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Sample Poems by Pamela Harrison

Adrift on the Sea of Our Becoming

Stacks of crockery and winter clothes,
photographs and furniture in piles-
for days I've packed belongings
like vessels for the crypt. Box by box,
our once-familiar rooms resume
the look of bare beginning, empty

walls hung with shadow-frames
of former points of view. Stored,
the colored stones I gathered as a child,
primer of my eye, first satisfaction
of the need to know and name.
I have their lessons all by heart.

Stored: the legacy of silver spoons
whose civil rituals arranged my days
like a table set for guests, and with them,
shells I collected on Mombassa's shores,
a hatless bride, reaching for perfection
into mirrors of a tidal pool.

Departing toward a different dream,
we're peeling down to life-boat goods-
plain clothes, essential books-
traveling light to a seldom-storied isle
where things retain a fine necessity,
and breezes move through rooms with open walls.

Along those shores, I'll gather other shells,
partial and imperfect ones,
worn to the heart by the tide.


Carry-a-coo, a sound
like birdsong, ring-necked doves
sidling to sleep in a tamarind tree.

This Isle of Reefs winks eight-by-three
miles small in a peacock sea, where refugees
from plagues of ants on Guadeloupe first fled

with their thousand slaves. Abandoned here
at manumission, unprofitable as a cracked jug,
suffering two seasons-sodden and drought-

Cromanti, Ibo, and Chamba survived and thrive.
Among their seven thousand descendants, we'll raise
to ten the number of white planter/volunteers.

Arriving in a squall, the pilot takes two tries
to land on a runway grazed by goats and cows.
The road trickles out to a jungle trail, climbing

vines insinuate through slatted blinds. Rain
slithers in muddy waves beneath the doors,
gurgles from the roof into a basement cistern,

our "catchment for the year," purified for us
by some eyeless fish eating larvae in the dark.
Too tired to unpack, we eat a meal of crackers

and sardines. The cat mewls in unfamiliar rooms.
Kate hums comfort to her dolls as the sun sinks
into sea. No twilight softens the careworn day.
When we turn on the lamp,
every curious bug in the bush
shoulders in to welcome us.

No Painter's Brush

While you spend your days running island clinics,
attending the sick and dying, corralling kids
from under cots to test for sickle cell, trekking
to make calls in mud shanties cocked like top hats
on steep volcanic hills-yes, I cope at home,
unpacking our belongings and entertaining Kate,
but also, Darling, dealing

with mahogany roaches fastened like old brooches
at the neck of my nightgown, long-horned hoppers
gripping the bed clothes like a guilty conscience,
and, beside me on the kitchen wall, tarantulas poised
tentative as a lover's hand. Striped black and yellow,
scarlet-pated caterpillars, lascivious and plump
as grandma's kielbasas, chew the frangipani boughs.

Old Scorpio, like an aroused Lothario, sashays
smugly up the veranda and into my sleepless nights.
In a place so thickly strewn with sneaky creatures,
it's hard to pretend Platonic thoughts. One orchid sings
its satisfactions; many multiply delight. These insects,
grown strange with camouflage and geared for eating,
startle, singly. In numbers, they appall.

Leaf by leaf, I've watched them cart whole trees away-
caravans departing with the ravishments of Rome-
eating till my aesthetic's pared down to an eyeball
on nature's plate. No painter's brush saves jungle blooms
from their undoing. Here, Dear, wrack's the way of the place.

What the Other Is

is what we aren't-
where blindsides
bend in fear

to a clouded mirror
by which we come
to know ourselves: other

is a broken lock, cock-eyed
beer bottles empty on the floor,
counters dusted with flour,

ghostly fingerprints whiting
every drawer, all our bureaus open
and deranged.


Kate sleeps.
She sleeps
beneath thin sheets.
Beneath the sheets,
she breathes
night air musty
with the teeming weight
of all she might imagine,
all that really could
crawl in her bed.
Let me not imagine.