iv. But I digress

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Photo by Mark, messed with by me

In the absence of ambition, we become a conglomeration of tangents, an aimless wandering path laid down by the stick the dog is carrying: a scrappy, stocky, short-legged terrier beagle something or other cross, who has somehow outdistanced her loping, tongue-lolling, muddy pawed golden retriever pal, and is dragging a branch far too big for her size, but nowhere near equal to her spirit.

The broad line laid down in the dormant November grass, still wet with last night’s frost, will last for a few hours, at most; the sun has already thawed the exposed areas; only the shadows still carry hints of freezing, the ground crunchy and damp under recently unearthed winter boots.

A path laid down by accident, without purpose or intent, a temporary testament to life having passed this way, proof that momentum exists, that change is inevitable. And yet, itself, it is static, empty of life, mere black marks on a white background, bird tracks and fallen branches, a memory of what was, rather than a bold imagining of something new, something yet to come.

But if you follow the trail long enough, it will do at least one thing: it will bring you home.

Music: Thelonious Monk, Live in Japan 1963

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iii. Cooking, and other creative endeavors

The components of the spell are there, the page in the recipe book yellowed with age, smudged and stained with cocoa and brown sugar and cinnamon – not because you need the recipe any more; it was memorized years ago, as instinctive now as any other everyday task. You know exactly what to reach for, in which cupboard, in which order. You have the perfect spoon, worn soft to the touch; the perfect bowl, beautifully weathered, scratched and dented, fine hairline cracks in the porcelain, like an old painting.

The smaller metal bowls ring when you clean them, a clear mild tone, teased into wakefulness by an enthusiastic swipe of the frayed checkered dish towel, encouraged to greater volume as the sink provides quiet settling background noises, the last soap bubbles sighing in resignation, collapsing, imploding in near-silent release.

ii. Art

Visualizing: the painter in her many layers: cotton, wool and fleece, an outer layer to break the wind, thick socks in practical boots, hybrid gloves – the kind where the finger tips detach and bend back to grip Velcro fasteners, leaving thin fingers free to freeze solid.

She stabs her stubby, short bristled brush into the orange, yellow, red, white, green, squinting in the dying light, painting more by feel and memory than sight. The application of paint is reassuring in its methodical swiftness, confident and direct, devoid of hesitation. The basic physics of the equation are those of a crafts-person, building a picture as one might a chair – the first rough cut, before the joining and sanding and polishing.

There are some of those on the wall too, quick sparse sketches, laid out in wide utilitarian strokes, slapped down in a hurry while the light lasted. They lack the glow of the two finished paintings; the canvas lies flat against the uneven bricks, no real sense of depth, despite the hasty blue shadows thrown across the snow, the flash of winter sunlight on the south-facing wall of the farm house – a depiction not so much of a specific building, but rather a symbolic representation of the idealized form of the southern Ontario concept of House: a sturdy rectangle with a triangular roof, three windows and a door, smudges that might be pine trees cozying up to it on either side. The sky is two shades of blue, the brush strokes reaching from ground to sky, as if following the memory of the last time the aurora borealis enveloped the house in dancing green fingers.

i. People

The lady across from me is wearing a long john top, the kind I used to wear as PJs when I was in high school, waffled grey with disconnected grey-blue stripes. Her long black and white homespun scarf partially doubles as a sweater, or a cloak. She’s wearing her toque indoors, despite the mild day: purple wool with a pink rim, topped with a perky navy blue pompom. I’m thinking she has bird in her ancestry, some ancient feathered dinosaur with a lean face tapering to a fine, sharp point, long skinny legs and hollow bones. If I were betting on who would be able to glide if thrown off a cliff, she’d be the main contender; so light she’d waft like a feather.

Fragility

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Photo by Mark A. Harrison

Fragility

Muscles clenched
into a fist
wrapped around my spine
as if intending
to pull it out
through the flesh of my back

If only thoughts mattered
I could live a thousand lifetimes
I would be a mountain
pocked, scarred, eroded
wearing my damage like a testimony
to having lived
watching oceans grow and shrink;
I would be a phoenix
endlessly burning
all my sins turned to ashes
pulling myself, choking, back into the world
again and again;
I would be a river
carving out the earth
wearing down centuries
roaring torrent or sluggish as a snail;
still I would move, and move.

Without this fragile shell,
bound by bones & blood & sinew
I could converse with dark nebulae
wander the tracks of galaxies
discover what really happens
when you fall into a black hole;

But without these volatile chemicals
flowing through temperamental veins
tickling twitching, fragile nerves,
would I still feel delight at the birth of a star?
anticipation approaching the speed of light?
sorrow at the heat death of the universe?

Without these mundane aches and pains,
the constant nod and wink of death’s eventual shadow
would happiness taste as sweet?
Would we trade these perpetual growing pains
for an eternity without joy?

– T.H.

Passing Effect

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Everything in a Box 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 –
We all affect each other, 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;
by a hop, skip, jump, the push of single finger;
– 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,
our brief starring moments on the bright-dark stage,
all the private riots, the secret rebellions,
a universe of stories unfolding, moment by moment,
inside the sacred prison, the infinite travelling picture show
invisible to everyone else;
one might call it
a kind of madness.

Flashing lights and sirens, a circling fruit fly, living speck of dust;
Do we weather the small annoyances in the name of compassion,
or wage instant meaningless destruction in the name of indifference?

