Three Presentations by Donald Harris (1938-2011)


I struggle with a quandry that sore perturbs my mind.
Am I something less than human, or something more
divine? It is not human to cast one's cerements aside,
and only an immortal live on beyond a semblance of
death or being dead. Will you, therefore, sing me soft
down regimens of resurrection that I might be receptive
to my going out and coming back again? I place my
fingers into my ears so that I may no longer hear the
screams and gibberish from that semilucent dark. I am
desirous that some sentiment of satisfaction might break
through, beyond the vineyard, beyond the grove of figs.
He and John came teaching/preaching a kingdom for
the Jews, one that would overcome/supersede the Roman,
but when it became obvious that such was not tenable,
or viable, he quickly proclaimed, "No, no, I meant it is a
spiritual kingdom, one that is inside the self."
Why did he bring me back from the silence of sweet
soothing death to plunge me once again into the
rancorous wrangling of my two sisters as to which
should do what part of keeping house? How many know
that impasse of wishing for death to come as a relief
or a release from pain or grief or some debilitation,
yet one longs for further life so as to accomplish desires
yet to have been done? Was I not to know that leisure in
an afterlife where I could be a rustle in a whisper of the
wind? Where is that mercy from the life spread over as
sheltering leaves do shade the path below? By what right
am I not left to find some ease of heart, some peace of
mind? But I must turn with the turning sun, and burn
with its course across the sky, until I am no longer needed
to explicate the glory of the man who would be God.


Suppose, for starts, we just call it quits, and let everything go, at that. After all, you have known for a long time of my hope for some surcease of suffering, sadness, sorrow, something that would be a sufficient anodyne for all my ills. If there is no certainty but death, yet death may sometimes bring a blessed relief, even though it be spring, and a robin is trilling out melodic promises of ever recurrent burgeonings. But the song of birds, the sight of flowers can never obliterate the memory of that night at that bar, where I should not have drunk that one more Pink Squirrel, even though it helped me to loudly sing, along with the rest of the crowd, of finding my thrill on Blueberry Hill, for afterward occurred the accident, in which one person was killed, another left wheelchair bound, and a third sustained head injuries whereby she was never again properly mentally functional, and I am charged with such deep regret, such cutting remorse, that ever and anon, tears spring into my eyes. I have lived long enough that youth has long since passed me by, and most of the young do much the same. By many I am forgotten, and by many others I am not even thought of, in the least, at all. I have become a vague gray nondescript nonentity. How insightful of Macbeth to recognize that his lady should have died hereafter. So shall we all. If you suppose that God sends pain and suffering, then you should suppose that an extirpation of such is a godsend too. Did Hamlet perhaps have this in mind when he considered someone making a quietas with a bare bodkin, in order to shuffle off this mortal coil? But then you maintain that Ophelia committed suicide out of a sense of maiden shame? May I be given proof or instance as to how to understand your interpretation.


My softness falls so hard upon
I cannot fathom out the deep
It's hard to imagine what has gone

In your company I am most alone
What I have I cannot keep
My softness falls so hard upon

What matters if I feel ill at ease
Like Lear I will refuse to weep
It's hard to imagine what has gone

I grope through darkness toward the light
Discouraged by a way too steep
My softness falls so hard upon

I have some understanding of your pain
What I have sowed I now must reap
It's hard to imagine what has gone

Life is a chocolate ice cream cone
That I have dropped upon the street
My softness falls so hard upon
It's hard to imagine what has gone.

Poem to be Sung / Donald Harris

I've got those weary worn out run down blues, which comes from walking too long in the same damn shoes. Well, I might blame my mama, but she done gone insane, or I might blame my daddy, but he done put a bullet through his brain. So I may as well thump and bump and jump the stump; but why does I always come out feeling like a donkey's rump? Maybe you think I should be eating worms and flies and maggots, until worms and flies and maggots are eating all on me. Well, let me tell you, lady, I ain't nowhere near the fool I used to be. Oh in frightening dreams I see Ezekial's wheel a whirling down on me, and like the harpist of Israel said I shed tears upon my bed, tears of bread to eat, tears in the withering heat. How many tears are shed for many men done gone where the turbid Mississippi flows? Oh who can hear the wail of weeping in the wind, the splashing of rain, the plashing of tears, the dull thudding of a grieving heart? Oh my little darlin' has a mighty fine oven that can bake my loaf of bread, but if she ain't in the mood for cookin', she can leave my weenie hangin' limp instead. Oh how terrible to be a lonesome me. But I loves to see her do her waggle dance, when she wants to show the way to the honey in her hive.

