home table of contents richard harter email
main poetry page morning songs interlude evening verse
collected sonnets zhandivar The Raven King Keeper
Wild Flowers

Evening Verse

In 1996 I started a web site with the intent, among other things, of gathering together my collected writings which had appeared in various informal venues. As part of this project I decided to devote a page to the poetry I had written when I was young. One of the by products was that I started writing poetry again. In this page you will find my recent poetry.

There are, I suppose, differences between what one does in youth and what one does in age. The interested reader may wish to compare styles and content with a view to producing the usual critical analysis, although the captious critic will no doubt insist that a comparison is pointless, both being equally bad. To him I say “Fie!” and likewise “Pooh”.

Each poem is preceded by a comment, a moment of criticism or explanation. It is one of the follies of age that you can no longer simply declaim without the urge to explicate. The poems themselves, by the way, should be read aloud — poetry is meant for the ear as well as for the eye.

My poems are commoners; they have no titles. There is an index of first lines if you want to skip around.


George Orwell wrote of Kipling that he was a good “bad poet” who had the gift of writing exquisitely appropriate lines for commonplace occasions. The first line of this poem is pure gold — fool’s gold, perhaps — but pure gold none the less.

I spent my youth on growing old
To live a tale that now is told
The years I spent, they were not lost
Life itself was worth the cost.

The usenet is infested with irritating fools whose twitterings invite rebuke. The temptation to reply in kind should be resisted. Here are a few lines to explain why.

When a poster won’t behave
Put that poster in the grave.
Kill him quick for life is short.
Silence is the best retort.

This isn’t a narrative poem but it does tell a story and one with a snapper. Is it autobiographical? A little bit but only a little bit; it’s a universal story.

I was in the mall the other day
When I saw a face across the way,
A face I thought I’d seen before
As I walked from store to store.

I stopped a bit and grabbed a seat.
I settled down to rest my feet
And watch the people passing by,
When I thought of Her and wondered why.

I have no wife; I never wed;
I sleep alone in a single bed.
That suits me well but now and then
I muse upon what might have been.

People ask “Why do you live apart?
Have you never had affairs of heart?”
The answer’s simple if truth be known
I loved but once and once alone.

We were young and life was new
Her love failed and mine stayed true
And when she left and went her way
What I had felt remained to stay.

I did not choose to have it so
Until I loved I did not know
That no other love could take her place
That no other woman had her face.

From time to time our paths would cross
And thus renew remembered loss.
The slightest view, I’d know ’twas she
Her laugh, her face were part of me.

Her face was one I’ll not forget
I loved her then; I love her yet.
But the face I knew, it must be gone,
The bloom of youth is of the dawn.

All of that was long ago
And where she is I do not know.
It’s been years since I’ve seen her last
That love I lost, it’s in the past.

It matters not what went before
Lost loves, who cares, my feet were sore
And so I sat in that market place
And wondered where I’d seen that face.

Michener begins Hawaii with the haunting tale of a volcanic island that is born, blooms in heart breaking beauty, and then erodes away, all before man, all before there was an eye to see.

An island there was that rose from the deep
Its mountains were high, its gorges were steep.
It was infested with life, that beautiful isle,
But it never was marked by a human smile.

The flowers did bloom with nobody there.
They spent their perfume on the tropical air.
And no one did see what beauty can be.
That island is gone; it returned to the sea.

A romantic young fool once wrote a poem entitled I Hate Man, a diatribe against the human race. He was a fool, for when one has plumbed the depths of humanity’s inhumanity one cannot hate or even pretend to hate; one can only cry. That fool was I.

I have debts that must be paid
And ancient ghosts that must be laid
Of things undone that I must do
Unfinished tasks to settle true.

When I was young I wrote a verse
That laid on Man my solemn curse
I did indict the human race
And claimed as Hell its proper place.

I wrote that verse half in fun
A paltry thing I’d left undone
My duty clear, it seemed to me
Was to write that poem as it ought to be,

To write with all the poets skill
To call the roll of beasts that kill,
To capture evil in clever rhyme
To chronicle in verse all human crime.

So I did search the human blight
To choose the crimes on which to write
And what I saw, it struck me dumb.
The words I need, they will not come.

When heretics and witches burn
What clever phrases must I turn?
What words to choose, I do not know
When cities die in a single blow.