Every time inspiration hits, the world is transformed
– and yet –
the persistence of the mundane is like gravity, like inertia,
the approaching fall, the curling of dead yellow leaves,
the sinking in of desiccated fruit, a hint in the air
of the coming cold, and the long, long sleep.

Orbits inevitably decay,
all returns to the earth, through fire, or drowning,
the final burnt traces sinking into the ocean, ashes falling like snow
winking gold & silver in the light of the setting sun.

Not all the mass times constant squared
in all the known universe
can give you more Time
…and yet…
Sometimes, in the suspension of the moment, we imagine
that this now is eternal,
the world moving past us, as we stand
on the brink of what is possible;
That little voice in the back of your mind,
whispering a subtle dare,
to take that one small step
out into the air;

And always, that one desperate, aching pit
in the darkest centre of your soul
that screams an affirmation
always straining against the barrier,
waiting for the day, when everything becomes clear
and we know at last
that flight is, finally,
possible.

– T.H.
(Selected excerpts, edited, from a freefall poem written in 2014)

Blue

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Blue Twin by Mark A. Harrison

diminished

where the hollow of her arm
once held you safe
against all
the familiar demons
where comfortable wrinkles
once nuzzled your back
the antique linen, buttercup gold
now stretched taut, iron-straight
cold as stone and empty houses
by its emptiness refines
the very idea of loneliness
we are borrowers, only
love is never ours to keep
only to brush by, with a sigh
and a wish, like an exhaled breath
in a vacant room.

– T.H.

Burn After Reading II: Re-entry

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thing 1 by Mark A. Harrison

I.  All the poems I wrote before I met you

My pen is two bent wires
teasing free the catch
of a lock I’ve never seen
(no one knows what door it opens
but they say the pen’s the key)

my pen is nimble fingers
brushing raw wires together
to make a spark
a credit card sliding
between door jam and deadbolt
a thief in the night
who leaves more than she steals

my pen is a bootleg album
recorded on the road
at some backwoods festival
where it rained all weekend
where we swam
naked at night
and woke at dawn
to the sound
of birds singing
and wind in the trees

my words are
misshapen footprints
left in the mud
the patterns traced in
campfire circles
ashes still smouldering
embers that might
(if the wind is right)
set the whole damned forest
ablaze.

II. A practical guide for the end of the world

burn after reading:
stamped in red
on a plain brown envelope
scrawled in lipstick
on a paper napkin
written in henna
on the vulnerable skin
of an exposed wrist

take this knowledge
like your final breath
carve it deep
in your fragile bones
let it burrow down
into your heart’s core

then cast away
these ephemeral scraps
these temporary tattoos
these fragile imaginings

ignore the sirens
the whisper in your ear
the scratching at the door
the howling in the wind

stand firm, no flinching
as you watch it burn
the edges curling,
falling to ash

only remember
this one small thing:
everything ends; everything begins

(Both poems significantly edited / expanded 10.05.17, incl. new titles – T.H.)

Ten days later

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Study in Frost by Mark A. Harrison

Fall is a tricky season to navigate. Capricious and sly, at once whimsical and treacherous, full of sharp things hidden under blankets of leaves, radiant days of crackling sunshine followed by dark night winds whispering portents of ice and snow – a reminder of unsettling impermanence.

Ten days later, she was still on her own;
I was fast asleep, a thousand miles away
dust floated, thick as rocks
in the belt of Orion.
He wondered,
do we really breathe this?
Two weeks later, she met the road,
covered in dust from
her latest encounter
with the laws of physics;
Mud clung to her thick soled boots
in her eyes, a light, hard
as scorn from a loved one;
She stomped on the pavement
once, twice
dust settled around her in a cloud.
I was eating breakfast,
looking out the eastern window,
the burnt toast flaking charcoal
onto tongue and lips and fingers,
And he said, in characteristic delay,
are you really going to eat that?
Three months later, she clawed her way
the final few feet to the
snow shrouded peak,
Looked down at the world in wonder
and forgot all she knew.
Everyone she had ever loved
vanished in an instant;
she let out her breath in a sigh
of great peace, contentment
and relief.
I was washing dishes
in the light of early evening;
cats bumped my legs,
crying for dinner
while he, sat watching television.
Hey, take a look at this, he said
but as I walked into the room
the walls began to fade,
the furniture grew clear as glass,
the cats became twin puffs of air
and flew out through the
crack in the kitchen window,
and he, and I, passed out
of her mind,
forgotten forever
in the sudden glimpse
of sunset kissed mountain peaks,
an eagle far below;
frost bitten toes
and a sense, finally, of a future
without a past.

– T.H. (2002)

Why I love poetry, in 150 words or less

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Fusing – by Mark A. Harrison

This one is best read out loud. Like most poetry, really. Somewhere no one can hear you, if you’re shy.

hit and run ambient wordfall
pulled from sweetest nightmares
Pan’s premonition
of a darker age
seagreen waveforms
pulse in time to
silver scuba space jazz
as we fly through
quantum tunnels
chewed into the walls of
grandma death’s beechwood attic
Robinson Crusoe’s
roller coaster orbit
ain’t got nothin’ on this
pressed close together,
we tango along
impermanent lines
heaven’s gridwork
etched into our eyes
while a waxwork fawn
kicks up its heels at spilled sugar stars
sending sparks up from
silicon hooves
stained deep indigo blue
worlds spin in its wake
as words spin in mine
my fingers tiny gods
whole galaxies made and unmade
in the space of a few
staggered heartbeats
in the spaces between
a few
quiet
breaths

– T.H.
(2007)