Going back to the river

Hi everyone,

Today I plan to add a few more paragraphs to my autobiography, a rather tedious work in progress with no end and no publisher yet in sight. Throughout my career I’ve published poems inspired by my own experiences growing up (we all do that), and on two previous occasions I’ve published collections of poems about various recollections. This one is in prose and includes much more about my life.

THE PURCHASE OF SMALL SECRETS was meant to share the musings of an introspective boy as he explored the world he lived in.

A Chip of Flint

See this?
Too thin
for an arrowhead.

Maybe a chip
from the weapon
being made
by a master craftsman,
flint in one hand
antler tip in the other,
strong wrists
fashioning
a new stone point.

Did he pause
in these woods
silent	alone
or was he surrounded
by chuckling comrades
who winked at secrets
as flint chips fell?

It doesn't matter
the chip was rejected
by the arrowhead.

I accept it
as a gift
from an unknown hand.
~ (c) 1988 David L. Harrison

CONNECTING DOTS invited the reader to connect the dots of my memories to form a clearer picture of how my life was shaped to become who I am.

I’m 15. My collections now fill one room in our house. The years of field trips and chance discoveries are adding up.

THE COLLECTOR

Mothballs?
Yes, that’s what you smell –
over here in my insect case.
They keep the beetles
from eating my bugs.

That musty smell?
You must mean bird wings
pinned to the wall.
Stand back some,
they’re not so bad.

A few little smells don’t bother me.
They’re worth the price
of actually owning a rattlesnake skin,
a crow’s nest,
a red fox hide I tanned myself.

I touch my treasures,
their fragrances perfume my room.
Their stories live again,
their memories sweeter.
~ (c) 2004 David L. Harrison 

So now I'm returning for a third time to the river of my life. I started the project a couple of years ago, imagining it as a play, but I decided that not even close friends and family could willingly sit through such drudgery. In the end I started over and am writing it as a sequence of moments and incidents that seem to me to have contributed to the making of a man who turned out to be a literacy advocate and writer of books and poems for young people. The journey has been long. I promise to make the book shorter. 

I wish you bright paint

Hi everyone,

Another day in National Poetry Month, another poem from the files. This one comes from CONNECTING DOTS, POEMS OF MY JOURNEY, my autobiographical collection published by Boyds Mills Press in 2004. It begins with one of my earliest memories, when I was four and got bitten by a dog, and ends with a poem about my parting wish for others.

The collection was an experiment in a couple of ways. At that time it was a bit unorthodox to place a brief description about each poem at the top of the page, and it was against traditional wisdom to write a book for young readers that spanned the life of the poet from age four to sixty-five. My editor for Connecting Dots, WENDY MURRAY, said then, and I think still believes, it’s the best book I’ve ever done. The cover photo is me at age four, the year I memorized the Gettysburg Address and recited it from memory on a stage at Grace Methodist Church, the place where I would marry SANDRA SUE KENNON eighteen years later.

Here's the final poem in the book, "I Wish You Bright Paint."

I’m 65. I sit here at my desk holding this poem -- the last dot in my picture -- and I wonder who will read it. To you, whoever you are, thank you. I wish you well.


WISHING YOU BRIGHT PAINT

Sometimes I feel --
I don’t know --
squeezed out
like a tube of toothpaste toward the end
rolled up tight against the cap
for a few last brushings.

But if I say the tube is paint
used in pictures of my life,
that makes me feel
I’ve accomplished something,
used the squeezes
to make things happen.
I like that better

So as we go on, you and I,
you to your life, me to mine,
I wish you tubes of bright paint
for all the pictures of your life.
Take off their caps,
squeeze them well,
keep painting.

