Bio Note: I live in Mays Landing near the Jersey shore. After my husband Bill Higginson died in 2008, I moved here from North Jersey to be near my daughter and family. I have been writing poems for decades and am grateful the muse is still finding me. I have been blessed to "meet" many fine poets in this V-V village, some of whom have become good virtual friends, and I cherish the memory of Firestone Feinberg who started our Village. My three most recent books are Still-Water Days (Kelsay Books / Aldrich Press, summer 2021); A Prayer the Body Makes (Kelsay Books / Aldrich Press, 2020); The Resonance Around Us (Mountains and Rivers Press, 2013).
Feeding the Horses in Texas
for my father Dad kept yellow corn from the feed store in a garbage can out behind the shed. Dawn and dusk, he shoved a rusty scoop deep into that can, dumping hard kernels of boyhood memory on the family farm into a galvanized pail. Then he sniffed the wind and nickered until two horses crossed the neighbor’s field to rest their muzzles on the split-rail fence and talk to him. And he made more horse noises, grinning back as they curled floppy lips to bare big teeth and munch this ritual gift from an old man lost in his yard, who raised that steel bucket as if to his own mouth.
Originally published in The Night Marsh, WordTech Editions, 2008.
A Familiar Smoke
When the dead breathe their last, those atoms rise to surround the known Earth as it rotates in place around a black hole. The smoke from my father’s cigarette surrounded me as I lay full-length on the back seat of Betsy-car, our1940s Chrysler sedan, staring at the moon riding with us down some rural highway— a familiar smoke that merged with the hypnotic hum of the motor, the strobe of occasional streetlights. Show me the way to go home, I’m tired and I want to go to bed, we’d sing as my father flicked butt after butt out the car window. Those flickered like dying stars along the road’s edge, leaving in our wake tinder for a field, sparks for a forest, and wads of paper and shredded tobacco bleeding into sunrise.
Excerpted from a longer poem, “The Known Earth,” in A Prayer the Body Makes
Years ago in a fifth grade classroom, I asked students to write about objects I’d brought in: strangely striated stones, broken tools, remnants of a bird’s nest, a child’s knit mitten I’d found in the local thrift shop along with the worn men’s cashmere overcoat I’d remade to fit me. I did not have the coat that day, but it swung in a black and empty closet in my mind, not my closet but another’s, a closet storing nothing save the coat and a pair of galoshes— the kind with snap-shut, black metal buckles, their toes speckled with dust from another world. And as the students wrote, I cupped my hands to heft the memory of objects lost and found, all a good fit for their time. And I intimately knew that overcoat, felt the old man wear it as his only company, hang it nightly to guard his restless sleep and fleeting dreams. I saw him leave the closet open so the streetlight slanting through the blinds could warm the coat’s familiar shoulders, shine its buttons, even one hanging by a thread. I heard him talking to the coat from the cave of his bed, knew he lived alone somewhere on a street where it was always winter, and that he often asked it, as I once heard my aging father ask my mother in the middle of the night, What’s going to happen to us? I could not hear her murmured response from their bedroom down the hall, but my father’s question found the windows of a row house in an invisible city, and an old coat answered it.
©2021 Penny Harter
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