How We Know We Have Lived

Image: So Far by Mark A. Harrison

A way-back poem for the first of May, to mark the end of National Poetry Month, and the beginning of the next stage in this strange journey we’re on.

How can one seduce happiness
then make it love you enough
to stick around?

——

knots in the wood
flaws in the pattern
of the oriental carpet
a brown withered leaf
on an otherwise healthy plant
this is how we know
that things are real
a speck of dust on the TV screen
a missing scale
on an ornamental Koi
a scratch on a smooth surface
scuff marks and worn patches
on an old guitar
this is how we know
that things have lived
sometimes I understand
the revolutionary’s disdain
for perfect fingernails,
overly coiffed hair,
and hands without callouses
This is how we know that we have lived:
bruises, cuts, and scars
on all our parts
hearts included

T.H. (2008)

Walking Against Traffic

Fixed Window 3 by Mark A. Harrison

Passing effect: The effect of passing through things
– Leaves, hair, branches, hearts –
Equal and opposite reactions;
We pretend that contact is only temporary,
that everything always
only passes by, and through
– and yet –
even Jupiter’s tiny moons
affect the giant’s gravitational field.

Gravity: A force so weak, you can defeat it
with a fridge magnet, or a piece of tape;
– and yet –
Even the weakest forces can surprise you,
how they keep coming back;
The persistence of the everyday:
You can jump up, but you’ll always land.

All these fleeting melodramas,
the private riots, the secret rebellions,
a universe of stories unfolding inside
this infinite travelling picture show;
one might call it
a kind of madness.

…and yet…
Sometimes, for one suspended moment,
as we stand on the brink
that little voice in the back
of our mind, daring us
to take that one small step
out into the air, we remember
some future day,
the one we’ve waited for, all this time
when everything becomes clear
and we know at last
that flight is, finally,
possible.

T.H.

Here

Image: Book Run by Mark A. Harrison

here,
a feather falls faster than a brick
feast and famine are interchangeable
and pens
are all the same colour

what colour they are,
is up to you

here,
frogs can leap by halves and halves
forever
and never fall off the log

what colour the frogs are
is up to you

sometimes,
the dragon’s tale is sharp
and cuts the skin
sometimes
it billows around you like smoke
and you wonder
where the fire is

what colour the dragon is
is up to the dragon

here,
elastic bands are stiff and brittle
and shatter when you pull them
while the dead branch on the ground
pulls and stretches like taffy
sprouting limbs, roots, whole trees
a forest of caramel
all the apples pre-dipped

here, skies are green, grass purple
a magic marker heaven
drawn on thick bristol board
what colour the paper is
is anyone’s guess

-T.H.

Choice: Part 5

Photo by Mark A. Harrison

V

It is Saturday again, and they are leaning over the wooden railing, watching children play.  Boats made of sticks and paper bob in the green water.  At the end of the boardwalk, a woman in face paint is giving out free balloons.  Is this real? he asks.  She shrugs, says, that’s up to you.  Her hand on his is warm and cold, like ice melting. The sparks from the bonfire jump and spit like firecrackers in the final throes of ecstasy.

Above, a gull circles the sky, white against the blue.

< Part Four

Choice: Part 4

Photo by MH, effects by TH

IV

The watch lay where he had left it, next to the bootleg Pogues album.  Some live concert in Bristol, before it had all come apart.  The face was dark, lifeless, until he ran a sentimental finger across the scuffed glass, leaving a smear of brightness that faded like fogged breath on a window. 

Before the fall, the sight of a naked woman strolling through the wreckage as if on a summer beach might have startled him.  He had seen many such sights since, although the shapes had often staggered and stumbled, as if half-blind.  He had thought, the first time, that the fire might have returned, that the moon might once again be reflecting the sun.  They had all left, in the end.  His brother had died, trying to follow them.  Now here she was, marching through the steel graveyard towards him, as if she knew him. She must have gotten lost, he thought, all those years ago.  Only she did not walk like someone lost.  When they finally stood face to face, he realized that he knew her, had known her all along.

Sorry I’m late, she said.  He held up the broken watch.  The way his cheeks felt, oddly stretched, he must have been smiling.  I remember now, she said, how to bring it all back.