(c) 2004 David L. Harrison
from CONNECTING DOTS, 2004

Last night’s reading

Hi everyone,

Last night I was one of a group of five poets who read from our work to recognize National Poetry Month. We met at Hold Fast Brewery in Springfield. It was a venue where I hadn’t been before. Here’s a shot of former Springfield Mayor ROBERT STEPHENS reading his work in partnership with Ozark Literacy Council to remind people of the importance of reading. There were many more people there than you see in the picture. We were outside so the wind was a small problem, as was the sun in my eyes when I was at the mike earlier, but not as bad as the time I read at a literature conference while standing atop the third-base dugout in the Springfield Cardinals baseball stadium on a gusty day that sent pages flying into the bleachers. Earlier that day I’d listened to BILLY COLLINS read from the same spot so I knew it could be done.

Last night I read from THE DIRT BOOK (And Now We Know), THE PURCHASE OF SMALL SECRETS (Cow Pie Jewels), BUGS, POEMS ABOUT CREEPING THINGS (A Tick’s Friends), CONNECTING DOTS (Something Happened Over Summer), and finished with the last poem in CONNECTING DOTS (Wishing You Bright Paint.) It’s a personal favorite of mine. Here it is.

WISHING YOU BRIGHT PAINT


Sometimes I feel --
I don’t know –
squeezed out
like a tube of toothpaste toward the end
rolled up tight against the cap
for a few last brushings.

But if I say the tube is paint
used in pictures of my life,
that makes me feel
I’ve accomplished something,
used the squeezes
to make things happen.
I like that better

So as we go on, you and I,
you to your life, me to mine,
I wish you tubes of bright paint
for all the pictures of your life.
Take off their caps,
squeeze them well,
keep painting.


(c) 2004 David L. Harrison, from Connecting Dots, Poems of My Journey

A Writer’s Prayer

Hi everyone,

Here’s one I did many years ago in a book called CONNECTING DOTS. It was a collection of autobiographical poems. “A Writer’s Prayer” is dedicated to everyone who may have at some point, past or present, felt this way.

I’m 28. Part of becoming a writer is being rejected by editors who don’t want your work. I’m learning that lesson all too well.

A WRITER’S PRAYER

Something happens in the US mail
that makes a story go stale
the same way drinks lose their fizz
after the party.

This effervesced when it was fresh
the day I sent it on its way.
Now it’s back like all the others —
stale, flat, boring.

Boring, that’s me.
Never going to get it right,
never will be good enough,
never going to be a writer.
Who am I kidding?

I mail my newest story off
like a prayer of hope –
This time, please, this time.

(c) 2004 David L. Harrison, all rights reserved

The price of chivalry

Hi everyone,

Big day for me tomorrow. The cyst comes out of my leg. It has been part of me since I was 12 or so. If you’ve been around me when I was wearing shorts, you’ve probably seen it. It’s hard to miss, and lately it seems to be growing a bit and taking on a slight discoloration.

I remember the day on the Pauly farm, just southeast of Springfield. Billy and I were setting out on some adventure or another, maybe headed toward the orchard, when his kid sister Nancy ran to catch up and beg to go along. Billy would have none of it and refused to help her over a barbwire fence in our path. As he scowled his disapproval, I reached down and helped her over the fence, and in the process cut my leg. It bled and eventually healed but some foreign object that remained in the wound, a flake of rust perhaps, remained behind and caused a little bump to remind me of the occasion.

When we were older, Billy and I attended Jarrett Junior High School in Springfield and there we drifted away from the close friendship of our younger days. I wrote a poem about it in CONNECTING DOTS.

Hey

At lunch today I see Billy.
“Hey,” we say.
“How’s it going?”
We don’t stop to say more.
Can’t think of anything.

From third grade on
we were best friends,
sleeping over
at each other’s house.

Rode horses,
teased his sister . . .
I think of the night
we laughed so hard
he fell out of bed.

Now he’s in homeroom 106,
I’m in 107.
And all we can say,
when we meet at lunch is,
“Hey, how’s it going?”

(c) 2004 David L. Harrison, all rights reserved

After high school I never saw Billy again. Not many years after that, in a town in Mississippi, he died alone one night in a car wreck. But I still have a treasure of rich memories and, until tomorrow, the cyst on my leg.