When Dahmer killed and ate the young
In what round tones should his name be sung?
What should those horrid beasts be called
That burned the Jews at Buchenwald?

When there is no end to human hate
When endless torture does not sate
When the dead do cry but not in song
How can I sing of human wrong?

There are ghosts that cannot be laid.
There are debts that cannot be paid.
When I survey the human blight
There are poems I cannot write.

This is a poem for our age. I may rewrite it. The image I wanted to capture is simple enough, that of people living behind their computer screens while life goes on outside their electronic world. Within that world they reach out as people do to touch, to communicate, to love. Could that image be sharper and brighter? Perhaps.

The sun shone bright; the flowers bloomed
As she sat behind a glowing screen.
The thunder crashed, the lightning flashed
As he sat behind a glowing screen.

And she wrote and touched another as she wrote
And he wrote and touched another as he wrote
And love did flare and love did die
And life went on behind a glowing screen.

This is a sardonic commentary on the originality and quality of my writing. It is a treasure trove of stolen lines. See Kipling for Tomlinson.

A poet’s poet I sought to be
To place my mark on eternity
But of myself, there’s nothing there
It’s all imitation, that beauty fair
My originality is but a sham
And the mirror tells me who I am
— Tomlinson

The clown that capers and sheds a tear
The moor that’s dark, dank and drear
Whose words these are I do not know
But they are not mine, even so
A hollow man, I sit to write
With stolen words that do delight
— Tomlinson

When I travel on lonely roads
To compose pindaric odes
My search for novelty is in vain
For rose-red cities haunt my brain
The words I need; they will not come
The words I use; they are from
— Tomlinson

This is a little haiku composed in comment on the talk.origins newsgroup

A whale dies
In darkened depths
Hagfish feed

I tossed this off as a commentary on someone who saw no poetry in paleontology.

I went into the dead lands of the West
In search of treasures that do not glitter
Nor sparkle in the sun. It was not gold I sought.
No, it was bones, ancient bones, fragments left
By beasts long gone that I sought and found.
I prised them out of their native rock and scanned
Them all with tools of subtle science and thought,
That I might divine their tale done so long ago.
And I said to a man, a poet was he, behold these works,
Listen to the tale told by the bones in the stone.
Here are the bones of ancient kings,
Giant beasts that shook the world.
By this subtle clue and that subtle sign
I do deduce
That this is how they walked
And that is how they ate,
And this is how they lived
And that is how they died.
The man said to me, a poet was he, how drear.
Tis paleontology you have, no poetry here,
No beautiful rhyme, no classical theme,
No humanist thought, no literary scheme.
Tis only science and moldering bones.
He went his way and wrote his works of
Eldritch beauty chained in clever words.
And I, no poet I, wrote naught but only wept
For the man who only saw bones.

This is not Leaf by Niggle. Nothing is. But then, that’s what the poem is about, among other things.

As I walked upon my way
My heart was bleak as autumn’s day.
My eyes were closed with ancient grief
Until by chance I saw a leaf.
Twas only one like a thousand more
Of fallen leaves I’d seen before,
Its colors bright in orange and gold
All dressed in hues for death by cold.
This, I thought, was life to me,
First green, then gold, then eternity.
For beauty’s moment precedes the dust
That life does give in trade for trust.
Thus I spoke in tones of grief
As I eyed that fallen leaf.
I stared it down with sullen eyes
And thought myself rather wise.
But the Sun did shine and cast its light.
Twas autumn’s day and not the night.
The eyes I’d shut, they opened wide
For beauty’s truth, it does abide.
Beauty’s moment does not last.
Each leaf that falls, falls in the past.
But though they fall, still life goes on.
For Winter’s night precedes the dawn.
From ice and cold there comes the spring
With beauty new that flowers bring.
Where leaves did fall, new leaves return
To glow in green and then to burn.
But tomorrow’s spring is not today
And that which was is far away.
The moment now is what must be.
And beauty lives in the leaf you see.

This is not my usual sort of poem – at least I don’t think it is. It was inspired by a rather pretty paragraph in a letter from a friend. I intended to cast the paragraph as a poem. It wandered off and did something entirely different.

