From Fell Street Footnotes, Poems

Poems From Baltimore, 2014–2015

 from Fell Street Footnotes
See, also, the essays under this title

Poems on the Early Days in Baltimore  

Morning  

21 degrees when we stepped outside, dogs on leash.   
A soft light pastelled the horizon and the sky grew 
bright and clean-lined, the buildings took on 
their defining forms and blinked into their rising colors. 
The hunkered boats moved not a muscle,  
still as a painting while the city clicked awake,  
window by window, footstep by footstep,
the clattery delivery truck on a brick street,  
a dog-squabble, the beginnings of language. 

Night 

Late night a fisherman 
the tone of water 
sits hunched on the walkway 
that rims the harbor, 
his feet dangling. 
If he has seen us
with our eager dogs
or senses our nearness,
he doesn’t mark the moment 
by flinch or turn; 
he is the wharf and the water 
and the rising fog where
he will disappear 
from our sight
into memory or imagination.  

Lost  

Oh, my sense of direction is poor, 
two rights making a wrong, 
and the doors on the row houses  
turn from walnut to faded green 
or maybe hopeful blue 
slapped on old wood, 
and the markets announce their tired
businesses in languages 
I sometimes understand  
and sometime not. 

The sun shines on these streets 
as on mine, puzzle pieces  
of living’s colors playing out.  
Ageless women and old men 
carry home their straining plastic bags. 
I know how those handles crease 
against the weight of milk 
and flour and jars of beans. 
When Siri sets me back on track, 
all the turns to my temporary home
seem mistaken. North seems East  
and West seems South; yet I trust 
the voice, and it delivers me.  

With the release of held breath,
I remember with a little yearning 
the bar in Paris many years ago 
where I interrupted the after-work ritual 
of a brace of men debating life’s wrongs
because I couldn’t find the ramp  
to the Périphérique 
that would steer me South.  
Two of them, bright-faced,  
with daughters likely near my age, 
came out to the sidewalk, 
thumbs on suspenders,  
and pointed and conferred 
and then one drew a map  
with a stub pencil, helped 
me figure out my rental car’s  
reverse, and sent me on my way.  
I am a wealth of images richer 
for their sheltering and care, 
they, richer for the flattery  
of my young smile, my hand in theirs.
Finders, keepers.

Dennis

The large man, 
his great bald head
reflecting the sun,
sits on a chair 
everyday 
on the sidewalk 
in front of a pub
and spreads around 
his ripe optimism
like butter. 
He smiles white teeth
and chuckles at my setter 
lunging at pigeons. 
We chat a moment,
her red coat, 
her fruitless game, 
my trouble reeling her in,
and off I go 
with a nod to him, 
his nod to me, 
with my treasure 
of light.

Saying Much About Learning Not to Say Too Much  –for Jeff Hardin

We slid along the rails of Amtrak
to visit our old friends.
Through a taxi’s filmy windows
I memorized the way 
from Union Station 
up Massachusetts Ave., 
Cathedral, New Mexico 
to Klingle St. NW. 
I was leaving breadcrumbs
along the labyrinth of changing views.
Our greetings: happy and brief,
because we’re just continuing
conversations begun and ongoing
no matter the distance of time.
A fine soup warms us 
in the kitchen they have made 
from the scraps of a ruined house, 
the whole place now
new and modern and full of hope. 
High and broad-reaching,
these rooms make nests
you can swing your arms in,
splashed with windows and color 
like the only right words 
for a poem: white space
shouting light. 
“Windows”: An exhibit at the National Gallery,
where Andrew Wyeth’s paintings 
reveal the stages of looking.
And beyond looking, how to gather the silence,
how to leave out for seeing more
than is there.
William C. Williams and Ezra Pound,
Marianne Moore. Black umbrellas,
a couple of chickens, real toads
in a garden. Keats, “That is all
ye need to know.”
Mary and Bob and their architect son
have crafted, in their house,
something spare from the nothing 
of clutter. Haiku, a window
on what can be.
This poem, I know, has too much 
shoving and pushing in it. 
I am off to clean house.
Open windows.
Air out.
Art should be as
generous as that.
Should quiet its tongue
and wait.

