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 A Prayer the Body Makes (Kelsay Books / Aldrich Press, 2020); The Resonance Around Us (Mountains and Rivers Press, 2013); and Recycling Starlight (Mountains and Rivers Press, 2010). For more information please visit my website (link above).
What I Learn From Birds
The higher in the sky, the more cause to wonder what has called this flock of turkey vultures to spiral upward coasting the thermals until some spent thing calls them down to Earth again. And yesterday on the road’s edge what bird lay there, body splayed from a collision with an unexpected obstacle? I almost stopped to confirm that its barred feathers looked hawk. I used to collect all manner of feathers, lay them out on the mantel in a family of stones and shells, and later on my dresser at the base of the photo of my late husband, a man who loved birds. These days, I no longer stoop to pick up gull, crow, blue jay, dove, or those tiny nameless fluffs along the way. And I have discarded any older ones—dust-gatherers in a house already filling with dust. Yet I still crave to feel bird-flight raise me into the void, seek out the songs, squawks, and cries that call me to translate—even to chirp or whistle back as I briefly become bird, hoping for an answer. A simple ride with new binoculars can lift my spirit—as a blur of white on the horizon becomes ibis, a red flash under a black wing shouts red-winged blackbird, and five crows bathing in a puddle splash me with laughter.
Originally published on my Facebook page and blog.
The Gas Mask
When he puts it on my father is a beast in the dark of our driveway, half man, half other. Blackberry, the little dog for whom he performs, barks in high-pitched yips, runs madly around him, never coming close enough to bite. They both know it is a game, played out across the scraggly grass, or in wild circles through dead leaves. The harsh noise issuing through the snake-like appendage dangling from my father's nose is laughter, mixed with growls. I stare at the gas mask, feel my nose sting, imagining the poison it might protect us from, the swirls of smoke. At night in the moonlit yard my animal father has come from the woods to terrify a small dog. He bends over, swaying from the waist, his large hands menacing. His trunk skims the ground, brushes the dog's back. When she tires of it the dog collapses. She has barked herself hoarse, and now lies panting, eyes still rolling to follow him. She has ended the game, although he does not want to let it go, wants it to last until he falls into the grass, ripping the gas mask off his naked face. He turns to us then, my sister and me, stumbles toward us flapping his arms. We scream, run giggling up the porch steps into the house. After he has put the mask away, after he has stood in the dark garage until he can breathe evenly, he joins us. We sit in the living room, and he tells us again and again how it was out there, how the dog went crazy, it was so much fun!
Originally published in Grandmother's Milk, Singular Speech Press, 1985.
Along River Road
I drive along River Road each morning, come to the bend that crosses the Passaic which today floods the yards of nearby homes. In long ago photographs taken on this riverbank, a small girl in overalls sits on the roots of a tall tree, smiles at a dapper young man holding the camera, waves at a slim young woman in a flowered dress. They have been out for a Sunday drive, have picked this charming spot to frame their toddler daughter and themselves. No way of knowing then that I would pass it daily, want to stop the car and stumble down the stony slope to stare into the water until I see those three on that autumn day of little wind and bright sun on the pale, floating leaves.
Originally published in Along River Road, From Here Press, 2005.
©2020 Penny Harter
Editor's Note: If this poem(s) moves you please consider writing to the author (email address above) to tell him or her. You might say what it is about the poem that moves you. Writing to the author is the beginning of community at Verse Virtual. It is very important. -JL