Heather ale and witches three
Oh, what mad poet must I be
That witches broth and heather ale
Must bind together in my tale
The hound that howls in darkling glen
Will bare his teeth in verse again
The landlord locks the oaken door
Lest witches three be witches four
The poets word calls forth the knight
Who in the darkness does delight
In deeds that all good men do fear
As nature raw comes too near
The elven lords are on the hunt
And reason sweet must bear the brunt
Of madness mixed in verse and life
When prose and poet meet in strife
The oaken door is barred tonight
The tavern glooms in failed light
And the poet hears the witches wail
As he sips his heather ale

The dreamer dreams or something like that. When one has lived in the prairies one has a consciousness of the land being bigger and older than human beings.

The ice winds blew from out of the North
And mammoths dreamed of tundra bare
Then ice walls fell and hunters came
To hunt the beasts that filled the land
Those giant beasts left giant bones
And mammoth dreams were dreamed no more.
The grass grew high and the grass grew wide
And bison dreamed of warmer lands
Where thunder herds could eat their fill
In endless seas of prairie grass.
Then hunters came and rifles spoke
And bison dreams were dreamed no more.
The grass grew high and the grass grew wide
And cattle dreamed of prairie grass,
No longer free but rancher owned
And raised to feed the human horde.
Then settlers came and broke the sod
And cattle dreams were dreamed no more.
The plow came in and the grass went out
And farmers dreamed of raising crops
Of corn and wheat and other grains
In turn to feed the human horde.
The land knows not who next will come
When farmer dreams are dreamed no more.
Mammoths, bison, cattle, all,
Each a lord of the dreaming earth.
They came, they went, they dreamed, they died.
Their time was short. The land’s is long.
The land endures. Its dreams will last
When other dreams are dreamed no more.

This ought to be two verses from a long didactic poem. It’s only two verses. So sue me.

Father, Father, whom shall I wed?
Who will share my unwarmed bed?
Father, Father, I burn with lust
Who is the lass that I shall trust?
Be not so eager, my only son;
Married life is more than fun
Choose wisely, son, or not at all.
There’s more to love than nature’s call

As part of my celebration of the Christmas season I decided to write a religious poem. Oh dear, I seem to have picked the wrong religion.

A coiled serpent in the stone,
His crystal lace encased in bone,
Wept tears of blood upon demand
To feed the Earth beneath the land.
The night that falls, it fell at noon;
The blades beseeched a feathered boon.
The seasons turn, the living die
To sate the Sun beneath the sky.

Almost all fossils lie buried until, by chance, they are exposed by erosion. Once exposed they usually are quickly eroded away. The history of all life is continually eaten away without our knowledge.

One hundred million years ago
A lord of beasts ruled the land
He lived, he killed, he ate, he died
And left his corpse to history

His fellow beasts, the killer kings
Had done the same. Their bones were stripped
By scavengers and disappeared.
No trace was left. Their time had gone.

By chance his bones were buried first
Before the hand of time could steal
The last, dead trace of that which was
And, buried, they lay beneath the Earth.

The waters flowed and inch by inch
A quilt of silt was laid upon
The bones that lay beneath the Earth.
Unseen, unknown, they turned to stone.

The restless Earth reworked itself.
The world changed and changed again.
Mountains rose and mountains fell
And the land that Was was no more.

In all this time and all this change
The silent tomb within the stone
Was undisturbed. It kept his bones
Preserved, a token of the ancient past.

Until at last the restless Earth
Unveiled the tomb of the killer beast.
The hard rains fell, the hard winds blew
And scoured free that ancient tomb.

The fragile bones within the stone
Lay bare and open to the Sun.
The rain and wind, they ate those bones
And a hundred million years were gone.


Unrequited love makes for fine mushy poetry. A poet should have the grace to claim an unhappy love life irrespective of the truth.

I sought her love and wooed her well
With verse and song and flowered wreath
And loved her more than I can tell
And walked with her upon the heath.

I touched her hand, I touched her heart
With word and deed in earnest dream
That we might never be apart
Forever wed in love supreme.

She cried some tears and said to me,
“I have no love I can return.
The troth you wish, it cannot be.
The flame you seek, it cannot burn.”

I kept my peace and said to her,
“Fear not my dear, I understand.
So think of me as your brother,
Affection pure makes no demand.”

She went her way and I went mine
To part as friends in sweet delight.
Of blighted love I gave no sign
Save tears I wept throughout the night.


This is a small reflection on mortality. The unseen stone is the gravestone that rests at the end of the road of life. “the East that was” is the dawn, i.e., birth. “the West to come” is the setting sun, i.e., death. The explanation is longer than the poem.

