Three Poems by James Harms

Rail Trail

South of town the asphalt trail
turns to limestone, the woods
thicken on each side, the river
slows. A few miles further
the path passes beneath
the interstate far overhead,
which is itself a river
in the sky rushing two-
ways at once, to Pittsburgh
or Charleston, Marianna or
Jane Lew. The woods are
quiet, the river quiet, the day
thrumming like a low engine
or a rumor you can outwalk
if you walk and walk, then walk
a little more. Until the bend
below the marina breaks
the water enough for it
to sing along the bank,
the loose limestone raking
through wet weeds and reeds,
singing. Apology accepted,
you think turning around,
walking now with the river
on your left, the lies miles
ahead, back in town. Waiting.
Taking off their shoes.


As If (The Fading Northern Currents)

“A light-year is a distance, not
an interval of time,” he said.
“And a lie is who you are.”
There was a sweetness, anyway,
to his voice as we walked the shore.
“It’s not as though the kelp gives up,”
he said, “though it looks that way,
the beach for miles heaped with dead
strands, the slick bladders like knots
in a green rope, knots of air that float,
that keep the kelp rising in the rising seas,
a swaying forest with blades of leaves
like narrow palms turned toward the sun
until the sun raises the water’s temperature
just a knot or two above 70 degrees.
And that’s all it takes. The kelp’s roots
give way at the holdfast and gently release
from the deep rocks they’ve woven around
like the hands of a very old couple
simply slipping loose of one another
as the two of them sit together watching
the evening air fill with fireflies, their
hands suddenly grazing the grass instead of
holding.” He said all this through a smile,
as if the fading northern currents that once
kept the waters cool were like a history
worn through at the knees, the fabric
giving way to the force of a man dropping
into prayer, the beach a wreckage of wrack
and weeds and mounds of macrocystis pyrifera.
“You know,” he said, pointing at the pile
of dead kelp, “it can grow two feet a day.”
He smiled again, he was crying. “A lie,”
he said. “Your life. Mine.”



The wizened derelict
(the filthy old wrinkly guy)
sang shirtless on the trestle,

his voice like a feather falling in a canyon,

until he fell in the canyon.

He didn’t fall in the canyon.

He sat down in the dirt
beside the tracks
and began to cry.

The thin morning light
stayed six feet away,
scraped a hole through yellow leaves.

Far below, the sound
of water rubbing softly over pebbles

seemed sordid, insincere.

It sounded like rushing water.

The derelict called himself Steve,
“though my birth name
is a travesty, a shame I won’t repeat.”

He’d stopped crying.
He held a dead squirrel by the tail.

He said he preferred
homeless to derelict,
when I asked.

But I didn’t ask.
I watched and listened from a distance.

I heard everything he said
to that squirrel.
Or to himself.

Or I guess to me.
I mean I wasn’t hiding or anything.


James Harms is the author of ten books including, most recently, ROWING WITH WINGS (Carnegie Mellon University Press 2017).

Five Poems by Jim Daniels

Basement Bathroom

The ache in the fist
from punching through the wall
forty years ago, angry
at my father and the world.

Ordered to repair it myself
I left the faint outline of spackle
around the new drywall.
No matter how many times

I repatched and sanded
it comes back. The ache
it comes back. I’d be lying
if I said I remembered why

the fist, why that time.
I moved out of that house
a long time ago. My father,
and that world, died.

Bones burned or buried.
The bones never heal right.
The imperfect fist
sanded smooth.



Landscape in Early November 

The cat in the grape arbor above me
hunts birds hunting the last shriveled grapes
knocking November’s leaves onto the patio.

Wild and dreamy, the cat blends into leaves’
brown-yellow crackle. And the birds! Shitting
on the glass-top table. Why am I out here

amid killing and dying? I hunt for pockets
of light emerging after leaves fall. I imagine

I know how these things play out,
but the green bug upside down beside me
cannot right itself. Someone has to write

the graceful shadows of its legs
flailing in the cursive of the dying.



My God is a Superstitious God


with his mismatched socks

and rabbit’s foot, his knocking

on wood and rubbing the belly


of the Buddha who himself

is making the sign of the cross.

But rainy days and Mondays


still get everyone down.

Did you pick up the new Grim Reapers

record? They got back together.


Bring your souvenirs and lucky charms

to the reunion tour. The Four-Leaf

Clovers are the opening act, but their set



to be short.



Beating The Dog to It


When you spilled cereal on the floor

—which happened often, handling

those no-brand plastic bags

of puffed wheat and puffed rice—

you were ordered to sweep it up

and dump it back in your bowl.

You had to beat the dog to it.

If you asked nice maybe

a brother or sister might slip you

their daily spoonful

of sugar. If the cereal had a little grit

it was family grit. Almost

a comfort. Your mother stood

at the sink—coffee and cigarette.

Your father long gone to the factory.

How did they make them puff?

Add the milk, and they floated

on top and spilled on the table. Of course

you ate that too. She didn’t smile

much in the morning. Up early to make

the six bag lunches lined up next

to the door. If you poured Tang

on your cereal instead

of powdered milk, the Tang rule

went into effect. After all,

some families had no tang.




The Sad Cookouts

start asizzle: family, neighbors, beer,
and hardy-hars. Then, the heat, the beer
(already, more beer?), the tears (already, tears?),
dropped hot dog, nipping dog(s), screaming child,
(another screaming back), the horseshoes,
the bullshit, more bullshit (already), the lack
of horses, men and women in flushed, huddled teams,
scoreboard broken, potato salad starting off bad, turning
badder, weak bladders, errant water balloons, the affair,
(the other affair), the manic smokers, the angry cigar,
the amateur, the professional, the charred, the raw,
eat, eat, eat, ice cream melting down sticky sticks, hurt
feelings, the shove, the tackle, the bugs,
the spray, the burns, the sun getting the hell
out of town, melted ice, warm beer, coals
abandoned to dust, then windblown into ashes
of expectation, what could go wrong, gate left open,
who kicked the nipping dog, the toddler, the new bike,
the skateboard, the feigned apology, the short hug,
the long hug, the hard kiss, the sloppy kiss, the changed will,
the home improvement rusting in weeds, the soiled
deck of cards, anteing up, doubling down,
work in the morning, but first the drunk-
driving home.



Jim Daniels is a poet, fiction writer, and screenwriter. Born in Detroit, Daniels currently teaches at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. He has written and edited many books, most recently The Perp Walk, fiction; Street Calligraphy, poetry; RESPECT: The Poetry of Detroit Music, anthology.