Winter 2009 - THE POTOMAC

Two Poems
   Clarinda Harriss

Waverly Farmers’ Market
   after Wallace Stevens’ "The Snowman"


One must have a mind of paper
to regard the dirty paper and the dead soldiers’
crushed glitter, white and brown, on dirty 33rd Street
and have seen a lot of trash
to look down at the brown gutter water, the floating
rinds of grey hamburgers still in their paper
under the Baltimore sun; and not to think
of misery in the rustling of the trash,
in the sound of blighted chestnut leaves,
“which is the sound of the city
full of the same wind
that is blowing in the same” crowded place
for the listener who listens to the trash blowing,
and, breathing the dirty air, hears
something that is not there and something that is.


One must have a mind of summer
to look at the corn squash zinnias and huge
red dahlias, wet with morning,

“and have been cold a long time”
to wash the heat and dirt over her face her hips
and tango hot in a head

of mesclun imaginings: Italian eggplant,
carrots fat and yellow with winter coming
like the sun coming down to take on all

comers, and to think
of the juice running in the sound of Jones Falls
as it moseys down to the downtown city

sewers, which is the sound of the city
full of the same sweet dirty juice
running through all the deep pipes of all the city

“for the listener who listens” in the heat
for the dark flowers and, as a weed of the city, flowers
with the flowers there and the flowers gone to trash.

The Shoe Museum

You are entering the shoe exhibit. (You will get used
to the ammoniac smell. It is how you can tell
that humans have lived in the things that live here.)

Immediately in front of you are the Seasonals,
bright pink and green plastics with ribbons
and straw. Straw, you will recall,

is a staple of all civilizations, without which
bricks would crumble. On your right, in the light
of a fluorescent sun, stretch Off-Seasons

as far as the eye can see: here, boots from the skin
of steer, pony, snake, goat, deer; rubber boots
of interest primarily for the mud stuck in their soles;

over here, glitter-shoes on stilts for ceremonies
of hunting, mating, rituals to bring in the New Year.
A group called “mules.” We cannot explain the feathers.

To your left, the Obsolete. (Your eyes will adjust
to the crepuscule. Note: the smell is negligible now.)
Observe, if you can, how straw was used

to wrap the insteps and shins of field workers
(though they bled, nevertheless; see the black stains)
and to stoke flames under witches’ iron sandals.

Far back, where the light fails, the Ancients: some
shreds of skin, translucent and so delicate your breath—
a thousand years away—makes them waver

on the draftless air. These are the soles of women
who grew their own shoes and, in them, ran,
hunted, gardened, stamped, and (some think) danced.

Thus, as we come out again to see the light,
you will notice heaps of pink and green vinyl flip-flops,
circa now, kicked off in Africa when earth quaked,

a half-wild cow had to be chased, or mud
swelled to meet a heavy rain. You will see the exit
just ahead. Sun lights the revolving door.

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