The unseen stone lies on the road;
Its shadow falls upon the crib.
The summer lands lie inbetween
The East that was, the West to come.

Within the old man sitting on a bench is the youth that once was, separated from both of us by decades of life.

“Speak to me of times gone by.”
I said to the man on the bench.
He was old, that man on the bench –
Shriveled and old with wrinkled skin.

He dozed in the Sun, half awake,
A remnant from another day
His time of deeds was over now
The time of dreams enveloped him.

“When you were young as I am now,
How did you live and how did you love?
What is it like when open farms
Still stood instead of city blocks?”

“What was it like when horses served
Where automobiles now course the roads,
When television didn’t exist?
Tell me, old man, what was it like?”

“How did you love and how did you live
When your muscles were strong
And your limbs were sound?
Speak to me and tell me how it was.”

He looked at me and spat on the walk
And smiled as though it were work.
“I remember,” he said, “I remember”
And he shut his eyes and dozed in the Sun.


This is, of course, an adaptation of Tolkien’s famous verse from the Lord of the Rings. It is a gibe at one of the contributors who is famed for his lists of those who are malefactors according to his idiosyncratic views.

Three lists for evolutionists under the sky
Seven for the creationists with their heads of stone
Nine for the lurkers doomed to cry
One for the List Lord on his dark throne

In talk.origins where the posters lie
One list to rule them all, one list to name them
One list to bring them all and in the darkness blame them.
In talk.origins where the posters lie


This is a medley of themes about horses, youth gone by, the West, mythical and real, and impossibities never to be realized.

The horseless man is incomplete;
He doesn’t know the unity
That’s shared between the men and beasts
Who ride the range and eat the wind.

The place and time where I grew up
Is far away and long ago.
The land was wide and people scarce
No city ways were there for me.

I rode a horse when I was three
And drove the cattle in my youth
I went by horse to country school
To learn from books by way of grass.

I knew my horse; I loved my horse
He gave his back; I gave him food
And shelter from the winter storms
The horse and I were friends, and yet …

I never knew a maverick
A horse that ran forever free,
Who never felt the bridle’s touch
Or had a saddle on his back.

My horse and I were in between
The wild that was, the town to be,
The city ways have claimed my soul
And I shall never be …
A maverick.


They say you can’t go home again. Tis true and yet it is not. The past is gone, never to return, and yet it remains within us. Each of us has our own unreclaimable past. For some it is starker than for others.

The empty land is filled with grass.
A tumbled stone or two remains
Of that which was, the child’s home,
The house that stood upon the plains.

The trees that grew are broken stumps
The gates, the fence, the barn and all
The buildings where the children played
Are gone to grass and grass alone.

The pile of lumber weathered gray
Is gone as though it never were.
The garden where the veggies grew
Is grassy land with all the rest.

A granary stood, a barn and more,
Each with roofs where children ran.
The thousand places that they knew
Were burned into their memory.

All gone. All gone. Nothing now is left
Save memories in some aging minds
That see the past in empty grass,
A past that was and is no more.


In early spring, before the leaves bud out, the trees and bushes put out their flowers. Some are showy but most are quite restrained. The great grey branches acquire a floral nimbus, barely seen, that heralds the leafy green to come.

All dirty gray, bereft of leaves,
The fractal fragments cut the sky,
As barren now as they had been
Through all the days of winter’s death.

The frost is gone; the snow is melt.
The time has come for luscious green,
For endless leaves to fill the sky
Through all the days of summer’s life.

Not yet! Not Yet! A moment first!
For life has needs that must be met.
Each living thing before its death
Must sow the seeds of life renewed.

When winter’s done and and barely dead
Some colors creep along the gray,
A tinge of browns and yellowed greens,
On branches not yet flush with leaves.

A tree must make tomorrow’s trees.
The tiny flowers must have their turn
To wash the sky with colored life
While trees prepare to milk the sun.

There is a time before the dawn
A subtle time of fading dark,
A time of skies in pastel hues
Before the blatant sun of day.

And so it is in early spring,
A subtle time of fading gray,
A time of flowers in the trees
Before the blatant green of leaves.


There is a famous poem which affirms that “When I am old I shall wear a purple dress.” It’s a thought I like to play with.