Autonomy, a Prayer / Bob Ambrose

To be free from tubes
and holding tight with taut
skin stretching staple-free, my
belly humming blissfully beneath
the bandaged five-part scar;
to sneeze and laugh and like
the twinge; to feel akin to fountain
boy still en pissant in Brussels square;
my body, unattached and free –
in freedom, sweet autonomy.

To step outside to open sky
and feel the sun inspiring
sweat; to swerve and crunch
September leaves, and smell
the summer stored inside;
to stand in shade air-cooled
by breeze; to harbor strength
to stride with ease to where
I will – where will is strong
to will belongs autonomy.

To pay due heed is prayer indeed,
or prayer enough for one set free
from climate-cooled sterility
from pumps, procedures, hardened
tools, precision cuts that take out
lumps and treasures of vitality
in trade for time and open space
inside my body, in my life to fill
with what – that choice is mine,
and choice defines autonomy.

To walk away from death each day
each step a prayer and prayer’s reply,
each dawning light, a night behind,
a morning more to hear the score
of tiny tongues in praise of life, those
chittering skittering prayers quick
told by insects, birds and hurried
souls just growing old too busy
for reflective ways – but deepened
thought is root of our autonomy.

To be granted time to redefine
one’s way within the sacred web
of all that is, receiving life more
graciously and giving back
with equal ease, enraptured
in the dance of grace transforming
old conflicted ways; a daily task,
to drop what chains you to the past
and reattach to what will last –
in life of love, autonomy.

Toyota Tacoma / Alex Johns

I drive one, like so many do
and lately mine's
looking more and more
like the real thing,

gravel-scratched paint on
that too-familiar frame
spitting dust through
some pathetic village
past retreating figures

Sierra Leone

illiterate, skinny boys
in back, behind
that .50 cal.
shell casings crowding
around calloused bare feet.

Hell, desperate
Libyans even welded

anti-aircraft guns and
multiple rocket launchers

into the bed of a jacked-up Prerunner,
mine's got some straw, stray sticks and shells

from pistachios tossed out
the window, caught then dropped in that
swirl of wind.

Rwanda, Uganda

Remember that tired footage
of him, the devil incarnate
kneeling before one, firing his rifle
to the muezzin's sacred approval?

This is how you market yourself in the twenty-first century,
vehicle of the human will,
the choice of warlords worldwide
the Kalashnikov of pick-up trucks.

This Metal, This Rust, This Life / Jim Palmarini

       For AP, Bro, Bwax

Well, we are what we are
rusting or not
speeding spending and
enlivened by each other’s
stories in the goddam gapped
ridges our lives have worn
and built—who’s
breathing hard, who’s
hardly breathing, all that
news of this one or that one’s
Homeric trot and rot tale. What’s
the story? she said years back
ahead of the bell curve
and call, that sway ’n
dance backlog loose
on the realized and unintended
suitors who are us.

Take my hand—whaddya
got to lose? Time
isn’t on anyone’s side. Might’s
well keep in touch. Invention
is all we have and
I’m not interested in going
through this shit alone.

Oil on the metal.
Moon in the sky
Sunlight through the trees.
in the water
for every fucking
one of us. This is all
so real I can hear it beating.
Now, who can see
in the dark—I’ll toss you
the keys to my own
personal comet, the drums
of my father, and
the only paintbrush
I never ruined
for that golden arrow. Decay
my ass. Get in the car—
we’re all going
for a ride and no metaphors
allowed. Rust never sleeps
you bet, so lock your door and
start pissing in the can. I know
I know—I ‘m going to pay
For this but I can’t stop myself.
What we talk about
is who we are. What we do
is what we know.
What I’ll remember
when I sleep is
you were there. Open up
the door—it’s me and
it’s raining and
you know what that means.

Rise Up and Send the River / Ben Gulyas

Rise up
and send the river,
fly down
and send the river...

