December 2020 Poetry Feature: Denise Duhamel and Jeffrey Harrison

Poems by DENISE DUHAMEL and JEFFREY HARRISON

 

This month we welcome back longtime contributors Denise Duhamel and Jeffrey Harrison to our pages.

 

Table of Contents:

            Denise Duhamel
                        – 2020
                        – American Sestina, 2019

            Jeffrey Harrison
                        – The Mount

2020 

By Denise Duhamel

 

always sounded to me like a sci fi year
but now it is here with a pandemic predicted
by both scientists and sci fi. Where was I
when I was 20? I’d already been accepted
as an exchange student, taking my first plane ride
to London where I’d catch a train
to Wales. On that first flight, I sat next to a woman
in a shawl—how old was she? It’s hard to say.
I remember the shawl looked quite fancy
and expensive. She told me everything would be OK,
that she flew all the time, that she loved it.
Now that it’s 2020 I am too afraid to get on a plane,
even with the airline’s electrostatic disinfectant spray,
even with gloves and a mask. Back then
I’d borrowed luggage from my aunt, had traveler’s checks
pinned inside my bra and a ten-dollar American bill
hidden in my sneaker. Now we are told to use
touchless payments, dirty money no longer
just a metaphor. Twenty years after Wales
I’d be in a bad marriage and would soon learn
Three Dog Night was right. One is the loneliest number…
And two can be as bad as one. Now I am alone
in my apartment, with younger friends who grocery shop
for me because my asthma makes me vulnerable
to the coronavirus. In the year 2525 if man is still alive,
if woman can survive sang Zager and Evans
through the speakers of my little record player. Back then
the years started with 19 instead of 20,
when I was much less than twenty, when twenty
seemed grown up and far away. All of my grandnephews
were born in this century. I was born in the 1960s
and soon I will be 60 which once sounded very “old lady”
to me and now sounds young. I was born in 1961
and Madonna is now 61 with a 25-year-old boyfriend.
I know Madonna is not an attainable role model.
I don’t have a pool of background dancers
who want to date me. Now no one can really date anyway,
in the old-fashioned sense, though I suppose
two people could wear masks and walk six feet apart
which might have its own romantically-charged charms.
I once read an article that said marriage
should be renegotiated every anniversary,
each partner saying, “Okay, I’m game for another year
if you promise to help more with the laundry.” Or “I guess
this has run its course, but no hard feelings.”
How many years are wasted in bad marriages
as each person plots an escape? What if
you didn’t have to wait until that final straw? 
What if the initial straw was enough to suggest a pattern
and couples saw it before they really hated one another? 
What if the initial straw of a man running the government
was enough to know he wasn’t up for the job? 
What if we didn’t have to wait for an election
to say goodbye? Oh 2020, bring me wisdom
for I am an elder now and need to impart sage
to those around me, those beautiful 20-somethings,
at home where their futures must seem endangered
or working in hospitals ready to save my life.

 

AMERICAN SESTINA, 2019

By Denise Duhamel

 

Half of us enter a fugue state
while the other half try civil
disobedience. Shut your pie-
hole, we’re told when we contra-
dict the dick-in-chief who we suspect is a coke-
head or a mean dry drunk. The American

dream is burning like an orange American
cheese slice on a hotplate in a dorm room of a state
university. Not so long ago, Coke
wanted to teach the world to sing, a civil
jingle before the Reagan years and the Contra
affair, when we started to question our apple pie

innocence, the huge military slice of the economic pie
chart condemned by many Americans
who saw the folly of Vietnam. Contra-                                                           
band heroin, “blue magic,” made it back to states—                                                         
hidden, it was rumored, in soldiers’ coffins. Civil
rights activist Muhammad Ali spoke out against cocaine

in The Dope King’s Last Stand. A spokesman for Coca-
Cola, Toyota, and Gatorade, he was also a pi-
oneer of hip-hop. He used his poetry to fight for the civil
liberties of brown and black Americans,
as well as for people all over the globe. States-
man Cassius Clay died in 2016. In stark contrast

to a man with fake bone spurs, the boxer contra-
vened the draft as a conscientious objector, a Koko-
pelli of fertility rather than of death. Now the state  
of our union may be the state of our demise, a Pied
Piper Prez leading us all to drown in an American
dystopia—toddlers in cages at our border, civil-

ization itself in question. Another civil
war? Our prez race baits, contra-
factual statements he tweets like an American
psycho. Crack became more dangerous than coke
and now Oxy is more dangerous than both, our pie-
faced prez careening, we now guess, on Adderall. His state

dinner—Diet Coke to wash down the fried American
bald eagle he piously devours. Contra-
ry to what they say, my state of mind is the civilest (sic)!”

 

 

 

The Mount 

By Jeffrey Harrison

                                                            —June 2020, Lenox, Mass.

 

Did they think no one could see them?
True, the house itself was closed
due to coronavirus measures,
and while the grounds were open
there was hardly anyone around.
It could have been a hundred years ago,
Wharton herself looking down from the window
of her bedroom with an unobstructed view
into the walled Italian garden below,
where two figures were lying together
on a grassy section of the parterre,
moving strangely. And Henry James,
a frequent guest, strolling the garden
to puzzle through a scene in which
the “action” takes place in the minds
of the characters and everything depends
on the delicacy of what is said
and not said in oblique, tortuous reference
to something that may or may not
have happened offstage, earlier,
might have been startled to glimpse them,
as I was, through an arch in the stone wall,
essentially fucking with their clothes on,
the blue-jeaned ass of the one on top
moving up and down, pelvis cramming
noiselessly into the rump of the one
underneath, whose vacant eye
caught mine for an instant as I walked past,
while the jet of water in the fountain
endlessly sprang up and splashed.

 

 

 

Denise Duhamel’s most recent book of poetry is Second Story (Pittsburgh, 2021). Her other titles include Scald; Blowout; Ka-Ching!; Two and Two; Queen for a Day: Selected and New Poems; The Star-Spangled Banner; and Kinky. She and Maureen Seaton have co-authored four collections, the most recent of which is CAPRICE (Collaborations: Collected, Uncollected, and New) (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2015). And she and Julie Marie Wade co-authored The Unrhymables: Collaborations in Prose (Noctuary Press, 2019). Duhamel is a recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. She is a Distinguished University Professor in the MFA program at Florida International University in Miami.

 

Jeffrey Harrison’s sixth full-length book of poetry, Between Lakes, was published by Four Way Books in September 2020. His previous book, Into Daylight, won the Dorset Prize and was published by Tupelo Press in 2014. He has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the NEA, and his poems have appeared widely in magazines and anthologies, including Best American Poetry and The Pushcart Prize volumes. “The Mount” was written while he was in residence at Amy Clampitt’s house in Lenox, Mass., in June.

 

 

 

December 2020 Poetry Feature: Denise Duhamel and Jeffrey Harrison

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