She was old.
She wore a purple dress,
The Scandal of the neighbourhood.
And so it is with women;
The young must pay
Beauty’s price.
They must obey
Grundy’s law.
The old are free
To wear a purple dress.

He was old,
A dirty old man.
They all are, you know.
He never wore a purple dress.
It’s different with men.
They grumble a lot
And they never wear a purple dress.

I read to her the poem you see
And this is what she said to me,
“I saw a man the other day
Who wore a purple dress.
It really was a sight to see.”
I smiled a bit
And kept my peace
And thought to myself,
“I shall NEVER wear a purple dress.”


Poetry is often subject to a certain amount of difference in interpretation; this poem is a trenchant comment on the phenomenon.

The maiden cried when she read the poem
The pedant sighed when he explained the poem
The poet lied when he wrote the poem
And everyone knew what the poem meant

Like many American slaves of the automobile I have made many a long distance trip by car. The world of the long distance trip is a special, segregated world, separate from ordinary life, with a character and quality all of its own. This poem comments on the experience.

Living in the automobile
Within the plastic and the steel
A slave to your velocity,
The drivers world is all you see:

Black ribbons in the middle of the night
With all their borders edged in white,
A world reduced to traffic lanes,
Traversed by cars with human brains.


According to the scientists eating chocolate releases the same chemicals as falling in love does. It’s not the same. For some comments on this poem see the letter by Suford Lewis.

A scientist says
That eating Chocolate
Is like falling in love.
It’s a chemical thing,
Something in the blood.
I wouldn’t know.

I bought a box of chocolates
And ate them one by one.
And wriggled in ecstacy
With each and every bite.

When I was done and they were gone
I looked at all the empty wrappers
On the floor and said,
“Did you love me, Chocolate?”


When I look at the poems and stories that I have written I am surprised. Some of them seem quite natural – I look at them and say, “Yes, this is something I might have written.” Others, however, I look at and say, “Where did that come from?”

I never knew that I would write
The things that I have written.
Wherever did you come from,
You little words upon the page?

I had a thought, a plan, a scheme
A brilliancy I’d meant to write
And nothing came. Instead I wrote
Some little words upon a page.

And thus I told a tale I never knew
And set in verse a strangers song
With words I never meant to write
These little words upon the page.


This is a commentary on “social construction of truth” or perhaps just the confusion between the beauty of poetry and the beauty of that which it speaks of.

No angel ever wept in tears
To hear the music of the spheres
The lovely stones that course the skies
Were never made for human eyes

The stars are there if you but look
At them and not the poet’s book
Their song is but a poet’s phrase
Tis him and not the stars you praise


I suppose this is obvious and banal and yet …
I spend many an hour chatting with strangers of all sorts. It is an art, I think, but not one taught in the Academy. The painter has his paint and the sculptor his clay and brass and stone. The conversationalist has?

Play dough people.
What do you say
To play dough people?
They smile and they laugh
As they eat their fries.
They’re nice, I think,
All pudgy and white,
But what can you say
To play dough people?

American consumerist culture is spreading around the world. Everyone deplores it and yet …

The great American store –
It’s tacky and tasteless
The goods are all shoddy
But I shop there

The muzak is bland
The coke is too sweet
It’s really quite awful
And I keep coming back


Time passes. What more does one need to say?

Tick tock
Tick tock
The hours run on
Like little mice
Under the feet
Of elephants.

Here is a little verse that explains why people write poetry.

The echo chambers of the heart
Seduce the mind to play with art.
Enamelled jewels wrought in words
Are sweetly sung as though by birds.

July 1998


Apparently this poem is quite mysterious to people. Lions and Zebras, Oh My has some explanations.

I do not know
What a lion would think
If a zebra presented her rump,
Invited the lion to dine
And asked in return
That the zebra’s foal
Be allowed to nurse
Upon the lioness.

July 1998 index

A favorite pastime of mine is to sit in cafes, drink coffee, read books, write, and, as a regular, chat with the waiters and waitresses. I wrote the following for one of my friends among the waitresses.

What does Emily want?
Eighteen years and just
Touching the edges of life.
You see the quiet reserve
And wonder what it hides.
Shy enthusiasm
Bubbles out unexpectedly.
She smiles
And the sun comes out.
You sit and write
Another poem
And wonder
What does Emily want?

July 1998 index

This poem pays tribute to the popular romantic mythos of poetry as an expression of madness. (Note: starting every line with a stressed syllable is a technical trick.)