We Will Have Ghosts

A rotation of poems from this chapbook…

Geometry, Lost Cove

The ridge across this cove
is straight as a ruled line,
its bend as pure as an angle
on a student’s quadrilled page.
Beyond it another ridge lies
straight-backed, as well,
drawn off by its touch with sky. 
Such perfection is a subject
I’d like to think about
here on this thin shelf of land:
the earth, for instance, seen
from an orbiting craft, 
is smooth and round–
an eyeball, a gem on black cloth.
Where is the rough, rooty skin of it
we know, the jagged heights of pine,
poplar, sycamore, oak?
Where are our lumpy villages,
the brutish smoke of wars, 
the unsmooth teem 
of antlife in its scurry?
At a distance, surface is easy truth:
latitudes and longitudes, altitudes,
and lines acute, obtuse. 
A mountain trail is straight as shot,
a slight incline from the east, 
a thirty-degree descent 
on the other face.
A hurricane is a cotton swirled disturbance
on a blue plate; yet underneath it
secreted on another plane, 
pain rises red and anger-pussed.
This limpid, lustrous earth.
With this design 
I make up my face 
for someone combed
and groomed into the angled,
elegrant shape of vee, 
leaning in an easy obtuse 
against the far wall.

​ By Desire
the Caney Fork River at 6:00 a.m.

The water’s words sleep muffled under an eider fog, 
only a inconstant lap drinking the shore-rocks, 
only a whir and spit of flyline-cast, 
only the caw-caw waker of the wooded bank,
only the dip and step of a great blue heron 
murmur a definition. 
Summoned by desire into the gray stream
I cannot see, the water licks cold 
through my waders, the stones round and slippery 
underfoot. I am both alone and accompanied, 
though all I know of my companions is a fishtail 
swat, the water sliced by fly-tipped line.

My rod at my side in its case, I move downstream
to a spot remembered—but more like dream or hope. 
It’s been so long since I’ve been here. 
In the river I too am swallowed
until I disappear from sight. 
I lose my bearings as I knew I would
and stand, unbalanced, no known thing
to spread a wing to, and wait out time.
A glittered point, a hint of gold, then burst
of sun—all in the moment it takes to breathe
a prayer. The world returns to line and face
and point, and I to know, but not at once,
geometry again: of the ordered river
on its limestone run, the gear I’ve packed,
and where each wakened fisher in the ripple stands.

Dove Flight​

For weeks I didn’t water Mother’s fern 
that paled beneath the eaves. Among the wilting
fronds two doves sat still in solid watch,
ceramic thieves, eyes round and dark and stern. 
One day the male was gone, the mother crouched
beside two downy young, necks thin with spring.
I ached at their beginning, fed from her mouth,
and watched for flight. I didn’t see their wings–
one day the nest was empty, just in time
to drench the fern and coax it back to life.
All this coming and going such a fragile rhythm:
water and sun, withhold and give, nurse and free .
My mother in a darkened room had packed for flight.
Her face like polished marble, set past sight.

Turtle

 To Grandmother
From under the thick shell
that holds your papery life
and closes around your dying days,
every so often you emerge.

Out comes your craning neck,
listening for an old song
of rendez-vous, A Bicycle
Built for Two. Your blue

eyes find me, and know.
An arm slides out, a hand
craped as reptile skin
grasps mine and holds.

You hold mine against
the cool of your cheek.
Your mouth empty as a cave
finds an opening, a craggy

smile. Each day a nurse
stretches all your limbs,
you, splayed under sheets
like a terrapin overturned.
“You’ve got the best legs

in the clan,” we always said.
Still it’s true, all splotched 
and crazed with these last years.
And though you said

again and again,
you were not smart or good,
(“No, siree!”) I see, now
(you all drawn-in except

that tiny head, the light
expectant tremor 
on your lipless mouth),

a kind of glow, or maybe 
it’s a strain of song from
I can’t imagine what
ever tunneled ever-place

and a reaching in your face—
does a turtle smell a cool creek
not far away, or autumn
loam, and turn to it? Do we? —

and I know that smart or good
could not count for much
after a hundred years.
Only the hymn-singers like you

would worry so, only
the tenders of the poor, like you,
and you were smart enough,
Good enough. 

Go, go I tell you,
to your burrow in the widening 
dusk, and in the spring
I’ll crane my neck to hear you sing.

Poems from the book

This collection is my first, pulling together poems written prior to 2010 and published by me under the Weedy Editions mark. My brother, Paul Harmon, provided the cover art, the image a large canvas entitled “Renaissance.”  I think we are re-birthed in a way each time we write a poem. A few poems in a lifetime  will have that Renaissance effect on a reader. 

The book is available at Amazon.com or by contacting me.