James Harms: “‘Such Utter Foreignness of Contact'”


—D.H. Lawrence

The ransom notes arrive like love

letters in a plague, all the fingertips

withdrawn as the shop girl hands me

the lettuce, the leaking gallon of milk, as

the teller seems to whisper through

the pneumatic tube though it’s just a hiss

of air chasing after my deposit slip.

And when an email flutters like a pigeon

with a note tied to its ankle and delivers

its chime of sentences, when a long-lost letter

disgorges its curse with a puff, the envelope

dissolute as a popped balloon, when the air

of this day escapes the sky, as if the breath

of the earth could fail—of course it could—

as if she who doesn’t wonder as I wonder

who the two of us might be if we weren’t

of ourselves alone, as if she knocked quietly

on my door like a poem spoken blithely

by a boy with a matchstick between his teeth,

who’s practicing for the prom or for the end

of the world, as if the two or three dull finches

pecking stubbornly on the porch, the feeder

empty and the last bits of seed lodged firmly

between the paving stones, as if they are

aware of the emptiness, pecking anyway, pecking.

James Harms’ most recent book of poems, Rowing with Wings, was published by Carnegie Mellon University Press in 2017.

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