Visions from a private Hell,
Hid in stories poets tell –
Shapeless flowers strangely grown,
Rusty trash from Reason’s throne,
Symbols rampant without sense
Caught in verse, layered dense,
Hid in stories poets tell,
Visions from a private Hell.

July 1998


This poem is quite short. It says all that one needs to say about bad habits.

I keep some pets that I should not,
Some little dogs that eat my soul.
No friend of man for all they say
They live, they love, and loving, kill.

July 1998 index

The gulf between the child and the adult has been described in a million different ways. This is one of the ways.

He was just a little boy,
His face was smeared with food
That never found his mouth.
Nobody knows what he will be
When he grows up.
A thief, a priest, a president,
He might be any of these.
Today he’s just a little boy.

His buttons were loose,
His shoes were untied,
His mittens were lost somewhere.
He was crabby and tired
And he fussed a lot.
My goodness!
He might become a saint.

July 1998


I suppose it is possible to read too much.

Books! Books! Books!
A world filled with books,
Books that pour out words
Like raindrops from a leaden sky.
Wise men, fools, women, men,
Each in turn feeds a press
That prints a book
That dribbles words
Into a host of sodden minds.

Dribbles? Nay, floods!
A roaring flood of words,
A rising flood that seeps
And, seeping, creeps
Into each and every crevice,
Carrying muddy thoughts
To minds quite lost
In a raging sea of words.

July 1998 index

I’m not sure that I can explain what this poem is supposed to be.

Here is the garden where simples grow.
There is the hill where high winds blow.
This is the rill where waters flow.
Where is the corn that fed the crow?

Here is the grove where lovers laid.
There is the inn where strangers stayed.
This is the pond where children played.
Where is the milk that fed the maid?

Here is the sword that set men free.
There is the court where lawyers plea.
This is the the light that mystics see.
Where is the rose that fed the bee?

July 1998


Everybody does one of those sardonic poems about the military. Why not me too?

I saw some soldiers on parade
Their uniforms were piped in braid
Their boots were black and polished bright
Like glass, they glittered in the light.

Tis grand I said, that’s what I’ll be
The soldiers life is the life for me.
I didn’t know the price was blood
Or how I’d spend my life in mud.

In time I too went on parade
With polished boots and fancy braid
And caught the eye of admiring youth
Who saw the dream and not the truth.

July 1998 index

Development is progress, so they say, or at least so some say. Here is a dissenting voice.

The trees that stood stand no more
The chippers ate their wood
The land was ripped by earth machines
And graded smooth to form a lawn

The things that lived beneath the leaves
Are gone as though they never were
The rill that ran with water in the spring
Is paved
And now the water runs
Through sewers to the sea.

New life has come, tame life
That fits the needs of man –
A grassy lawn, a flower bed,
Some cats and dogs as people pets
And with it all, a river new
That flows with human trash.

Each day, each year
Another place of life
Is stripped.
Each day, each year
Another bit of wild
Each day, each year
Another human house
Is built.

July 1998


This is a comment on a certain attitude towards life. You may know somebody like this.

I glower a lot
Life hasn’t been fair
I’ve never received my due
And it isn’t my fault.

I’m angry a lot
Other folks aren’t as deserving as I
I tell them so and yet, somehow,
Someone else always gets the rewards
And it isn’t my fault.

I suffer a lot
And nobody cares.
What other folks suffer
Doesn’t matter.
What I suffer
It isn’t fair
That nobody cares
And it isn’t my fault –
It was never my fault.

July 1998 index

Summer is a wonderful time but there is a sad undertone, a desperation born of the knowledge that summer will go away.

The geese are in the North
They flew there in the spring
The easy times are here
But summer’s wearing thin

The geese are flying South
Their honking voices cry
You’d better do it now
For summer’s almost gone

August 1998 index

Long ago, even before the Cambrian, there lived a little worm that the was the last common ancestor of all animals that have ever lived since.

Some place, some where, quite long ago
Just where and when I do not know
There lived a worm beneath the sea
Who had some fateful progeny

She was the mother of us all
Each animal, be it large or small
That lives or died upon this Earth
Descends from her through distant birth

The tiny corals building reefs
The garret poet nursing griefs
The crab that hunts with vicious claws
The pompous solons crafting laws

The sauropod, the trilobite
The vampire bat that flies at night
The wolf that hunts the frightened hare
The spiders climbing through the air

Ancestral apes with clever hands
The scorpions upon the sands
The tetrapod that first bore toes
The firefly that courts with glows

All came from her who had no name
By chance that ancient worm became
The mother of each living race –
Her sisters died without a trace.

