Marc Harshman






Credit: Cheryl Harshman




(prose poems)



Upon a table in the foyer sits a cobalt vase into which the tiny stones of dead stars are flowing. You can see, if you watch carefully, the ruffling of the shadows as they flicker past, their subtle disturbances of the universe.  And as they slip through the loose negligee of evening, the window opens a little further, a window heretofore gone unnoticed.  The atmosphere had been a pleasantly desultory one dominated by silver and china, flowers and fashion. The dinner conversation had stuttered forward in its familiar ways until an adventurous cat summoned the audience to the aforementioned foyer where it was found to be quite dead, pierced by an arrow of regret from the dowager who had fed it champagne instead of cream.  Serviettes were then dropped, hints, as well, and yet the canapés of courteous deference persevered and so preserved the ambience desired by their hosts.  Nonetheless, the assemblage felt an irresistible urge to gather around the vase which had continued to go mostly unnoticed but to which everyone felt an attraction despite their previous aversion to the topics at hand, boredom threatening to vanish into something more thrilling and sinister.  Closer — such delectable flirtation — closer.  Someone is holding hands.  Listen:  sizzlings in a cast iron skillet, whispers, lead angels dancing on the head of a pin, infinity singing only just this little bit out of tune.







When the organ’s crescendo ascends the high sanctuary, and the walls seem to shimmer with the glorious remembrance of battle, then you notice the little bat flit, for just a moment, out from the shadows, and then back again.  The stained glass grows dull.  Perhaps the cold front bearing its winter load of rain has arrived.  Someone is coughing.  Someone else, irritatingly, has re-opened their program, and you note again how loud words on paper can be when they are unwanted.  The composer’s name you have forgotten, but it’s o.k.  For a moment, just a moment, you had seen, could see over the hill to where the celebrations were begun.  She would be in the streets waiting, waiting to welcome them all, but especially you.  You had been brave.  Once upon a time the rains had held off, the mail come with dispatch bearing just the right message, and no shadows between yourself and your reward.  She would be holding a small, black handkerchief, lifting it up, ready to wave, ready to fly.  There would be a blessing in the Mary chapel of the south transept.  And did you notice to your right, behind the old woman in her cloche, the one who kept dabbing her eyes and whispering in French, did you notice the battered pew left over from the bombing in forty-one?  The dash of a shadow, the flutter of a woman’s promise – are these enough?  If you listen carefully you can almost hear the priest pronouncing the peace, joining their hands, celebrating.







On Tuesday evening the hotel ran up its white flag and gingerly stepped down from its seven storey perch upon the hillside and, undoing suspenders, loosening belts, flexing its windows and doors as if so many arms and legs, guided its cherished guests out onto the tightrope as ordered. And were these orders from gangs of children or the familiar monsters we prefer when the world falls apart?  No one tells.  The candelabra upon the cloudy ceilings were said to have wept transparent stilths of perfect tears.  Spirits assembled their murmuring curtains.  Among the regular guests surely some would understand this to be the performance of a lifetime, and such a view – Oh, look, Marge!  There’s the iron bridge with its little lights strung for Christmas – an audience without peer, an opportunity to sing for the masses before tomorrow rushes in with a million explanations for why it is they, the innocent, must be sacrificed.  All was moving that way, the clouds, the headlines, the crystal balls, and had not the hotel been such an old one with false closets and a plethora of ghosts upon whom one could depend for loyal discretion, the blood would have run in the usual direction.  But when the morning arrived, the bells un-rung, there was the Burgoyne back on its shelf above 23rd and Main, the only casualty a lovely woman who had once danced with princes on the Parthia.  And all agreed hers had been a sweet departure and some even were later to confirm having seen an angel snatch her to paradise as she toppled from that wire so carefully strung between the then and the now.






Genesis 6:4



The doors have grown wings, and to go from one room to the next demands lengthy preparation.   She must check the thermostat and feed the dogs; order a filter for the furnace and press her best suit.  She glances at her watch.  Timing is everything.  Another glass of the Merlot is ordered and the doctor summoned from the far reaches of this island upon which she remains stranded following last week’s adventure.  Then it was she had landed at the foot of the stairs without her map, and had sat dazed for what seemed like years, although the news still came on at six, and she remembered watching it again at eleven with few changes other than the faces.  “Why don’t any of them ever wear a hat?” she had asked.  But we didn’t know what to say.  We were not paying guests and had only arrived after the bridges had all been burned and the seas receded and the dove returned to its cage.  A little sad I thought it looked after having lived above it all for so long.  But then I am a little sad, myself, and I have not been here nearly as long as the regular boarders, the frightened giants and angels and forlorn looking daughters of men.







He could not go to the sky for words, nor did he try to open the lid of her hope chest – musty garters and torn lace, the flaking mucilage of old envelopes and the little pebblings from a determined mouse.   Nor did he try the keyboard where certain chords, fecund with memory, might have stirred a green rehearsal better for eulogizing March bereavements.  Still, the snowdrops stood.  They stood through grainy snow, stiff with their little bells, but there was no parade and the sun would not open them and so their clappers stayed silent though you could see that they were listening.   Perhaps, perhaps if the weather had been different, and certain clouds moved more quickly, and the one with the orange-flecked pompadour eased past that last oak above the house . . .   Well, then there might have been room for the sun to break through and for the dominoes of domestic destiny to have fallen into place.  The heavens would have had their say, and that box its revelation, and he would have here in his hands what he had wanted to offer ever since he went looking for her down that forgotten sentence where the lane ends in summer and words mount the graceful back of a Lughnasa sky.














Marc Harshman, West Virginia’s poet laureate, was born October 1, 1950, in Randolph County, Indiana. He received his bachelor’s degree from Bethany College and separate master’s degrees from Yale Divinity School and the University of Pittsburgh. Harshman began to write as a high school student and published his first poem while a student at Yale.

He is a storyteller and children’s author, as well as poet. His first book of poetry, Turning Out the Stones, was published in 1983. In 1989, Harshman’s first children’s book, A Little Excitement, was published. He has since published several other children’s books, including The Storm (1995), which was named a Smithsonian National Book for Children, and Only One Neighborhood (2007). Another of his books, Red Are the Apples (2001), was co-written with his wife, Cheryl Ryan Harshman, and he wrote Rocks in My Pocket (1991) with the late Doddridge County storyteller, Bonnie Collins. Marc Harshman, who lives in Wheeling, has also published two other collections of poetry. He says that living in West Virginia is important to his work: “I am the kind of writer who needs to know where the woods are and that there are good friends and neighbors nearby.”

Harshman taught for many years, first at the college level and then in grade schools. For a time he taught fifth and sixth grade at Sand Hill School in Marshall County, one of the last three-room schools in the state. He continues to visit schools and present workshops about writing.

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin named Marc Harshman the state poet laureate on May 18, 2012, following the death of Irene McKinney, who had served in the post since 1994. Harshman is the ninth person to serve as poet laureate since the position was established by the legislature in 1927.

This Article was written by Becky Calwell

Last Revised on August 27, 2013

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