Letter from the Other Side of Halfway

Vision Board_GISH 2016
Letter from the Other Side of Halfway

Dear Bob: In one of my former incarnations
as a starving, family-less, twenty-something Grad
Student, well before the advent of emails & texting,
when handwritten sentiments on stationery were still
in vogue, I certainly sent my share of “Dear Bob Letters.”
The recipients thereof, on the whole a far cry from being
remotely “Bob-like,” included a number of real posers,
some of whom now strut & crow on Facebook like
the ancient, hoary roosters (read: cocks) they clearly are.
As for the others (more of them than you might imagine),
they’re all dead, several by their own hands, even—a stone-
cold statistic (the seeming synchronicity of which is tough
to ignore) I frequently grapple with, sorting through conjured,
a posteriori details & associated, surreal imagery by day, &
chasing after egotistical ghosts in my über-symbolic dreams
by night, always with the conviction that some message for me
yet lurks in the dry lakebeds & sunless recesses of the Nether,
a realm to which the tips of my toes & then some are no strangers.

The only window-treatment manning the threshold between
me & my secrets is a translucent-pink swath of chiffon,
which I’m afraid doesn’t leave much to the imagination—
so consider yourself warned, amico mio! Against the current
backdrop of imbecilic plutocrats, political sycophants,
& psychopaths bearing assault rifles, hardly to be tempered
by the incidental, decent soul, it would not take a discerning
eye long to know me better than I know myself, which is just
about the only thing I know anymore…

In my attempts to locate myself, I often look to nature—
these days, it’s among the imposing Sequoias we boast here
in the Northwest, along with the showy cottonwoods, as fertile
as they are indiscriminate, stripping off their seed-fluff every
chance they get, a prospect that doesn’t seem to bother
the scrub jays deigning to my level for a squawk now & then
before ascending to a higher branch. Whatever folks might say
about birds of a feather, well, after a number of earnest stints
shadowing the local hens—the way they kept those vibrant
petticoats tucked under their brown slickers, & their biting
commentary having seemed uniquely suited to the cold & rain—
I’ve yet to locate my flock, & the search has turned southeastward:
Taking a tip from the meadowlark, I veer for the high desert,
my flight path crossing the sagebrush-dotted, volcanic earth,
hoping I’ll soon look down & see you floating
in a sea of ten gallon hats, just beyond the convection
columns braced against the electric blue sky.

I don’t suppose your self-claimed exile looks anything
like I’ve imagined? It’s not with a small twinge of jealousy
that I seek consolation in your brand of solitude on the other
side of that horizon line; as exile, it would seem to me,
involves the condition of having at some point belonged
somewhere. Now, after a lifetime spent standing out in my field,
I’m not very handy at extrapolating any other kind of belonging,
& feel I ought to find out what I’ve been missing.

So, I’m heading out past the Cascades & the swaggering
sage grouses of the eastern uplands, reaching for that horizon—
green seeping to red, clouds feathering out, & no further from us
than one step beyond our any given station—where you can be
sure I’ll always be no more than a step away from you, & ever
your honest friend, Stephanie.

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

Western Meadowlark

“Letter from the Other Side of Halfway,” my response to Robert Okaji’s gorgeously soul-fortifying poem, “Letter to Harper from Halfway to the Horizon,” was first penned during the Tupelo Press 30/30 Project in May 2017, and subsequently published in Underfoot Poetry (thank you to editors/authors Daniel Paul Marshall and Tim Miller for generously hosting my work!) in July 2018. This piece also appears in my newest chapbook, The Death-Head’s Testament, NOW available for presale order (@ $6.50 per copy, a significant discount off the cover price!), scheduled for release in March 2019.

3 Poems Up At CatheXis Northwest

house finch

Thank you to editor C. M. Tollefson and the poetry editing team at CatheXis Northwest for publishing my 3 poems, “Aubade with Smoke,” “Dilated,” and “What a Patriot Dreams.”

The latter two poems also appear in my newest chapbook, The Death’s-Head’s Testament, scheduled for release by Main Street Rag in March 2019, and available now for advance order @ $6.50 per copy.

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From the Seed

lightning bolt
From the Seed

I’m caught in a quagmire
of dirty dishes, dog-hair-
strewn & stained floors,
& generally ineffectual
 
functions of utility, where
the minutes are consumed,
one after the other, by my
heart’s double-time ticking
 
moving time backward. This
body frozen in the here & now
is not the same me as all the atoms
I am, retracing their steps to find
 
the self I was in that past life—
the one who recognized
younger-you from a photo—
whose every cell sears me
 
with lightning, as wildfire smoke
wells up like a tidal wave from
the seed of being & time,
exclaiming, He’s the One!
 

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

germination

Letter to Harper from Halfway to the Horizon

Sometimes, maybe once in a lifetime, a poem changes your life for the better… Robert Okaji’s “Letter to Harper…” was that poem for me!

O at the Edges

Letter to Harper from Halfway to the Horizon

Dear Stephanie: No one connects here, and no matter
how resolutely we trudge forward, ignoring spinal fusions
and attacking hearts, the line skips lightly ahead, mocking us,
I think, in that way only the ineffable may claim. Looking
out, I see a lone wren, clouds filtering the stars, and strands
of barbed wire looped like question marks around cedar
stumps, punctuating the day’s greeting. No answers there,
only more inquiries blanching under the sun. But this
is my febrile landscape, not your lush green headed by
gray. Nothing matters, or, everything’s imperative.
In this gnarled season I can’t tell which, although
the vulture ripping into a squirrel carcass on my
suburban front lawn tells me something ain’t quite
right. Full or empty, the glass is still a glass, despite
my propensity for seeking more, whether cava or beer
or yes, enlightenment. I…

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A New Poem Up at BONED!

