Poems of the Week – Jeffrey Harrison

6 Jun

THREE POEMS BY JEFFREY HARRISON

Butterflies

The rest-stops along the highway
are repetitions in a dream.
Time feels strange to us. We don’t know
if it’s morning or afternoon.
We drink the rusty water, stretch
our legs, eat at a picnic table,
then return to the blue Plymouth.
It is then that we notice them:
butterflies, flattened on the grille
as if a lepidopterist
had pinned them there. It is
a nice collection: two monarchs,
three small yellow ones, and a black
and yellow swallowtail with two
blue spots. Others are crumpled, torn
(like fragments of an image
inside a kaleidoscope),
or smashed into the radiator.
The car is like a whale that feeds
by sifting shrimp through its baleen
as it cruises on “the whale-road.”
And like a whale it doesn’t think
it shouldn’t kill. It doesn’t think
at all — we do. We think: How
beautiful, this death.

I try to peel one off
and burn my fingers.

* from The Singing Underneath (1988)

Slaughter Cows

A crowd of black faces, almost angry
despite their long eyelashes, moves toward me.
Numbered tags are stapled to their ears,
as if a lottery decides which ones

will die. Their noses glimmer, their nostrils
wide as the eye sockets of human skulls.
Flies land on the swirls of their foreheads
and gather at the dark pools of their eyes

to drink. The globs of dried mud in their tails
clack like wooden beads. Some of them lose
interest in me and start to walk away.
They breathe heavily, feeling, their dewlaps

swaying. I hold out a tuft of grass,
leaning against barbed wire, but they won’t take it.
One climbs another’s back, then falls away.
One drinks another’s piss. They are full

of death. One has my death-age in its ear.

* from The Singing Underneath (1988)

Adirondack Moosehead

The moose that once presided over games
of Monopoly and crazy eights,
that loomed above us, goofy and majestic,
into whose antlers we threw paper planes,
still hangs over the great stone fireplace
like the figurehead of a ship.

All these years he hasn’t flicked an eyelash
in response to anything we’ve done,
and in that way resembles God,
whom, as children, we imagined looking down
but didn’t know how to visualize. A moose
over the alter would have been

as good as anything — better than a cross —
staring down on us with kind dark eyes
that would have seemed, at least, to understand,
his antlers like gigantic upturned hands
ready to lift us off the ground —
or like enormous wings outspread for flight.

* from Signs of Arrival (1996)

* all poems from The Name of Things: New and Selected Poems, The Waywiser Press, 2006.

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