Wednesday Dec 13

HarmsJames James Harms is the author of eight books of poetry including, most recently, What To Borrow, What To Steal (Marick Press, 2011) and Comet Scar (forthcoming from Carnegie Mellon UP in 2012).  His awards include a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, the PEN/Revson Fellowship and three Pushcart Prizes.  He lives with his wife, Amanda Cobb, and their children in Morgantown, West Virginia, where he is Professor of English at West Virginia University.  He also directs the low-residency MFA Program at New England College.
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The Werewolves of Our Youth

 
Sinclair never wanted
to hurt anyone.  He started out
the little brother to everyone’s
best friend, which is
to say, a witness to beauty,
a beggar on the edge
of the in-crowd.  And so
he took the moon seriously,
which is to say, personally,
awaking one winter night
in charge of his own
disappointment.  So
what started out a joy ride
in his brother’s graduation
present ended up
a robbery one town over,
the Dairy Mart in Fairmont;
he simply hit the small
Korean man four times
before reaching for
the cash register.  And so
it began:  transgression
the sweetest catalyst,
all the properties of moonlight
contained in a simple act—
which is to say,
he was changed, though
no one knew.  Until
last Wednesday evening
when a woman’s arm
was found two miles from
her armless body.
And Sinclair slept naked
in the culvert with the other
arm tucked beneath
his chin, partly gnawed on
and all pillow to
his happy dreams.
Unrecognizable in his armor
of fur, he loped off
at the sound of sirens.
No one saw him again.
 
 
 
The Joke, Good Friday

 
A three-legged dog walks into a bar looking for its father.  “Has anyone seen my Pa,” it yells out.
 
The bartender runs around the bar with a broom, begins to swat the dog, yells, “Get out of here, no dogs allowed,” though it’s the cat, Rhonda, he’s worried about, poor one-eyed Rhonda hissing behind the well whiskey, who hasn’t left the bar since 1998 when a dog, maybe this one, dragged her up and down the alley a few times, chewed her face, ran off with her eye.  Rhonda, poor Rhonda:  she’s unreliable still around the bottles, no depth perception, little humor.  His wife bought that cat just before she died; she’s all he has left of her:  ugly one-eyed calico.
 
He kicks the dog.  He swats it with the broom again.  “You got three legs left, you little cur,” he yells.  “Where’s my Gladys?  Where’s my Rhonda’s eye?  Who the hell are you to come in here crying for your paw?”
 
“But it’s you I’m looking for,” says the dog.  “Father, why have you forsaken me?”  The bar goes still as a shaft of winter light.
 
The bartender starts sweeping his way back behind the bar.  He remembers now.  He remembers everything.
 
 
 
The Sadness of Sons

 
You are nothing like
your father, who was
washed from a long sleeve
of dust, from the arroyo’s
desiccated memory:
a diamondback
slipping its skin
in the drowsy heat.
 
Your father.
Who once said,
“Place is a sort of salve,
a bandage of grief
bandaging grief,”
who believed belief
was the encapsulation
of a dream in time.
And so he never left
his home beneath the river oaks,
beside which a little cross
of oak marks the spot.
 
*
 
You and I stopped once
on the Angeles Highway
to watch the deer drift in
and out of the fog.
They nibbled at the laurel
and nudged each other
like friends reminding themselves
of a shared joke.
 
You said, “He loved me
like a son.”
“But you were his son,” I said.
And the sky fell away on all sides.
 
Your smile separated
from your face
like a scythe thrown
in a field of rye.
 
You said, “The requirement
of memory is remembering.”
And the sky fell away on all sides.
 
*
 
You walk the canyon now at dawn,
return home to feed the cats,
to fold yourself flat like a worn
undershirt, to store yourself away
as if afraid of daylight.
But it isn’t the light, the heat,
the way the lupine looks
like bits of sky scattered
in the foothills.
It’s all you’ve ever wanted:
a more complete night.
 
 
 
Shore to Shore, Marianne
Balboa Island, July 1969

 
The ferry is escorted by dolphins
To the Fun Zone across the bay.
The streets are named for seashells
And gems, the houses all have names.
 
And the boys sail buoy to buoy,
While the girls move boy to boy.
My mother suns on a beach towel
Watching Tom play with plastic toys.
 
Father drives down for the weekends,
He’s more than a voice in a phone.
We run to the car to greet him,
He pulls us close, but he’s still alone.
 
At night we watch through windows
The TVs on Pearl Avenue.
For Carrie, it’s always Laugh In.
For Tom, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?
 
All I want is to see the moonwalk,
Every window the same blue glow.
My mother’s asleep at the table
When we finally find our way home.
 
Shore to shore, all night, the ferry
Blows its horn while we wait for sleep,
While we await the return of our sister,
Who’s the promise that no one can keep.
 
She walks the streets of the island.
She talks with the ghosts on the docks.
She runs tabs at the bars of Erebus.
She has picks for all of the locks.
 
My sister, a thief of darkness.
My sister, who argued with light.
My sister, who left too early.
My sister, a sister to night.
 
Shore to shore, with quarters for Charon,
Back and forth for 54 years,
By our window she sings in a whisper
“Spinning Wheel” by Blood, Sweat and Tears.
 
I wake at dawn, find her voice replaced
By songbirds the rain will soon erase.
I wonder now if she wondered why
She was given wings but couldn’t fly.
 
Marianne Harms, 1956-2011
 
 
 
We Made the Team!

 
Where’s Skip, goddamnit,
perfecting his tour en l'air
in the field behind the Texaco
instead of rehearsing
the double play?
Coach cried
when he tacked the roster
to the dugout door.
I heard his little boy Lefty
is in the chess club
at Northfield Middle.
My god, the memories:
Dutch Defense, the Evans Gambit;
Skip punching the librarian
when she tried to drag him
to the boy’s bathroom;
he’d rather pee
in his chair
than give up
the advantage.
Pee Wee Reese, Rabbit
Maranville, Ozzie Smith,
Willie Wells.
With names like those
who wouldn’t want
to play short stop?
So with Skip
at second
we choreographed
our moves: the soft
underhand as
we chasse close
on a ball up the middle;
the plant, pirouette
and sidearm throw
from the third base side.
Coach cried
as he turned his back
on the list,
but there we were:
me and Skip.
I penciled in a
parentheses next to “James”
just to see what would happen
and sure enough:
Dizzy Harms is what
they call me
on the diamond,
though I can hear him
now and then, Coach
cursing sotto voce.
“Skippy and Misha,” he spits
with a stream
of tobacco juice.
Skip pretends
to sneeze:
“Diaghilev!” he shouts
from between
second and first.
“Gesundheit,” I answer,
and we fall apart
laughing
right there in
the infield.
Mom took us
for gelato
when we made
the team.  We saw
Coach at the Dairy Queen
across the street
begging poor Lefty
to eat his Blizzard.
“Hey, Lefty!”
Skip yelled, waving
his yellow plastic spoon.
“Don’t laugh,” Mom said,
as Coach began to cry,
but too bad.
We’ve been helping
Lefty with his
first baseman’s stretch
in the field behind
the Texaco.  It’ll be
Dizzy to Skip to Lefty
in a year or two,
and Coach can just
deal with it.
We made the team.