believe with your hearts
you are about to storm out
into a world…
That might not see you.
Will not know you.
You will be invisible.
in all directions;
absorb the spoken,
slip into each tellers skin.
what’s left unsaid,
such things can be
with caution fledgling nights
of corn-stalk moons;
and insanity’s logic.
Read the unwritten,
write the visible
for in tomorrow’s fray
your words…your truth
will be history.
—Debra J. Harmes Kurth
Hesitation at the Iris
'Tis not how dusty are the feet
that move in dance when souls meet;
nor aged feathers lost from wings,
but ancient quill that softly sings
hinting of hidden magic things.
As falling leaf upon the bank
sits and rots where cities sank;
stars fly through the cosmic gate,
as drops of dew on iris wait
for one to stop and hesitate.
'Tis not a song that's heard by all
for few know it's quiet call
of gentle muse or ash that's charred,
this path so long and often hard
'tis but the journey of the bard.
—Debra J. Harmes Kurth
She who lived inside the trees
Left an undiscovered forest
inside urbane acres, chewed
wormwoods pressed flat,
planed out, finished boxes
lined with her words
negated . . . unadorned.
One tiny room,
below the ground,
rocks and water.
Closed in, locked off
she hid from;
train whistles, sirens,
talk of bodily functions,
hair, touch, mindless chatter,
and the voracious worms;
digging, licking, sucking dry,
chewing, always chewing
Lights flashed or floated
the garden died, left
tiny heads undeveloped,
sad little green things,
welcomed back by richness
which betrayed them.
She begged the Mother
of linen, richness, paper,
water, rocks, sad little
green things and rest
to unclasp her fingers . . .
To replace the centers
too green, under-grown,
under-ground with bursts
of light, color and the
worm’s extinction in
Fill the gaps,
plaster the planes,
elevate the buried,
make perfect the garden,
unclasp fingers, embrace
the lost girl, the woman
pressed flat, bald, naked
in a word lined box
in urban acres.
—Debra J. Harmes Kurth
Poetry is the devil’s footprint,
the hummingbird’s needle.
It’s how you may outlive your life.
The first words stir
like the fanfare of the elevator, then
are swallowed up in the confusion of arrival.
You let down your guard, you’ve brought
only as much memory as you’ll need.
You’re listening for the cries of gulls,
your mother’s voice,
the directives of the wind
as there, crashing toward shore,
the pieces of ocean
reattach in the oncoming wave.
Poetry is where you were headed
while the world was pointing
in the opposite direction.
Poetry is a word that requires no reply,
a catalogue of itch, pain, air-hunger.
By means of it, you sense hatred
or the need to be touched.
For most of its existence
it is folded neatly inside the brain,
the part that makes us believe
we are human.
Teaching Poetry at the School for the Blind
Their struggle to meet the image in the dark
is one we know-the storms, the hesitation-
but the shifting bridge they walk between idea
and braille's brief physical translation
reveals the sometimes lightness of our thoughts,
our casual groping for a better word,
as easy, slight as calling to our love
or remembering the chorus of a song we heard.
From The Shifting Line (University of Evansville Press, 2005)
While words we pamper and protect
march off in search of meager fame,
these lines like bastard kids collect,
skulking through our notes in shame,
the discards of our intellect,
false starts, limp rhymes, feet bruised and lame,
condemned to suffer in neglect,
half-breeds that we refuse to name
for fear they'll prove what we suspect:
the damned and saved are much the same.
From The Shifting Line (University of Evansville Press, 2005)
can a poem
really be written
like a slap in the face
like a crobar to the kneecaps
can a poem
out of this mutter?-
just because i can not sleep
just because it's cold out
just because the wind
does howl and hiss
just because a headache
runs the show
poetry and vision
the wild card
that crazy trip
that you can't
get out of your mind
and can't explain to
anyone with words
behind your eyes
days of quivering
with every hair
standing on end
Since everything I claim might be denied,
when I have the strength to forget, I forget.
And when I don't, what an Elysium
rots in my mind's vegetable compost.
I'd rip this page from the book if I could,
rave through the hills, sickle in hand,
mowing the dead like so many poppies.
But what happened once continues to happen;
in a minute I turn back into myself.
Each sentence, grateful, once pronounced
returns what it filched: one sound,
the pulse of some rankled rhythm
with which I prod this sacrifice along.
From AFTER GREECE
(2001, Truman State University Press)
Fixing emblazoned zones and fiery poles,
Arranging, deepening, enchanting night.
“The Idea of Order at Key West”
He does it wrong, but not as we do,
in little gaffs and fumblings, but so it stuns,
astonishes, so that the head of bungle
swallows the tail of catastrophe:
a chase as rounded as a villanelle
sucks in half of Paris
as it builds toward closure,
where it meets itself, erupting a rosette
of patrol cars, fire trucks, sopranos,
kitchen sinks, and leaving the Chief
minus another digit. Think of it:
to have a genius so magnetic. Who wouldn’t
take the lumps and contusions
to have the world always tumbling at our feet,
its darkness crystallized; who would balk
at saying “Minkey” and “Beump” if we could change
the muddle into measurements of light,
gems in a lush kaleidoscope.
first appeared in Tar River Poetry
NEW NEW FORMALIST
The giveaway’s the eyes: no real elan,
apologetic, the focus out of whack
as I pedal onto the wire to show I can
compose a villanelle, like anyone
who, through with nets and tethers, has the knack,
whose eyes should wellneigh radiate elan
despite the skimpy audience’s deadpan
stare, who’s finally able to attack
the line the uninitiated doubt they can.
