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Before the Rain by Mark A. Harrison

The woods welcome me back,
draw me in like
a prodigal daughter,
and i have come home,
as if i never left;

There are children here,
and a complicated dog,
who keeps running
to the front of the group
and back again;

At the rest stop, kids build
moss houses and stick castles;
i wander off on my own
to play my whistle to the wind–
the silence after i stop
is absolute, as if
i was never playing;

We clatter over wobbly log bridges,
haphazardly strewn across little streams
and ponds as if by accident;
wolf tracks in the wet sand
by a beaver dam, dapple brown grouse
beating away through the trees,
and later (or earlier), a smoky oil lamp,
turning the fluted glass black;
the rain comes in the night
and is gone by morning.

Back in the city, away
from the star-strewn sky,
and the lake, still as a prayer,
we find new life in the asphalt desert:
the hidden trill of urban sparrows,
defiant daisies pushing through concrete,
the animal growl of cars and buses,
dry leaves skittering over pavement.

– T.H.

 

Revelations

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Sometimes Late at Night by Mark A. Harrison

The forgotten shoulders
of February snow
settle into
the sun-starved earth,
mud seeping into crevices
carved by the relentless
ice, the Loki spirit
of early morning frost
that charms and dazzles
even as it kills;

This is the season
where old secrets
emerge from slowly
melting tombs,
people dancing sidestep
to avoid the de-
composed unknowns;

Better to focus
on the promised
return of solar warmth,
the miniature Death
Valleys forged by meltwater
Cascades, a flood
to wash away
the salt and silt,
the guilt by association;

We must all look
on our collective leavings
and sigh in righteous
consternation, at this
yearly ode to universal
apathy, and then forget
with every step
that ever it was ours.

– T.H.

Originally written 02.04.14, Edited 02.21.18

If by Loving

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Silhouette by Mark A. Harrison

If by loving, you mean
conspicuous consumption
of one another’s souls,
devouring each hour
yet hoarding minutes
like secret treasure,
deluding ourselves
that we can keep time
tucked away, safe
in the faulty vaults
of memory – and yet
nowhere is entropy
more apparent, more
glaringly obvious
than in that
which we think
we remember.

– T.H.
(02.13.14)

House the Sun

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Trees in Motion by Mark A. Harrison

If anything living
could house the sun
I bet it would look like you

Music from another world
makes us want to dance
hard enough to fall
into the future present
following fireflies
up into the silent
olive branches
sipping lilac soda
under spreading granite trees

Instead we reminisce
on the transience of memory
the still-green four-leafed clover
pressed between pages
of Webster’s pocket dictionary
Dust in the hallway
where we used to run
wrapped in ragged sheets
through our cheap
match-book museum
pretending to be ghosts.

– T.H.

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

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.

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)

paradise, lost and found

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Photo by Mark A. Harrison

There was a line-up at our local pharmacy today, which led to much more waiting around than usual. Turns out that the delay worked in my favour. On the way home (a short three block walk), I got to see a monarch butterfly (rare in these parts lately) and three goldfinches, all nearly within touching distance. The sun came out from the clouds, the neighbourhood garden flowers seemed to grow ten times brighter, and all the compounded irritations and annoyances that had piled up during the day disappeared.

It brought back the memory of these two poems, one a snapshot from early childhood, the other an equally perfect moment from a B.C. trip in my early twenties. A reminder that paradise exists, not as an afterthought, but in those small moments of pure contentment.

1.

on the curved stretch of unkempt beach
a thin, tow-headed child, squatting barefoot
pokes at seaweed with a stick
wrinkling her nose at the pungent salt-rot smell
the kelp bladders bloating in the sun
she picks up shells and pebbles with
the reverence of an artist
admires the iridescent sheen
of a fractured oyster shell
dropped by one of the wheeling gulls
toes and knees crusted with wet sand
wading ankle deep into the chill water
she holds the dry pebbles under
watching the secret colours emerge
a moment of discovery
on the shore of some far-off land
its name long forgotten, the details faded
save that one perfect moment
captured like a bead on a string

2.

we step into the forest
armoured in layers
of cotton, nylon, bright
green and yellow raincoats
thick soled rubber boots
an old manual camera
slung around my neck
bounces against my chest
most of our journey
along the wooden plank paths
is done in silence
our ears open to the sounds
around us, wind and birds,
distant rushing water
there is a sorrow behind
the sacredness of this place
part of its sanctity lies in
it being one of the last
doomed, ultimately, to destruction
(we followed logging roads to get here)
we trail reverent hands along
fern fronds longer than we are tall
damp gnarled bark softened
by lush green moss
we crane our necks to stare
up at the trees that seem
to go on forever, their tips
lost in the fog, only the barest hint
of heavy grey sky far above
a permanent ache in my chest
I can’t seem to stop smiling
I think, whatever else happens
I stood here, in this place
before they took it all away
on the drive out, we see
two black bears, wandering the
wasteland of the clear-cut swath
a stone’s throw from heaven
they pay little attention to us
our compact Westfalia camper
must seem a mere toy
compared to the monsters
that daily tear the land asunder
I close my eyes, and think
of paradise, of moss under fingers
of air so clean you wonder
what you’ve been breathing all this time.

– T.H.

Stolen Voices

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“Time”, Detail – Photo by Mark A. Harrison

An old one for today. I still like the imagery in this one, even if it is a twenty-something’s perspective on age and time. Things definitely look a little different on this side of forty.

Stolen Voices

I’ve only seen him old;
He walks in the park with a black umbrella,
feeds stale popcorn to the squirrels;
He must be old as mountains,
his youth a hot river of lava,
rushing through new born seas,
throwing up geysers of steam to come down rain;
His feet hit the puddles in rubber galoshes,
he walks in the park with his son’s dead friends,
dreams the same dream every night:
He’s walking up a hill
double-shadowed in the streetlights
under a fingernail sliver of moon;
the silhouette of a church,
a jagged hole in the deep blue twilit sky –
the closer he gets,
the less the shadow changes;
he is waiting for the features to emerge
like the face of an old friend,
but it only grows darker
save for a glimmering faintness, like distant stars;
Each night he’s just a bit closer
to stepping through.

I’ve only seen him old;
He claims to have made his peace with the world;
He says that paranoia is a form of vanity
and that too much luck will only kill you in the end;
He walks by the river with his son’s dead friends,
leaves fall on his hat like dust on cobwebs;
He whistles a tune from some old black and white movie,
ghosts gather hawthorn in his wake;
His feet are light as dandelion pollen
and barely touch the ground.

– T.H.