Four Poems

1. Railings

The days of scrying latte foam are in abeyance:
a phrase scratched between laundry loads,
scrawled on take-out menus and junk mail,
amid life as the deus ex machina of the domestic.

There are no intermissions here—
cocktails and bathroom breaks are stolen.
There are no rituals to fall back on,
only those compensating for inadequacies.

Forget the fragments to shore up the ruins—
we are working with the boluses of life.

And we flail—
we fail.

2. Borrowed Light

The fishbowl has been inverted,
the ocular spectacle now a disco ball.
We inhabit the fun house of refractions,
tracing our fractions and fissures.

This is no party, no matter what the bottles say: 
to see your reflection in the eyes of others,
or to be the magician’s mute assistant
sliced in the bathroom mirror:
who anatomizes better?

At least the walls are fashionably gray,
all the better for blending.

Yet people still care about furnishings,
lines which slide, sharp or curved.
Eyeballs are soft—we all know it,
even if we prod them absentmindedly,
like we did the discarded stress ball.

Specular—too close to speculum,
with its unforgiving steel crank.
Now’s not the time to be forced open.

What if it’s you, the one lacking clarity?
What if you emerge, to find only the fish watching,
eyes permanently open, slack-jawed?

3. Ammonite

The blue lines stretch
through notebooks,
across forms and monitors,
taut and waiting to be plucked,
or pliant, defying inoculations.

Here, they camouflage with dust,
slowly accumulated during moments of distraction,
or vibrate, waiting for the right word to cross them.

Glowing interruptions
and forgotten tripwires—
until the last pulse is measured,
the final joke is written.

4. Setting Plaster

I’m not baring my phantom limbs for you.

Vivisection should be private,
not performed before an audience,
invoking doctors like Freud and Frye,
or whomever those New Critics were.

Pronouncements of catharsis are presumptuous,
distinctions between mourning and melancholy are specious.
Absence cannot be buried.

The sphinx savors her secrets,
withholds scents that linger or trigger.
She will not mug for your selfies,
or mark your confessions.
She knows time cannot ossify the heart,
throbbing in its stone chamber.


Jennifer Harris is an author of lyrical children’s books (She Stitched the Stars, Albert Whitman 2021; When You Were New, HarperCollins 2023), and associate professor of English at the University of Waterloo, Canada. She has poetry forthcoming in Columba.


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