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Four Poems

by Marc Harshman


Samuel had crept into the photo unawares
          and was in a quandary as to how to extricate himself
          from this sudden and curious fork in the road.

There’d been that restaurant where the future waited,
          where they’d talked about all that had gone wrong,
          that calendar upon whose every good intention
          there was hung the inevitable noose.

He was no longer sure why they’d decided 
          they should take a drive into the country
          as if Sunday blessings were so easily available.

The distant tractor might have been a Hereford grazing
          the hillside, plowing the mysterious red clay
          for fossils.

The sheep remained accomplished at standing still
          and so there was no accounting for his impatience
          beyond his clever ability to ambush 
          dreams he’d hoped to follow elsewhere.

There were pigeons puzzling over rosaries and
          a penguin skating on a pool of frozen light.

There was sweet talk and the kind of subtle perjury
          stitched perfectly into stories
          he’d believed without effort.

Sometimes the light came on just like that, almost
          within reach, if only all the mirrors 
          hadn’t been broken.

[stanza break]

Though he kept waiting at the intersection 
          the light refused to change and all the one-way
          signs kept pointing towards a town
          to which he’d sworn never to return.

It all was going in a direction they’d not planned 
          and the god-men appeared to be running away.
If only you had had the fish, she kept insisting, 
          but he’d grown tired of her absolutes
          and so stood up just as the camera clicked.

Looking Ahead

after Charles Baudelaire


The jigsaw puzzle of snow-heavy branches
          is suddenly pierced with a dozen, steel-whitened 
          blades of west-falling light.
The moon-faced owl nods as if it had more
          on its mind than mice.


The deer might find the blackened head
          of cabbage I threw toward the tree line earlier.
They might survive winter’s heavy shadow
          still leaning over this first week of March.


A stranger inside a forest loud with rain
          follows the slant of the hill toward the inevitable
          running descent of a stream
          that must find ever larger streams, rivers, ocean.

He is looking to find a mirror large enough
          to hold the echo of her voice, the chance 
          that it’s still moving outwards from Kentucky.


It is not the place that maps you so much
          as that throbbing pulse 
          snaking its way down 
          the side of your temple.
It knows where every rendezvous 
          must terminate if there’s to be hope in logic,
          if the albatross is to lift again
          its wings from this crippling deck.

Monday Morning

Up early, the street wore itself bravely
          with its fog, frost, and bright
          disarray of trash cans spilling
          their gratuitous alms.
All are waiting for the loud hump
          of the truck, its gloved
          and chattering men.
I’m waiting on my stoop 
          to witness and salute,
          to wave my red toboggan,
          to cheer on 
          the essential work of Monday.
But it’s not enough, no, it’s not.
No, I will trip down the steps, waltz
          out the drive, invite the stray dog,
          and the cat, and the first of the men I meet
          to dance as if the sun just might
          not make it up over the factory roof.
And if these kind men refuse me, as they must
          —they have their essential work:
                    all those stinking leftovers, 
                    all those broken things 
                    from broken lives that must be seen to.
If, as I say, I’m refused, I will go, then, 
          door to door, knocking,
          issuing my waggish invitation to join 
          in the only game that matters,
          this one wild as a fresh horizon,
          fresh as a fistful of violets, 
          as subtle as ripening fish guts,
                    ready to rise risible and strong
                    as my hands holding someone, you perhaps,
                    up into the ballroom of this,
                    can you believe it, this brand new day, 
                    perfect, unblemished, heroic, and brave,
                    and only the two of us mad enough
                    to know what to do with the music
                    of the garbage pick-up on a Monday morning.

There Was Time

It was one of those evenings 
          when the sun worked its shadows
          in endless flickers across the stiff snow, 
          unrelentingly broadcasting news 
          in some language from beyond.
The mindless village kept to its houses,
          and the streets transfixed so long by routine
          had nothing to say for themselves
          even as a murder of crows flung themselves
          on to every steeple and flagpole, every
          war hero’s statue, every plinth
          graffitied with memorials 
          to sexual prowess, and so
          fixed their perches
          and sought the answers
          they’d left behind last summer.
Soon the moon would arrive
          towing galleons of storm and the heavy luggage
          of unwanted dreams.

There was still time to work it all out
          the janitor told himself, leaning
          on his broom, smoking his cigarette
          looking out to where the frozen lake
          met the sky and into which the crows
          were already returning. 
There was still time, he told himself, 
          to work it all out.
He had no bird book, not even a dictionary.
They were birds.  They were black. They were noisy.
There was time and then 
          there was only this,
          the smoke and his heel 
          grinding out the ash.

Marc Harshman

About Marc Harshman

Harshman’s WOMAN IN RED ANORAK, Blue Lynx Prize winner, was published in 2018 by Lynx House Press. His fourteenth children’s book, FALLINGWATER…, co-author, Anna Smucker, was published by Roaring Brook/Macmillan and named an Amazon Book of the Month. He is co-winner of the 2019 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award and his poem, “Dispatch from the Mountain State,” was printed in 2020 Thanksgiving edition of The New York Times.  Poems have been anthologized by Kent State University, the University of Iowa, University of Georgia, and the University of Arizona.  His newest publication is DARK HILLS OF HOME, Monongahela Books, 2022.

Cold Mountain Review is published once a year in the Department of English at Appalachian State University. Support from Appalachian’s Office of Academic Affairs and College of Arts and Sciences enables CMR’s learning and publications program. The views and opinions expressed in CMR do not necessarily reflect those of university trustees, administration, faculty, students, or staff.