I’m thrilled to share the news that my poem, “Rhapsody in Bone” — a bit of formal verse for the 21st century… — is featured at the wonderful web journal, BONED! I’m grateful to editor Nate Ragolia for giving my quirky piece inspired by an ancient Inuit myth such a lovely and fitting home.

“Rhapsody in Bone” appears in my new chapbook, This Being Done, available now from Finishing Line Press. Orders will ship in June 2018.

Two Valentine’s Day Poems

keep-calm-and-make-it-so

For Mike

1. First Date with The Next Generation

In the Engineering Research Building
the wall in his cubicle proudly donned
a life-sized poster of Jean-Luc Picard 

I hid the double-take (or, tried to); he later massaged
the crick in my neck, a liberty allowed by a Liberal Artist
donning naught above the waist but her bare pride…

Marriage of the proverbial hemispheres ensued.

 

2. Somehow, Swept Off My Feet

Though one task at hand must be completed, before you attempt
(or become conscious of) the next, and I blaspheme those tinselly,
emblematic bits of solder accumulating beneath our feet,

then breathe long sighs of relief when you finally sweep them
into sparkly heaps and throw them away; I realize, too, that neither
the privilege of living with an Engineer in his natural habitat, nor

my Work in Progress status, are honors bestowed frivolously.

 

Once, again, I’ve stepped into the Wayback Machine to retrieve these relics from the valley of yester-yore upon which the fuzzy fog of middle age has since permanently settled. Here’s to those things of beauty in our lives that never change!

Wishing all you poets and engineers, alike, out there a very happy Valentine’s Day!

My Cat is Bread

wheat-field

because     what is a purr
but the promise of nourishment realized
in the rhythmic release of the heat
that’s accumulated in pockets
with the rise & fall of her breath?

& what is a bagel
if not a nose meeting the base of a tail
& little pink berry & black currant toes
neatly tucked to sleepy chin
all curled around a heart
that holds no lack?

because basking on my windowsill
in a pretzel of scruff     limbs     salt-tang
& afternoon-sifted sun     she is keenly sweet
like a wheat field’s essence of summer wind
in the last days before the harvest     hearty
with the warmth of a freshly-baked marble rye

because whenever i’m away from home
i long for her     knowing she’s there ‘kneading’
enough for the both of us (for     let’s be honest
no pillowy provender of fleece to grace my bed
has managed to preserve its store-bought virginity
for much more than an hour)

& because     although
I realize the time she yet has with me
will be fleeting    she will ever remain
the loaf of my life

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

UPDATE: Our sweet Hannah passed away from cancer at age 14 yrs. 5months on Friday, January 27, 2017. She lived with unapologetic grace, generously gave to us of her healing energy, and died with stoic dignity. RIP, beautiful girl…

The house has been empty and strange without her, but my grief is tempered by my gratitude and awe for the magical connection this quirky, smart, territorial, eight-pound (in her heyday), dog-terrorizing wonder of a creature made with her human family. Such is the spiritually-rich and filling nature of the “Bread of Life.”

hannah-2016

Hannah, age 14 yrs. 3 mos.

Anniversary #18

Mike and I celebrated our 18th anniversary on January 23, 2016, but I thought this poem would make a great post for Valentine’s Day… The photo I’ve chosen to accompany my poem is of a bird I’m particularly in love with — he is a Cob named Bryn, and he is the devoted mate to a Pen, Wynn. They are a glorious pair whose annual brooding and chick rearing on the moat of Bishop’s Castle in Wells are meticulously covered by brilliant photographer, Will Glenn. In this shot, Bryn’s industrious foraging in support of his mate and their progeny is not only noble and adorable, but it reminds me of Mike’s constant efforts to be a nurturing, responsible husband and father, and ever-evolving human being, who inspires me in more ways than I could ever express!

To all you lovebirds out there:

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!

bryn_s_bottom_by_earthhart-d8efjc7

Photo by Will Glenn: EarthHart.deviantart.com

An engineer has just so much to say
With breath, enthusiasm, eye-contact—
And words seldom emerge in shades of gray,
But it’s your love that keeps my heart intact.

You’ve seen me at my worst and never balked,
You’ve seen me giving birth, begging for drugs,
Stood by when even I could not have talked,
And let me hide while you’ve dispatched gross bugs.

Your actions are a testament to Love
That has no need of meter, trope, or rhyme—
Lip-service, poets know, is not enough
To build a life that stands the test of time.

For eighteen years (and more!) I’ve loved you—that’s no bull!
I know I’m blessed to have a heart that feels so full!

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

Fuel for Flight

Aaaand… one more, while we’re on the Shakespearean Love Sonnet theme…  I wrote this for my beloved husband just a couple of years back! Don’t mind the roadside warning graphics — they’re only ornamental!!

from Google Images

from Google Images

Your love once sent me flying to the moon,
But now I’ve landed solidly on ground.
Your jets at idle, I no longer swoon
From ventures superceding speed of sound!

You dress to go on your bi-monthly run;
I dress, if there’s somewhere I have to be.
Your eyes (do they still sparkle like the sun?),
Without my specs, my love, I cannot see.

No longer do I dream of bees or birds–
The hives are barren; nests have blown away:
Our teenagers now speak the “choicest” words,
For we are out of fertile things to say.

My love, though we have traveled beyond lust,
Jets may have cooled, but haven’t lost their thrust…

STEPHANIE L. HARPER