for Tarfia and Fita

             The rabbit has a funny set of tools. He jumps.
             or kicks. muffled and punching up. In pose
             the rabbit knows, each side of his face to whom.
             he should belong. He hobbles and eyes. This
             is the dumb bun allegiance. This bunny, even dry and fluff
             is aware, be vicious. will bite down your finger stalk.
             will nick you good in the cheery web of your palm.
             Those claws are good for traction. and defense.
             This bunny, forgive him. There is no ease. His lack
             of neck is all the senses about a stillness.
             stuck in a calm. until household numbers upend
             his floor. until the family upsets the nest
             and traipses off. Then stuck in a bunny panic.

             We each stab at gratitude. In our nubbing, none
             of us do well. We jump. We kangaroo. We soft seeming,
             scatter and gnaw. Maybe the only way forward
             is to sleep all day. one eye open. under the sink.
             Like the rabbit, we could sit in our shit.
             Chew at the leaf of others’ dinner. Make
             of each tile on the floor a good spot to piss. No,
             it doesn’t get much better. And like the rabbit
             we do not jump well from heights. We linger the dark
             until it is safe to come out. To offer a nose.
             a cheek for touch. the top of a crown. Nothing
             makes us happier than another rabbit.

More by francine j. harris

The neighbor’s buddy watching my screen through the window

Because the tube is turned to the window, the neighbor’s buddy         coughs
a cough of pigeons. a hack of grackle. a bird out the window. It’s         like

the neighbor’s buddy on my ledge, smoking. The neighbor’s                 chum in the blinds,
the eyes that peer, the eyes that open. propped and sunglassed.         a kind

of smoking blackbird, an inveterate

tombirder. His leather wings are splayed. his rock in the cold.            He has one foot on ice porch
and one foot wiggle. one foot rockerbird. a one-foot band. His            cough is the cough

of the myriad smoker, the murder of smoker. There is quiver of         murder. His cough
is the cough of a white boy, northern. of a Michigan leather. of           the white boy jacket,

his leather like hair. The air is gray like cig smoke. gray like ash.
gray with the onset of northern porchlike spring and its                       porchstep rain. Wet

and snowy, the neighbor, his buddy in leather. like me, in                     leather. In a wet snow,
rocking. in a porch band leather. leather in April. April wet and         still, one foot to the other.

Oregon Trail, Missouri

(November 9, 2016)

 

O trail up outta here, how long ago
            you started to wander, crawling milkweed
through dependence, in grope toward sprawl
            dominion. Rather red in your rove from southern transition,

thick of land use, what soft you carved of forest to get through
            once dirt and fur and blood of original American and bloody-scrape knuckles
of emigrant pioneer. O what you woke from sleep. Dogwood drift
            loud and settling toward expanse, like how a pride’s breath

            can move blossom to shiver and roll over false aster, shape
border from its river source, return to river as fat pocketbook, mussel
            of critical habit, long breather and muscular foot
under cypress and promise of tree. O path for packed wagon

            who dragged black slave alongside conduit, some salt
of new breeze, who swore deciduous freedom, and relented only upon lawsuit
            in new land you opened to. O route to burrow, you,
like pipeline, leak the grease of wayward stream. Trade off

            and pick off growth in the way. How used, you. When
blue-promised god, some Negroes took up pack and white man’s pack,
            and given distance of black body to statehood pith, only made holy
states away. O what became you was over, the leaving grip bragged
 
            all the way to the sea, already plundered and exhausted
of Shoshone patience and homesteading what hellbender
            you’ve become. What uprooted clearing. Stray cattle worth
whole encampments in fool’s dust and deed. O what haven from man

            who believe in America, only all to himself? Imagine

a way of shape that doesn’t strangle. An arbor
            of its very own leaf. Now, imagine
tern and piping plover that keeps expansion
            along its shore. A settlement for spring’s deliver, not pipeline.

Imagine redbud staying put in its breeze and keeping us safely
            strong as trees and dark as the bark of our open souls. Imagine
the park of evergreen surrender,
            to a calmer, blue sky our govern might protect.

Imagine bald eagle again, not because white-headed
            but imagine bird, simple body of eager sea, talons
stretched over gold proportion. In summers, thick shiner.
            In winter, undisturbed darter along somewhat snow, unstressed

by factory and loud humming fuel. O prairie of blazing star, imagine
            full caves of left alone, unraided buffalo
clover, unhelped. Unfringed orchid, unwestern. Imagine
            ground hallow, free to forage

its riverine root and plant vigor along the Missouri.

Single Lines Looking Forward. or One Monostich Past 45

The joke is orange. which has never been funny.

For awhile I didn’t sleep on my bright side.

Many airplanes make it through sky.

The joke is present. dented and devil.

For awhile, yellow spots on the wall.

Obama on water skis, the hair in his armpits, free.

I thought the CIA was operative. 

Across the alley, a woman named Mildred.

