David M. Harris
Published on: 8/10/2015
Manual typewriters, when everyone used them. Then electrics.
Then computers, early, starting
with dot-matrix printers --
three novels (one published), many bad stories
and some not so bad. A newspaper column.
An advisor: "Write a journal by hand." Overboard,
of course. Dip pen and inkwell, and handmade Tibetan
notebook (leather cover, soft paper, ink feathering beautifully
I learned. I got Mont Blancs, Parkers, cheap
beautiful Chinese fountain pens. Notebooks with fine,
smooth paper. New materials, new processes,
revised my writing. A notebook sits easy
in a pocket with a pen, a portable word processor.
Always ready, tempting and expecting use.
I can amuse myself with ink colors, crowd the page
with evolving revisions, write in lines,
not paragraphs. Each word hand-crafted.
Sometimes the tools shape the worker.
Published on: 7/20/2015
Over poker, cup by cup, you taught me
about tea. You sent me
to T Salon and Harney's, Whittard's,
to Assam and Yunnan and Ceylon teas,
touring Asia from the breakfast table.
I still drink coffee sometimes, away from home,
faced with coffee or bagged fannings,
but tea for me, drink of my ancestors,
stuck in Russia all those centuries
with lump sugar or jam. Lemon,
when they could get it. In a cabinet
upstairs I've got the tea glasses and holders,
For years I tried to find
the right mug for my father's tea, not knowing
that his wartime British airbase cup had been
a plain half-pint, elaborated by nostalgia
into something rare, impossible to locate
in reality. Swee-Touch-Nee bags blended
the best and worst of his times, the war
against Hitler and the other against his father.
A history of tea, of Chinese emperors
and British colonies and perfect mugs and pots,
which you helped me rejoin.
I would have got there anyway— less caffeine,
more ritual, another point of difference
between the common world and me—
but I might be buying teabags still.
Now, exiled in a land where "tea" means iced
suffused with simple syrup, I cleave
to teapot and loose leaves, to boiling water,
to the cup of friendship and memory.
Published on: 7/15/2015
Dead Letter Office: Damon Knight
Across the continent, filtered by electrons, I never
saw you so clear as to see your flaws.
Human, there must have been some;
the meticulous writer revised them out
of all those online posts, O eminence
of message boards. I only picked up
some of your good, or tried to.
I learned from the fiction, of course, which left me
(and so many others) envious, and the criticism,
clear and fluent. But you modeled
more. The careful argument, the probing,
your gedankenexperimenten (and calling
them that, not "thought experiments"). Your hopeless
crusades against the apostrophe, against academic
abuse of the language. Principle. The fine-tuned
mind at work. Socrates online and at play.
Pushing us through the mind's workout, to help us— me—
to think, to be, better.
And sending my comments on your new edition
to your editor, even if he knew better
than to put them on the cover.
Patron, advisor, supporter--but we never
had the chance to lift a couple of cold ones.
I'll lift one for you now, with someone young,
and try to carry on as you taught me.
Published on: 7/9/2015
Poets Play Nine
Slam watches as his drive falls short and plops
into the lake. "I'll take my mulligan,"
he sighs, and tees another ball. We each
get one free pass, a second chance to hit
a shot we need here on the course. And as
we play we argue over lines and words
and images, and how we can revise,
recast, improve the outcomes of our verse.
But by the seventh hole we tire of that,
and conversation turns more personal,
to Slam's divorce and Mookie's child support
that makes him keep the job he'd rather quit.
We cool off in the bar, and total all
the scores, and measure our regrets, and know
again: there are no mulligans in life.
Published on: 7/6/2015
He sits in his big chair—
the comfortable one, bought long ago
to ease his back when he turned fifty—
and stays in touch with the times,
with The Times, neatly folded,
trying to unfold
old words newly unfamiliar—
to keyboard, to mouse, to friend--
and tries to rescue the memories
of what will soon have been
a Golden Age.
Published on: 9/9/2013
What can I do with spring?
Love doesn't work for me,
not here, not now. I have
no use for liberty or justice.
Words mound up in dunes by my feet,
drifts of sawdust that fall
ignored by Shop-Vacs,
considered and culled for the sake
of sleeker lines.
