They waited for the music on the radio
to stop and it did, though somehow a few
seconds passed before they noticed,
much the way a day ends with a silvering
gone gray, darkness a hand on the shoulder,
a hug: it sits with you filling the room
with its silence. The message that followed
was meant to soothe as it shocked, like
the end of a fairy tale whispered
to a child at the edge of sleep: Now.
And even for them, enlisted to a duty
they were old enough to love, even they
felt the feather blows of a dream, that hush
of breath that arrives like a breeze
through a window, a dry kiss, the ghost
already closing the door behind him.
She retrieved the small pistol from its
velvet sack in the bread box. He
fit barrel to stock and oiled
his grandfather’s rifle. There was time,
though quickly, to lick each other’s
closed eyes, a ritual of sorts, his sweat
on her tongue, the bitter taste of mascara
across his gums, a cocaine freeze.
Offshore, beyond the breakwater,
the pirate station ended its broadcast
and released a single horn blast, as if
entering a slender bank of fog: a decorative
blast for a quickly passing vapor.
And what followed was the rumble
of a thousand shoes on concrete.
He paused to let the cat in as she filled its dish
an extra inch, enough for days or forever:
who knew? Simply put, the long wait was over.
And as they began to run with half the town
toward the harbor and the congregation site,
he saw the bright dome of the capitol
ignite with sunset, its copper tiles aflame.
And he remembered four children long ago
on the municipal beach, his brother’s foot bandaged
in strands of jelly fish, one sister screaming
as the other continued digging, her plastic pail
filled with wet sand to drip into spires. The horizon
had seemed a botched watercolor of sun
over sea, a stain of orange that made the sky
a tissue torn with fire. He had run
for his mother with a joyful panic, knowing
his mission was of mercy, his brother’s pain as vast
and distant as the execution of innocents
witnessed from afar, a television flickering
in a peaceful land. As now he ran with his wife,
the rifle easy in his arms, their pockets
jingling with keys and coins, skeletons,
quarters and dimes they would melt into bullets.
James Harms was born in 1960 in Pasadena, California, where he lived for most of the first twenty-five years of his life. He did his undergraduate work at the University of Redlands then received an M.F.A. from Indiana University. He has taught at Denison University, East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania and West Virginia University, where he is currently Professor of English and director of the creative writing program.
His first book of poems, Modern Ocean, was published in 1992 by Carnegie Mellon University Press. He was awarded the PEN/Revson Fellowship for his second book, The Joy Addict, also published by Carnegie Mellon University Press (1998). A letterpress, limited edition book of poems, East of Avalon, was issued by Caddis Case Press in 2000, and a third full-length collection, Quarters, appeared in 2001 (Carnegie Mellon UP).