Image: Strands by Mark A. Harrison

< Part 3 / Part 5 >

Choice: Part 3

Image: Winter Garden by Mark A. Harrison

III

Like most of her kind, she could not remember being born.  Her first memory was of floating, suspended on the wind, surrounded by winking sparks.  Their rising action guided, not by physics, but by something else – something that had dipped its fingers in the sunspots and swirled them as one might swirl milk in coffee, something that had watched molten magma cool and solidify, had seen the first rain fall on barren land, buffeted by waves tall as mountains.  Were she anyone else, they would have called it foolish bravado, this attempt to resist what they all knew to be an irresistible force. But she was innocent, and so when she sang herself down again, they smiled and shook their heads and said, young people these days.  She won’t last long down there, they said, all alone in an unforgiving world.  She’ll come back eventually, it’s only a phase.  She could not mark the precise moment when they forgot about her, but she felt it happen.  It was some time after the first moment she set bare feet on stone.

< Part Two / Part Four >

Choice: Part 2

Image: A Slight of Day by Mark A Harrison

II

Winter came, a shock of snow on the trees, white against unseasonable green.  Darkness had become habitual, and so the light blinded him at first.  There was a hint of sweet decay in the air, blankets of leaves settling after the rain.  There had been fingernail scratches in the stone, shining blue-white against the black. 

He’d been given a watch as a child, its letters bright green in the unlit bedroom.  For a long time, he believed anything that glowed was radioactive, and had the potential to bestow superpowers.  He also knew these things could only happen by accident.  And so he willed himself to forget what he knew.  It was, after all, the only reason he was standing here now, blinking and shading his eyes against the glare.  To return to the living world, one need only forget that one is dead. 

< Part One / Part Three >

Choice: A Story in Five Parts ~ Part One

Art by Mark A. Harrison (“Font”), story by Tanah Haney

I

Mistaken for dead, they carried him to a stone room, the room where his brother lay.  Seven years since the fall, when feathers had drifted snow-soft, and silver blood pooled mercury-thick on the frozen ground.  Measuring the hours by the frequency of the static on the radio, the day by the twining of the vines that grew from the bodies, how long it took for the red flowers to open.  When the pollen broke free and drifted up into the night sky, bright motes of dust turning to stars, he would know a year had passed.  And so it went.

> Part Two

Ghost Ships Founder

Gulf Coast Two by Mark A. Harrison

This is where we go II

Ghost ships founder
off the shores of Elysium
we came here to find
the answer to something
lost in the Aether
conceptions stumble,
presumptions fall apart,
like paper in the rain, belief
in the inevitable lost
like leaves in the gutter
no longer individual
but indistinct, irresolute
handholds slipping
the long fall into uncertainty
no longer buoyed by
memories of bliss
Is it fog or billowing smoke
that hides the enemy’s sails?
Is it fate, or blind chance
that becalms us here on
glass still waters?
Only the albatross & the moon know,
only the wheeling gulls and the absent wind
and they’ll never tell.

T.H.

Wrapping Paper Trees

A Triggering – Art by Mark A. Harrison

Another spring poem, from back in 2014. composed while walking homeward on a spring-soaked afternoon past low-rent apartment buildings.

Immersion

Improvised flower vases
and wrapping paper trees
roots like mountains
seen from the eyes
of circling eagles
at once emerging
and settling, growth
and decay, no more
contrary than rose
petals and thorns,
a discordant symmetry:
the cosmic wail
of distorted electric guitar
spelling out the names
of stars and forgotten
background radiation,
pain that verges on ecstasy,
a ringing of celestial strings
struck with the well-worn pick
of disillusioned immortals;

How a stranger’s
intangible yearning
can translate through
the ephemeral code
of electronic pulses
and magnetic fields,
a fixed point enacted
in the so-called past
becomes immediate
present, time and space
erased in an instant
transformed into a perfect
moment of rebirth,
a dagger in the mind
piercing to the core;
it leaves no trace
of bloody injury, only
a shedding of unnecessary skin,
a lowering of barriers
to permit this temporary
osmosis of the spirit

T.H.