Marc Harshman



Mountains, large mountains, and black.
Mountains upon mountains stretching back
large against sky, clouds of mountains,
of shadows, reaching and turning again and again
back upon themselves, black tumbles of rock
higher and higher in a thin, last sliver
of rainy light, darkening in night.


The sky so filled with rock, black, shadow
so much mountain the sky barely squeezes through,
and where it does, torn with wind, the clouds
stream in ragged tatters.


Talk as if you know, as if you
know anything about anything,
as if time and facts could manage it, could
assemble back the black faces of those crags,
spill as large as they were
the clouds of them out here,
as if they were words, their shadows, the tumbled reach
of horizon they dominated, the silver plate of sky
riven with tracings,
as if a language were there
to be understood, believed.


Had I not been small once and tucked
into darkness once a day, week after week,
once upon a time?  Had I not seen dark mount
the bedroom walls larger than the space between
all I knew, a sky high with lightlessness,
and know then that this would be a part of me,
and nothing to do with fear this, that place before,
where the repetition of nights upon night
practiced a way back into the welcome dark.    
Enough, then, to know nightfall as a house
of comfort, full of clear views, vistas
where mountains reached beyond black,
spilled rocks into gaps strewn with shadows,
cracked and torn, and clouds
raced with silver and finally, further,
a pale, thin horizon stood
through which might return the dreams
that perpetuate believing
in such things as these


These fragile leaves
give the best light,
silent torches of gold frost
lighting the setting dusk-light.
Off and below the curve of the hill
the poplars rise to meet her.
She comes to see them,
their incendiary fall,
their passage as certain
as that one of his
who was her own.
She comes each day
to learn at this place,
where the hollow cleaves the hill,
to learn by heart her remembering
of where in the slow, burning light
they, these old poplars
on this old ground, where they go.
She would follow
as far as Hamlin stone
into its dark hold of lives
if death's piping would show her reason,
would follow now into this wood,
under these poplars, their slow fire,
go into the rain, go in this cold        
into the heart of what's lost
too soon, too early
to rise, to come again
quick and light.
She would go to find
if under these leaves,
their last light, there was something, some clue
could give back the path
her life led before, could return
its light, its comfort.                                     
But what light there is
fades, lifts tall,
regular shadows
returning to her only the weather,
the season, the minutes,
the wind a drench of fog,
the road a lash of distances,
the earth a maze of hills,
and there, in those hills,
their ancient stone,
will be the only succor,
their time alone
long enough
for forgetting and remembering,                            
for remembering
the way the leaves were golden
mirrors the evening the news came,
for remembering as she must,
as she did then, the quality of stone,
its holdfast against life, herself,
remembering to return, make the fire,
make, in its gentle shadows, over stone
a light, a meal,
and afterwards reach toward sleep,
remembering in the cold room
to pull the comforts
to her chin,
the quilted swirl of crazy pieces,
their twining branches of cloth
like a twining tracery of leaves,
these few leaves at the last
the only light, a glimmer
of the last light.

At first any chance would have done,
I'd have taken any, a dance, a movie, some
old friend to plant the words
between us, any that might have filled the air
already heavy with summer, and tense, words
to erase inhibition, extend boundaries, syllables
to translate what was, could be
so sweet . . . crazy
it was what you could do to me there
upon that foreign land of yours, your fingers,
the small buttons of them opening
and closing upon me, your lips, the smell of your hair . . .
couldn't it have been easy, come easy,
those words I wanted to come
to each other as if finger to finger, familiar,
so familiar there would be none
of this forethought, no planning,
just the evening, this place
drenched with birds, their songs,
the path long with flowers and sky,
the promising all of a world
surreptitiously doing this, our courting,
for us, it falling in love with us,
and so might we have each other
stumbled over our quiet
wordless into such a place, a place
so small in the wide world
no one would think to bother it with words,
not even us, a space
so perfectly beyond
compass and map, blue lines and ink,
that it might hold time timeless
and give back to us
for having been there,
blind and breathless,
within the open borders of love.    

Raised in rural Indiana, Marc Harshman has lived his adult life in West Virginia where, for many years, he was a grade school teacher.  Periodical publication of his poems and essays include The Georgia Review, Wilderness, Southern Humanities Review, Shenandoah, and The Progressive.  He is the author of three chapbooks of poetry including most recently Local Journeys (Finishing Line, 2004). He is also the author of eleven children's picture books including The Storm, a Smithsonian Notable Book for Children.



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