Wednesday Feb 21

James-Harms James Harms is the author of five books of poetry from Carnegie Mellon University Press, After West (2008), Freeways and Aqueducts (2004), Quarters (2001), The Joy Addict (1998), and Modern Ocean (1992), as well as a letter press, limited edition volume, East of Avalon (2000) from Caddis Case Press. The Joy Addict has just been reissued in the Classic Contemporary Series. His poems, essays and short stories have appeared in Poetry, The Kenyon Review, The Antioch Review, Denver Quarterly, The Gettysburg Review, TriQuarterly, Ploughshares, The American Poetry Review, Verse, The North American Review, Oxford American and many other literary journals; in addition, he is a contributing editor of West Branch. Harms has been awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Creative Writing, the PEN/Revson Fellowship, fellowships from the West Virginia and Pennsylvania Arts Commissions and three Pushcart Prizes. He was the founding director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing at West Virginia University, where he is currently Professor of English; he also directs the low-residency MFA Program in Poetry at New England College. Since arriving at West Virginia University he has been named a Benedum Distinguished Scholar, The Eberly College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Teacher, the WVU Foundation Outstanding Teacher, The Eberly College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Researcher, and The Carnegie Foundation/CASE United States Teacher of the Year for West Virginia. During the spring semester of 2008 he served as Poet in Residence at the Stadler Center for Poetry at Bucknell University. James Harms lives in Morgantown, West Virginia with his wife Amanda, and their children.


Morning to Night to Morning, Morgantown

There’s no mist
on the river
this morning,
just a clean inch
of air above
the water, leaves
in gray clumps
floating north
beside the barges,
the crew team’s
chipped shell.
All sound takes
the shape of doves
in the bridge girders,
the rounded syllables
of their sighing,
how any river
implies an ending,
the beginning
an afterthought.
Stop long enough
on the waterfront
and someone asks
the same question:
“Where you from,
buddy,” as if here
is never enough.
But here is a
synonym of home,
especially if
the watery river light
somehow solves
the sadness of dawn,
loosens the darkness
from the sky.
afternoon the river
is practicing blue,
is rehearsing
before a mirror.
We’re here instead
of anywhere else
at home at the edge
of coalfield and
forest, alive in
a grammar of
hardwood and
dust, the smell
of beer in the grass.
Evening slips in
like smoke beneath
the door; outside,
under a streetlight,
laughter chips
an opal from the air,
scares the sleeping
baby into speaking
her first word,
though it’s just
the neighbor’s
Lab in love with
the moon, its howl
a way of saying
no to the night.
rooms away I hear
you singing to
the soup, the children
asleep above us,
T.V. flashing its
litany of scores,
the west coast
games just beginning.
You seem to be
saying yes, though
it’s just the sound
of simmering,
a bubble of silence
floating by, a silence
that fills the house
and holds back
the night pressing
in until morning,
when no one
will need to
remember why
we’re here,
the river ghosts
rising in their
nightgowns of mists,
saying so long
for now, saying,
“Where you from?”


Why didn’t I
when I saw you
say What
happened? Is it
you? Why
in the woods
beyond the wall
your father
stacked from stones
he found rolling
in the slow river
did snow seem
to pause in the pines
before sifting
to earth, to where
you sat in your
daughter’s anorak
counting sounds
as they slipped
past. You knew
in your wonder
and your new coat
of sifted snow
that no one
would let you
go so easily as
I did once
when the world, at least
for us, was new
and blue
as smoke above the sea,
as your hands
there beneath
the trees without
mittens or my hands
or anyone’s breath
blowing blood back
to the fingertips.
Are you sure
you’re safe now,
safe in arms of all
you need, providence?

Making Up for Lost Time

When last I looked is as good
as it gets, as good
as broken moonlight or the lost
earrings beneath a flower pot, a once-lost

key too small to fit the gate lock
or the antique roller skate, the lock
on the strong box, the trigger lock within.

When last I looked the doll within
the doll was chipped and cracked
like a ceiling by Giotto, a cracked
cup glued back together by a child
repairing her first broken cup, a child

so used to the magic words, When last
I looked, that she’s found her mother’s earrings, at last.

I Thought She Was a Spy

“The same can’t be said,” she said,
which is sort of like
beginning a sentence: “It isn’t blue, it’s red,”
or: “Take a hike.”
I’m sure the handful of feathers
will become a sparrow,
become a field full of heather
or one as fallow
as a little boy’s memory—
watch him sing
into his hands as if the lee
of summer were a string
he might tie to sea shells,
each one a sound
sung sotto voce to the waves, the bells
of buoys so round
and lost in the small belly
of a scotch bonnet
where I found the message she left me,
a broken code, still secret.