“There’s better music in a broken fan,”
I hear old timers sigh, jarring me back
to where my eyes bleared from low elan,
when I lost balance and a quarter of my tan.
I’m breathing hard, confronted with my lack
of poise on the wire, trying to show I can
prevail when shit’s inquiring after fan.
I’m almost there, dear friend; don’t turn your back:
just look at them film me now, pumping with elan,
wired on closure, this beauty in the can.
first appeared in Artful Dodge.
I'm sitting at my desk six days before
daylight savings - you'll dole out
what dead head prophets foretold
birds, of a feather, and oh how they flock -
we thought it clever to imagine
the geese honking, were it to sound
like: "fuck" "fuck" "fuck" VS.
the more traditional: "honk" "honk" "honk",
how neat it would be when hundreds
piped simultaneously; a haloed
amalgamation of airy "fuck" - until
all that remained were white noise.
so, did you talk to my mom
behind my back, or my dad? -
did you culture cut cook the guts
of my rhubarb pie? oven baker?!
you see the same things I see.
I think. but then what if everyone
were rhubarb pie. Frozen. thawed.
liter d, lifted, digested. Sewer ed
seaward. since that seems appropriate
in such grave circumstances --
look, I don't care about an evil eye.
I finger your ass. why not?
I mean you finger mine. right?
round baby right round - and I'll
spin. see how much we love
and I 'll - write six verses about it.
about his giant black man's thumbs
slipping out (of) in my allotment of time -
which AnnMarie Eldon terms
serendipitous, since she's a biologist
and I'm mocking a mime,
so, back to powder-coated steel
frames and how they became engineered
in steady handiwork patterns, thumbs,
Measures, pushing early seventies pencils
onto vellum and redlining blueprints
of worlds where you haven't looked
over the rumorous face, book-end, half done.
oh how I'll tell you, when we can make love.
finally, this one is pure mystery. it's my heart.
I'm figuring it out. you can help. mutha fuckas.
ONE SIMPLE DEGREE NORTH
spelled out verse - I dived in both
so swimmingly -
empty pain pointed in - you'll
suck the bark chipmunk - cheeked
millenniums of beauty in most -
carbon calibration - carbon figures
dance titanium tip tones - atomic
type cast - I'll say -
Stanislavski was so right about such an array of things
and I lie on potent metaphors like, your dreams.
it's busy in there - bused out to Dodge
City Kansas - it was nice last night -
busted at your seams -
split pea soup -
syllables there - of
your sin elation - singularity
supposing - a single toe wasn't -
self sucked up - a nation's Sin.
sifting sandpapered heart rockets -
spelling drift tide logs off to the north -
of France - a gallop through night and all these -
lonely hearts - if you must oblige
then, yes, revolve
my deliverances now
lounge chairs of south
pacific holiday beaches -
stretching well beyond
what man's eyes may sight
from sea-level perspectives -
I am offering to sell for pennies
on dollars earned the hard way;
-affective sun glasses
-exotic fruity cocktails
-styrofoam boogie boards
-travel sized telescopes
Identifying it at last as both a persistent high-A ringing in my left ear
and also a phantom sound that the brain—or maybe mind—makes
in its insistence to be heard like a thread woven through setting
and cloud-cover tapestries of the everyday subtly flashing only as points
of light, platinum or gold (as if from a singular lighthouse on some abandoned
coast, eastern perhaps, important—no, necessary—in its day, giving
both reference to destination and illumination of rocky hazards jutting
up out of the otherwise smooth onyx covering the night sea-skin is,
so that they—the early-morning crowds gathered thick as piranhas at pier’s end
—could get their next installments of Boz’s addictive invented realities
straight from the holds of the tall-masted ships that had trekked like gentle giants
over the whale-road—their white scarves billowing in the breeze of the bay,
at last, as the one high-turning light choreographed the last sweep of their
long arrival and settled them), I sensed it as core or something of core matter,
that, if grasp-able, could inform us, illumine the dangerous darkening bay that
is ours, everyone’s, here: waiting, as for a poem or an apology that may begin,
depend from that x-axis of rotating light or steady high contrapuntal tone.
Rejection: A Small Ars Poetica, Sort Of
“Though the manuscript you sent has not found a place with us…
Well, here’s another one. And like the others before it (are they folding-out
siblings or mere carbon copies?), it’s dressed in nice finery, with shadowy chain-
lines running throughout—just like the ones in our elegant stationary or in elderly
tomes, so believable.—And how we believed it, believe me, and so rightly feared,
shaking inside our booths before its austerity and the well structured speeches
it always pulled out of its inside vest pocket and read out like a sentence
artfully spooled in a single paragraph working smoothly as plumbing, which
left us so weakened, like those lead dreams of our youth. But we’re so far
past it now, taking it as no more than a commercial thing—like those worn PSAs
that accuse us and warn us—and so address it by leaving chocolate cookies on
the coffee table for whenever it may next arrive: snacks we dispense as glib
tokens. But recently, there’s this interesting spin-off: A maddening drive
to write a history of things as they are—something I do in closed quarters,
pretending the mercury-vapor light is a kerosene lamp whose smoky chimney
sends out a burnt oily smell.—I think that’s why the tight lines keep breaking in
odd places before reaching the right margin, depicting you as a fair damsel
chained by love inside an ogre’s keepsake box; and me a sad crowbar
bent in night light in the effort and hope of actually prying you out.
The Night Poet
hacking off rhymes
ripping open my skull
there are no words
There is a party on the block.
Everyone I know is there.
In the shadows I watch and glare
at the whole poetic flock
who won't deign to even mock
my crafty lines, my stellar poems.
(I've been barred from better homes.)
I shout my name, protest and knock.