27 Mackay Avenue, Paramus
I haven’t been inside since 1980,
last drove by, slowly, in 2003.
Two vans parked where the cherry tree
once stood. The rose bed gone. That oak
towering from the lawn, I remember
I had to be careful not to damage
when I mowed. The Lombardy poplars gone,
but they don’t live long, not even as long
as people. I helped to plant them.
sold the house in Eighty-one, soon after
my father’s estate settled. New owners,
new visions. You can strip the ivy
off the brick, but I will remember.
Alaskans might quibble, but in 1890
the Census Bureau announced the closing
of the American frontier. Frederick Turner,
pioneering historian, described the frontier
as the engine of democracy, home to misfits
and malcontents, anyone who resisted
arbitrary orders. Any orders, really.
Any dry-goods clerk in Brooklyn could
strap on a gun and go West, become
a rancher, outlaw, or mayor. Find new
names, new ways of being, new ways of being
people inside or outside of society. And then
there was no place beyond the old rules.
All that energy! – the tinkerer’s gift for
self-invention abruptly straitjacketed.
America is not a dream; it’s an explosion.
The energy blew out at San Juan Hill and Manila Bay,
the Grange and the Chautauqua tent,
Jane Addams and John D. Rockefeller
and Sacco and Vanzetti.
It took a century to quell that hot urge, to shunt it
away from shaping new forms out of nothing
to breaking the old norms of politics, decorum,
of who we are and who we want to be.
The American explosion finds a way
to blow up what is old, even when that old
My view fixed on the highway ahead
I do not see the cactus or the herd of elk
my wife and daughter point out.
To an Easterner this land between Albuquerque
and Santa Fe is empty. Sometimes a house,
a gas station, once a casino, but empty.
Small signs along the road, speed limits
mile markers, elk crossings, Sandia.
I’ve heard of the lab, don’t know it is behind me,
in Albuquerque. Then San Felipe, and more,
pointing off the interstate to Santa Ana and Zia.
Not towns, I realize, but peoples, small nations,
in the not-so-empty desert, whose ancient land
we are speeding across.
I am a foreigner for forty miles.
One of my own two nations, Israel, predates me
by a few years, or a few thousand, ringed
always by powerful enemies. Rome, Babylon,
the U.S. Cavalry, different wolves
for different moments. Some still believe
the Sandia are my cousins, lost tribes
displaced by the Assyrians. Cousins, at least,
in a history of disposession.
The Friary, Garrison, NY
Small dog, just darker than the snow,
porpoising over and through the drifts,
leaving a giant’s footprints.
Winter birds pause in forage;
a man muddles the tracks.
© David M. Harris
Until 2003, David M. Harris had never lived more than fifty miles from New York City. Since then he has moved to Tennessee, acquired a daughter and a classic MG, and gotten serious about poetry. His work has appeared in Pirene’s Fountain (and in First Water, the Best of Pirene’s Fountain anthology), Gargoyle, The Labletter, The Pedestal, and other places. His first collection of poetry, The Review Mirror, was published by Unsolicited Press in 2013.