Oconee, called the North Fork,
whose watery eyes begin in the hills,
down side and under the bridge of roads...
Hawkins, Whippoorwill, Diamond Hill Church,
Jefferson River, Chandler Cemetery, Hurricane Shoals ,...
down the plains
of the old Atlantic swamp,
bound down off the southern lip of the Appalachian rise,
harboring a wish for the sea...

Oconee of visceral April, breaching the banks
roiling in the night...
dark burble,
tender, soluble tumbler of sound
through time...

word of late Mississippian Creek tongue...
“of the skunk, “
“the river people,”
river now thick veined with farm waste,
tainted crystalline shit...
bacteria born of bile and salt,
bacteria into the river,
water and fumes
gone to dry air,
an alchemy of heavy lead
into the lungs of some forgotten face...

Ezra, who wanted to fly up the river
to the one he loved...

Ezra, the forgotten,
who burned down to it,

Ezra, whose own bones
were gone a million years
under the blind distance of the sun...
Ezra, whose foot prints were a life in long, faint twilight...

Ezra who sang...

“If I had wings...”
he cried from his belly,
“in flight I would be
this river would find me
outside the walls,
under the road,
long from the meal...

and one of these mornings,
full feathered
and in the river, I’ll be gone...
fare thee well,
Oconee, I call you
fare thee well...
a movement from the corner of the eye,
I call you
fare thee well...“

Ezra of shaking pain,
hard breath,
running knees reaching the river,
seeking shadows
in dream light...

Ezra, the color of travel by nightfall
across a photograph going into that other world
of pawn and fish signs ...

Ezra Oconee who bathed himself
in phosphates and fertilizers
handed down from 187 years of jobs and schemes...
Ezra Oconee…
the knee of a deer crashing through water in the darkness ...
he formed himself after the image of snakes, the red belly, the
then after the shape of hats,
from the flood pole to Victorian haymaker,
a rising bank of clay, or high water
through the gullet of the land...
with shovel
and wood beam,
with concrete, block and tar...
on a solid road he walked,
washed away he walked,
a sand bag along the tide of the broken...
a split beam to shore up
the cracked sun,
the earthic river,
all that’s gone and come to pass,
scattered across the back property,
a time begotten photo in the weathered clay...

where old Oconee sang of Ezra’s muddy knees
and his sometimes,
sad dark dreams...
over the score of time...
over lance and bullet,
lead, rope, blood and vengeance...

West Hale, December 4, 1921...
Sunday afternoon, surrounded by a lynch mob,
a finger of miles from Watkinsville,
they first torched his feet in a fire
to force out a garbled anguish,
an agony for mercy...
and then they shot him, many times dead—
Aaron Birdsong...
earlier that afternoon, 1921,
suspected of having entered a house
to attack a farmer’s wife and daughter,
riled up a lynch mob,
Sloan’s Mill,
in the gully,
their bullets ripping him to pain
in a frenzy of lung and nerve...
they shot him dead, dead, dead...
and that evening they burned his body in a fire
as if he might strike up alive and fly...
he who was spatteral
against the wood pile, the barn wall,
with darting eyes in that last chance,
who saw a guttural vision of escape,
a vision of death...
the cunning beast
hunted and burned,
mutilated by the riverside...

We can sense the blood in the smell the river,
we can walk the flooded waters
where old Oconee sang,
“I have eaten drowned bark
of fish scale and frog...
I have carried blood,
I have carried so much blood...”

and Ezra,
Ezra Oconee flashing like a red winged blackbird
prancing half-afloat among shoots of iron and steel...
with a song not to people, but to life, to birds...
just as pleased to sing to the weeds,
the road, the creekside...
bone or water, channel guide to the bottomlands
peep-frogs at night trading prowling songs...
whippoorwills upending the tense dark...
coyotes spontaneously creaturing, vocalizing
pack throats and open jaws of many bellies echoing...
Ezra of merging silt, skinny drift feather, bark beetle
gone down the river...

down the waters...
the Oconee joining the Ocmulgee to form the Altamaha to the Atlantic,
to the barnacles
a multitude of hands beneath high tide
grasping for a meal
where the sea meets the earth,
in the moon-pulled nape of the river, Oconee,
the gut,
the neck, the throat, Oconee,
the water moving on and through, Oconee,,,
the echoed song , Oconee, Oconee, Oconee…