St. Mark’s Place, 1960


Is it luck or fated,

willed or created,

the reporter asked,

not hearing himself rhyme.

Auden smiled. Happiness

is an accident, he said.

He hunched

into his topcoat

and looked past

the young man

at a policeman feeding

his horse an apple.

The reporter lowered

his notepad

and looked up.

It was difficult to write

standing outside

on a sidewalk, winter

cramping his fingers.

I meant poetry, he said.

Auden smiled again,

his face, well . . . his face.

He pointed down the street

where the earth seemed

to end in a tangle

of market stalls and old

women–they wheeled

their shopping carts

between rows of vegetables

and discount cleaning

supplies.  Happiness

is one door down

from loneliness:

it’s easy to enter one

room thinking one is

entering the other.

He didn’t say this

out loud; it seemed

silly, even in his mind.

The reporter stared

where Auden

was pointing, not noticing

the great man had turned

around as if to look

at someone who wasn’t there.

But had been.


James Harms’ most recent book, Comet Scar, was published by Carnegie Mellon University Press in 2012. Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Missouri Review, Shenandoah, Southern Humanities Review, and elsewhere.

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