Another dirt poem

Hi everyone,

I keep thinking of previous dirt poems I’ve published over the years. Here’s one that appeared in THE PURCHASE OF SMALL SECRETS, a Wordsong book by Boyds Mills Press in 1998.


What creature
tilled the grass
to tunnel here?

A hole in the ground
always makes me wonder. 

Is this one empty,
choked with dirt
that trickles through the roof
and rattles down abandoned halls?

Or is something there,
heart pounding,
sniffing me
down in the dark?

A hole in the ground
always makes me wonder.

(c) 1998 David L. Harrison, all rights reserved

Meryl, who has illustrated as many books as I've written, was asked for a cover design to meet the catalog deadline. I don't think she'd seen the manuscript yet because when I saw it, I loved the picture but pointed out to my editor that the cover showed a girl and I was a boy. After some quick tweaking, the cover character turned into a boy. But waste not, want not. The original cover character, altered just enough, appeared on the last page of the finished book.  

The Purchase of Small Secrets

Hi everyone,

As you may recall, I’m investing far too much time tracking down my published poetry. I hope to finish next week. I’m enjoying discovering some poems that haven’t surfaced in a while. I’m reminded that not every poem is destined for the poetry hall of fame, but some seem pretty good. I don’t know what my average is but I’m not too disappointed. Here’s one I still like.

the beast paused here
where I stand,
raised its great head,
sniffed for danger
or food,
moved on,

Leaving in the clay
a single footprint
to prove it was here.

I stand where it stood,
look where it looked,
and wonder
what I can do
to leave a footprint
to prove I was here.

(c) Boyds Mills Press, 1998
By permission of the author

A pleasant reminder

Hi everyone,

Yesterday I received a nice note from Chong Yiu Hei Yom, a reader in Hong Kong about a poem of mine from THE PURCHASE OF SMALL SECRETS that appears in a textbook there. It’s called “Leaving Corky” and I talked about it in 2012. Here’s the link to that post. .
I seem to be on a dog and cat roll this week. Well, that and spiders of course. I’m glad to know that my memory-based poem about the day I had to leave my cat is still alive and well in another part of the world. Corky always did get around. I’m grateful to Chong Yiu Hei Yom for letting me know.

FYI, today I’m not working on dogs or cats or spiders. Today it’s the king cobra. More about that some other time.

How about some blank verse?

Hi everyone,

When was the last time you wrote a poem in blank verse? That’s unrhymed iambic pentameter (five stressed syllables per line). Shakespeare wrote miles of it in his works.

ta DA ta DA ta DA ta DA to DA

Here’s one of mine from THE PURCHASE OF SMALL SECRETS, published by Boyds Mills Press in 1998. It’s a memory-based poem about the time I went with two friends on horses to search for an old man who had disappeared from his farm. We were twelve.

Old Man McGrew
by David L. Harrison

I’ve never seen old man McGrew in person.
(People call him that behind his back.)
There’s also lots of other stuff they call him
Like bony, crooked, grizzled, stubborn, gruff . . .

And poor! They say he lives on cans of dog food!
Maybe it’s true he’s crazy. Who could tell?

Well now he’s wandered off or something’s happened
And a manhunt’s on to find old man McGrew.

Dick said, “Open some dog food, he’ll come running.”
But it won’t be funny if someone finds him dead.

P.S. We didn’t find Mr. McGrew but someone else did. He was sitting on a riverbank, fishing.

Leaving Corky

Hi everyone,

A few days ago I received the pleasant news that a poem of mine, “Leaving Corky,” is being used by Pearson Education Asia in an upcoming English language textbook in Hong Kong. The poem originally appeared in THE PURCHASE OF SMALL SECRETS, published in 1998 by Boyds Mills Press. Later on Sandy Asher included it in her play inspired by my poetry, SOMEBODY CATCH MY HOMEWORK.

A few years later Boyds Mills published my autobiographical collection of poetry, CONNECTING DOTS, but SECRETS came first and held some of my strongest memories. Corky was my cat. Even as a kitten it was a scratcher of arms and biter of hands but we bonded anyway, in the way a boy can still love a pet that plays rough one minutes then rolls over for a tummy rub the next.

Corky grew up to be a tough cat. We lived outside the city in a small cottage on a farm. Corky and I had plenty of space to explore and investigate, but I did my roaming by day and he pursued his interests in the dark world of the night. As time passed, Corky fell into the habit of staying away for a day or two, then a week, if he felt like it. I always worried about him and would stand at the edge of the pasture behind our house, calling his name in my high pitched nine-year-old voice. “Corky! Here kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty!”

Sometimes he would come when I called. He often showed signs of a fight. He would be missing a patch of fur. His face would be slashed. He might be limping. After a few days of loafing while he healed, off he would go again.

After two winters in the little house, my dad found something better. The wind didn’t whistle in under the door or around the windows, I would have my own bedroom instead of sharing the same room with my parents, and we would have an indoor bathroom. I was thrilled. Except for one huge worry. Corky was off on another of his extended stays and I was afraid that he would come home one day soon and not know where we had gone.

Moving day arrived. We loaded our belongings into our car and made a few trips to the new house. It didn’t take many. Finally, we were ready to leave with the last load. This was it. Mom was already in the car. Dad was behind the wheel. I stood at the edge of the pasture and called for Corky. I turned in slow circles and called him in every direction. I just knew he would suddenly appear and everything would be okay. But he didn’t come. That’s what this poem is about.

David L. Harrison

I stand with the car door open.
“Corky!” I call out across the fields.
“Here kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty!”

“Time to go.”
Dad’s voice is quiet.

“Just one more hour,” I beg.

“He’s been gone a month already,” he says.
“Probably chewed up again.”

The car eases down the dirt drive.
I stare out the window,
leaving a mind trail,
but in my heart I know.

I’ll never see him again,
never know if he’s alive,
never be able to explain.

Leaving Corky,
I’m too sad to cry.

THE PURCHASE OF SMALL SECRETS has been out of print for years but sometimes you can find a used copy. Here’s a link to