a name and a word: Geology. 

In Dr. Wu's hands, these are samples 

and minerals with names and histories.

Not granite but Manhattan schist,

Crab Orchard stone, 

and, oldest of all, Acasta gneiss.

Recognized and understood,

facets of how he sees the world,

all pellucid to him, as clear

as Arizona sandstone to me.

 

Recorder, clarinet, piano, guitar --

I played them all, if not too well.

I learned to hear sonata form, 

tell Mozart from Haydn, French 

from German baroque. Sometimes

on the radio I'd recognize Bernstein

or Karajan, and rarely soloists. 

But in the concert hall,

when Maestro Schermerhorn previewed

that night's concert

with excerpts from a record, I understood 

from his listening face

how much I'd never hear.

 

I sit with lines of verse,

good lines, someone else's,

and try to puzzle out

how and what this means, and how

the author bound these knots

of words and images into

a poem – what I do, only better.

How much of staring into space 

counts toward the ten thousand hours

before the muse shows up?

Before I know in poetry 

what Maestro hears in Mendelssohn,

what Dr. Wu extrapolates from schist.


 

The Secret Coed

 

She sits, quiet, in the back of the room.

I have never heard her voice, not even

when I call the roll. She is not

on my roster or in my grade book.

Sometimes she hands in an assignment,

which gets feedback but no grade.

Her work is good. I enjoy reading it.

She calls herself, on her papers, Arpeggia

D’Amore, a name not found

in the student database. Last semester

she appeared for American Personal Narratives

(but offered none of her own); this term,

Types of American Novels. I have considered

asking my colleagues if they know her,

know her story, but no, the mystery

is too wonderful to solve. It is a hook

for my dreams.

      All day I study texts,

analyze and grade them, a mason

interrogating someone else's stone,

reading the grain and the strokes

of the chisel. Learning the creators

by the unconscious marks they leave.

I can penetrate to their hidden selves. 

Ms. D’Amore is more careful. She uses

protection against my penetrating

academic mind. Papers so polished

I can read nothing but the sentences.

 

# # #

 

I could seek to know her, stalk her 

from class to wherever she goes next,

but no. Let her mystery remain intact

and perfect. I will not unravel this

performance, for which I hope I am

the only audience. This is our secret,

our perfect, intense romance

 

William Thomas-Trudo

 

Dear Bill:

 

John didn't mean to be the one who told me.

He wasn't any more prepared than I was.

Naturally I was shocked. We were all shocked.

But later I remembered that I'd known more

than a few who'd killed, but impersonally. 

Those deaths, those killings, had been sanctioned

and removed. And a couple of others,

people I'd known who had died violently.

But Sandra. Sandra served

her homemade eggnog, and seemed 

authentically pleased when I praised it. 

Of course, you loved her, as 

you had me tell your friends. You told me 

through the grille below the thick glass.

There I was, on the other side, able to

go out to dinner. It almost seemed unfair,

you in that jail and me free to walk away,

until I remembered what you did. And Sandra.

There's no forgiving that. No forgetting.

Yet Judy and I still come, emptying 

our pockets at the security checkpoint,

shouting through the painted-over grille,

leaning in to hear what words struggle through.

We tracked down the family and the cat

and told ourselves we were just cleaning

the mess you left. Someone had to do it,

and we were the only candidates. We 

inherited the obligation.

We could have refused, but

we like to think of ourselves as nice

people, people who try to heal the world.

We try to think of scenarios, you and Sandra

in that bedroom just before the floor

had to be torn up to remove the bloodstains.

Harsh words? Divorce threats? Anything

that would soften the reality, and really,

there is nothing.