Two Poems by John Harlan Underhill

By JOHN HARLAN UNDERHILL

Spider web with light shining through it

Ann Arbor, Michigan

Following his 60th class reunion at Amherst College in 2017, Harlan Underhill scripted a virtual diary in poetry, communicating over 200 entries to several fortunate classmates. The poems illuminate both immediate and past experiences and observations, memories both cherished and painful. These two poems are drawn from that collection.

 

ECLIPSE

The black dragon death moon
For two minutes ate the sun today
But her burning shadow ejected it
And as fast as she ate, she ran away.

I wore my fluorescent yellow shirt
To impersonate the flaring one
To outface depression’s eclipse
To declare I am not yet done.

My Shadow is within me instead.
It too burns the vitals of my heart
But I must learn to know him, or
Like a swallowed rat, he’ll eat me dead.

21 August 2017

 

 

REFITTING

It’s as if the hull
Of one’s sailing ship
Suddenly disappeared
Leaving the sails

And rigging suspended
Over the sea still drawing
But with nothing left
To propel. So her death.

No purpose any more
For one’s ropes and spars
Masts and gear.
What they served is gone

As if to another dimension
In a magic flash of vanishing
And invisibility. It was she
Both the cargo’s hold and gold.

I just a spider web of silk
Designed to catch the breeze.
Do I just splash useless now,
Floating idle jetsam on the sea?

Or is there some way to refit
The cables, blocks, and sails
To some drifting disabled barque
So both get home safe before dark.

On the horizon I see no such opportunity,
Nor truly do I want to be so ancillary again.
I want the sails to grow planks self-assembling
Into my own swift craft, full rigged to run

Bow pointed toward the rising sun,
Presently superfluous cordage neatly coiled,
Unused sails well-reefed to spare spars
As I sail to new lands guided by new stars.

30 January 2018

 

John Harlan Underhill (1935-2020) enjoyed a forty-two-year teaching career in college and high school, thirty-three of them as English Department Chair at Greenhills School in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He was also a co-founder of the Acorn Glen Center for Self-Directed Learning in Ann Arbor and taught literature, government, and geometry at Adventurers Homeschool Cooperative in Ypsilanti, Michigan. After retirement from Greenhills he was the Director and Advisor of the Drama Club at Washtenaw International High School, an International Baccalaureate school in Ypsilanti, Michigan. In 2014 he assembled his stories of the adventures of the elf Morduc, published as his novel, Lords of Kerballa. He earned a BA in English from Amherst College (1957), and an MA and Ed.D. in English from the University of Michigan.

Photo by Pexels user chivozol.

Two Poems by John Harlan Underhill

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