Clarinda Harriss


Stooping, sweeping, trying not to bleed
you wonder how so much broken glass
could scatter from one shattered wineglass,
one dessert dish, and now (especially) one
freezer-safe bowl of summer gumbo.
Physics 101 or Geometry II might’ve
explained the many shards. Having studied
neither, you must find the answer among
your eighty years, your marriages, romances;
your children, grandchildren, their spouses
present or divorced.  You remind yourself
all shattered things fill a space larger than
themselves. More so if they’d been frozen.


The Boy in the Bovril Ad

I’d like to beat him up
I’d like to kill him
My children said back
when they were children
about the boy in the Bovril ad
I bought in a vintage shop
and framed in a bright red frame
to pick up the apples in his cheeks
and hung in the kitchen

Was it his huge blond head
his so-pleased-with-himself smile
the chest/belly he thrust out
(hands on hips in the classic
What A Big Boy Am I pose)
his little jumper
his teenytiny t-strap sandals?

l hate him too
come to think of it
little smirking Brit

but he looks good hanging
in the kitchen plus some
fifty years later
I think back to my children’s
passionate disgust
and start laughing
all over again
then I remember that
the real reason
we hated the Bovril boy
was he reminded us
of a real kid on the block
who tattled on everybody
and I feel a little bit bad
and I start laughing again
and wonder

what the Bovril boy
(little bratty tattling bastard)
says about my mothering


Les Chemises de la Melancolie–

–my nearsighted misreading, of course.
A friend emailed me a new poem,
its title repurposed from M. Furet’s
famous The Roads of Melancholy–
roads everybody has walked. As for

The Shirts of Melancholy, surely
all our closets are full of them.

Which shirt did my mother choose
for my father’s burial? I didn’t ask.
We are not an open-casket family.
My children cried quietly at the grave-
side service. My son wore a pink
Oxford button-down, abandoned

with all but his punk-rock shirts, when
he went away to college, med school,
marriage, et cetera. My daughter
and I tried it on. It reached our knees.
The seventeen-inch neckband of a wrestler
slipped to our shoulders. As a nightgown

it gave me worrisome dreams of my
far-away boy. Of how tiny my daughter is.

Today Furet’s book reminds me
of French Canada’s chemins de fer,
the railroads of my honeymoon, of
my new husband returning from the club
car with a giggling Quebecoise on his arm,

saying Why can’t you look like her?
And back home, why can’t you iron
my shirts right? Well, he’s gone where
I don’t need to fear him any more,

but black bile has rusted my chemise de fer.


The Gravity of Keys

The gravity of keys is highly specific.
Thank you in advance
for giving me to the keys to your city.
I promise to use them unwisely.
Most likely I’ll ditch them somewhere—
keys weigh you down dreadfully.
As for the keys to my own city
I lost them riding down Lovegrove Alley
between St. Paul and Charles in 1952
on the handlebars of Rafael Fiol’s bike.
I still have the keys to the Art Room
at my old high school, likewise the keys
to quite a few torn-down buildings.
I’ve got them hanging in the hallway
to keep the burglars from taking
the keys to my present and past cars.
I carry a single key in my pocketbook.
Oh do not ask what is it? Let us go
and maybe when we get back
somebody will be inside to open the door.

© Clarinda Harriss

Clarinda Harriss is a professor emerita of English at Towson University, She continues to serve as corporate president and editor-in-chief of BrickHouse Books, Inc., MD’s oldest literary press; to work with prison writers; to give free workshops at various venues; to boast two children and 5 grown-up grandchildren.  Her most recent poetry collection is Innumerable Moons, with illustrations by Peter Bruun; its theme is her recent 6 years of being the loving caretaker of an Alzheimer’s sufferer.

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