Above the clouds in a plane, a waistline of sliced white.

I don’t sound like TED Talk, or smart prose on Facebook.

These clouds are not God. 

I keep thinking about Coltrane; how little he talked. 

This is so little; I give so little.

Sometimes when I say something to white people, they say “I’m sorry?”

During Vietnam, Bob Kaufman stopped talking. 

The CIA was very good at killing Panthers. 

Mildred in a housecoat, calling across the fence, over her yard.

If I were grading this, I’d be muttering curses.

The joke is a color. a color for prison.

Is it me, or is the sentence, as structure, arrogant?

All snow, in here, this writing, departure.

All miles are valuable. all extension. all stretch.

I savor the air with both fingers, and tongue.

Mildred asks about the beats coming from my car.

I forgot to bring the poem comparing you to a garden.

Someone tell me what to say to my senators.

No one smokes here; in the rain, I duck away and smell piss.

I thought the CIA was. the constitution.

I feel like he left us, for water skis, for kitesurfing. 

The sun will not always be so gracious.

From the garden poem, one line stands out.

Frank Ocean’s “Nights” is a study in the monostich.

Pace is not breathing, on and off. off.

Mildred never heard of Jneiro Jarel.

I’m afraid one day I’ll find myself remembering this air.

The last time I saw my mother, she begged for fried chicken. 

My father still sitting there upright, a little high.  

Melissa McCarthy could get it.

Sometimes, I forget how to touch.

In a parking garage, I wait for the toothache.

I watch what I say all the time now.

She said she loved my touch, she used the word love.

In 1984, I’d never been in the sky.

My mother walked a laundry cart a mile a day for groceries.

Betsy DeVos is confirmed. with a broken tie.

Mildred’s five goes way up, and my five reaches. 

Related Poems

Hunger

If we never have enough love, we have more than most.
We have lost dogs in our neighborhood and wild coyotes, 
and sometimes we can’t tell them apart. Sometimes
we don’t want to. Once I brought home a coyote and told
my lover we had a new pet. Until it ate our chickens.
Until it ate our chickens, our ducks, and our cat. Sometimes
we make mistakes and call them coincidences. We hold open
the door then wonder how the stranger ended up in our home.
There is a woman on our block who thinks she is feeding bunnies, 
but they are large rats without tails. Remember the farmer’s wife?
Remember the carving knife? We are all trying to change 
what we fear into something beautiful. But even rats need to eat.
Even rats and coyotes and the bones on the trail could be the bones
on our plates. I ordered Cornish hen. I ordered duck. Sometimes 
love hurts. Sometimes the lost dog doesn’t want to be found.
 

Goldfish Are Ordinary

At the pet store on Court Street,
I search for the perfect fish.
The black moor, the blue damsel,
cichlids and neons. Something
to distract your sadness, something
you don't need to love you back.
Maybe a goldfish, the flaring tail,
orange, red-capped, pearled body,
the darting translucence? Goldfish
are ordinary, the boy selling fish
says to me. I turn back to the tank,
all of this grace and brilliance,
such simplicity the self could fail
to see. In three months I'll leave
this city. Today, a chill in the air,
you're reading Beckett fifty blocks
away, I'm looking at the orphaned 
bodies of fish, undulant and gold fervor. 
Do you want to see aggression?
the boy asks, holding a purple beta fish
to the light while dropping handfuls
of minnows into the bowl. He says,
I know you're a girl and all
but sometimes it's good to see.
Outside, in the rain, we love
with our hands tied, 
while things tear away at us.

Yellow Beak

A man owns a green parrot with a yellow beak
that he carries on his shoulder each day to work.
He runs a pet shop and the parrot is his trademark.

Each morning the man winds his way from his bus
through the square, four or five blocks. There goes
the parrot, people say. Then at night, he comes back.

The man himself is nondescript—a little overweight,
thinning hair of no color at all. It's like the parrot owns
the man, not the reverse. Then one day the man dies.

He was old. It was bound to happen. At first people
feel mildly upset. The butcher thinks he has forgotten
a customer who owes him money. The baker thinks

he's catching a cold. Soon they get it right—the parrot
is gone. Time seems out of sorts, but sets itself straight
as people forget. Then years later the fellow who ran

the diner wakes from a dream where he saw the parrot
flying along all by itself, flapping by in the morning
and cruising back home at night. Those were the years

of the man's marriage, the start of his family, the years
when the muddle of his life began to work itself out;
and it's as if the parrot were at the root of it all, linking

the days like pearls on a string. Foolish of course, but
do you see how it might happen? We wake at night
and recall an event that seems to define a fixed period

of time, perhaps the memory of a beat-up bike we had
as a kid, or a particular chair where we sat and laughed
with friends; a house, a book, a piece of music, even

a green parrot winding its way through city streets.
And do you see that bubble of air balanced at the tip
of its yellow beak? That's the time in which we lived.