Deleted phrases alight
in their own file. Single words
sift through gaps in my desk.
How many friends have slipped by,
how many years, each one gone,
ignored but not lost, ready
to be forged fresh and gleaming
like chromed Craftsman tools
when I need them.
Published on: 6/21/2011
Asked to write a poem, I go straight to the garden,
tug at weeds and lever out roots, haul out the spade,
turn soil and break and sift and sweat until I find
I put it in my shoe.
Then I can go to my desk.
Published on: 6/21/2011
The future was a rose of Sharon.
Young and lovely, born to influence,
descended from kings, destined to marry
some prince, to honor his family and be
a prominent wife and mother. Young notables
lined up to court
the priest's niece. No hick carpenter
Then the angel came.
Published on: 6/21/2011
Why I Am Not a Bear
Smashing through the woods,
parting trees and bestriding logs,
scooping up wineberries, blackberries,
whatever is ripe and irresistible,
swiveling to listen and sniff the air,
the hairy beast is seized by a sudden
swivet--a hawk's hurtle, a chipmunk's
flustered flight - and thinks,
"That could be a poem."
Published on: 6/21/2011
1: A small dog pauses on a woodland path, looking intently to one side.
2: My father stands in a gallery, leaning forward slightly, examining a painting.
3: The uniform is gleaming white.
4: Two people stand on a beach in California, according to the vegetation and the cliffs.
1: The dog is peering into a laurel hell, his mouth slightly open.
2: Behind my father we can see another painting, from the bottom of which hangs an elaborate blue rosette.
3: The young man wearing the uniform is small for a professional ballplayer, but he stands confidently in the classic shortstop crouch.
4: The couple carry their shoes; they have wiggled their feet comfortably into the sand.
1: Within the laurels, we can just make out the shape of a badger.
2: If we look closely, we can make out writing on the ribbon, BEST IN SHOW, and on that painting, my father's signature.
3: On my head, a cap; on the cap, the logo of the Newark Bears.
4: My parents hold hands contentedly as they watch the sun creep above the horizon.
Published on: 17-May
In the train station in New Brunswick,
did we kiss? Oh, yes,
and more, but not much,
despite my urgency.
Inexpert hands deranged
our clothes, grabbling for skin.
And then I vanished
from your life, choosing
someone else, then intruding
what? Twice in the decades since.
I haven't seen you since '68.
So why should I bother you now?
Why keep dreaming
of the ghosts I chased away? Did no
not mean no when I said it? I am always
looking back, trying to touch
what I turned to dust before
it could dare to solidify.
All I can change is the future,
and I trap myself in the past.
Now it is time for me to say goodbye
to you, to all the rest I pushed away,
who haunted through my dreams despite my turns
away and back, away and back again.
My faulty choices are just errors, not
the ghosts of perfect romance never born.
I'll exorcise myself, shake loose regret,
And take a step to what can be.
Published on: 5/6/2016
Dead Letter Office: William Harris (2)
Every writer has a secret editor
sitting on the shoulder, You were always
there for me, telling me what was wrong.
In school, in work, even on the golf course,
where I could match your scores.
You corrected my grip,
my stance, my swing. Nothing ever
perfect, ever good enough. In life or
in death, you sat and observed,
cool and articulate. You learned that young,
and well. You were saying, "Be better,
be worthy," but I couldn't hear that.
I never learned to recognize approval.
Not until much later,
when I cleared that great weight
from my shoulder.
Published on: DATE
I started with pencils, shaping each word
with care, but soon learned to type.
After the Smith-Corona portable
was taken through the window,
I bought an old IBM, pre-Selectric,
and gradually filled a file drawer
with correspondence, incoming originals
and carbons of what I sent, the x-outs
diminishing with time and haste.
Then printouts. Then the drawer
collected rust. Emails stay on the hard drive,
data files, quick first drafts, digital ephemera,
born to evanesce. "I have made this longer
than usual because I have not the leisure
to make it shorter."
For living contact, uncap the pen,
lay out a sheet of paper,
and craft a message of friendship
with real blood.