August 1998


Moprhy’s ghost beside the sea shore and other thoughts.

Pawn to king four
The old man sits in the park
Puffs on his pipe and plays
Pawn to king four

Tis a marvelous move
Twas Morphy’s choice and Fischer’s too
The greatest masters all have played
Pawn to king four

The gulls are crying overhead
Mother’s children scream as they run
The sun is bright as the old man plays
Pawn to king four

His clothes betray his wife is gone
Weathered wrinkles line his face
The young men work and the old men play
Pawn to king four

August 1998 index

Birds may be beautiful but they descend from a long line of killers.

Above the land on which I roam
The feathered creatures make their home
As swift as wind, as light as breath
They fill the skies with feathered death

August 1998 index

Summer and winter are evil necessities that enable spring and fall.

I wandered in the summer lands,
Bereft beneath the sun,
In search of floral blessings
That vanished with the spring.

Where doth the Lily grow?
What shady brook doth hold
That shy and fragrant bloom
Whose sweetness did enchant me?

This dripping sweat and burning sun
That summer brings –
They please me not.
The making of the world was not
As I would have it be,
And yet

There were times in younger days
When gentle breezes blew
And sweetness filled the air
As lilies bloomed.
Such a world was fair
And I would have it be.

Behold the summer lands
Where heat and barren brown
Hold sway and hapless travelers
Such as I forlornly ask:
Where hath the Lily gone?


I watched a young woman in front of a public mirror and this is what I saw:

She preens before the mirror
Studying with little worries
The image that she sees;
She is own and finest work.
Each hair’s in place as though
It were a sculpture
Machined upon a lathe,
The lacquered symmetry only broken
By wanton curls that tease
And artfully entice.
The paint and powder on her face
Emphasize her features
And yet conceal
The marks of artifice.
Accessories and garments
Are all in place just so,
Coordinated in color
And stylish in the latest mode.
She regards the image in the mirror,
A model of perfection,
And yet, unsatisfied,
She touches here and there
As though perfection
Were never hers to win.
At last she exits
Onto the stage of life
To play the role of femininity.

September 1998 index

Just because an incident is erased by time does not mean that you cannot still see it.

The August sun was shining bright
The world was lit with summer light
In front of me beneath my feet
There was a dead man on the street.

Some people came, the cleanup crew
The ambulance, the flashing blue
And though their work is now complete
There’s still a dead man on the street.

September 1998 index

This is, I suppose, self-indulgent nostalgia for incidents that happened in my childhood, long long ago, when the world was a different place.

It happened long ago.
He was our nearest neighbour;
He lived a mile away.
We would visit now and then
As country folk are wont to do.

He and his wife
Had a little house
Filled with clutter
And a wonderful grandfather clock.
They were old
And the house smelled old.
It was special, that house,
If you were a boy.

One day he had a heart attack.
He had it in the haying time
And he couldn’t do the work
To gather in the hay.

The neighbours came to help;
They had a haying bee.
The men worked in the fields
And the women cooked the food,
Lots of food for hungry working men.

I was a child then;
We children played
While men and women worked
And we ate fried chicken.
It was a holiday for us.

The neighbours gathered hay
They hauled the hay
They stacked the hay
And when the day was done
Weeks of work were done
And all the hay was in.

That’s the way it was
At the haying bee.
It happened long ago
And I was there
When all the neighbours came
And gathered in the hay
At the haying bee.

September 1998


Sometimes I indulge my bent for sarcasm and my distaste for people who live to put other people down.

I do so love
The beautiful people
They dip their barbs
In the poison of their wit
And speed them on their way
To annoint their chosen others
With the emblems of their

September 1998 index

One of the functions of religion is to provide solace to those who mourn the dead. What do you say to someone who is an atheist?

When I am dead
And the mourners come
To the funeral rites
(If mourners there be –
I won’t know if anyone’s there
And I won’t care;
The dead never do, you see)
And some old geezer
With a solemn face
Is telling lies,
Is telling folks
What a wonderful chap I was
Then I would have him give
A little oration for me,
Some words,
And this is what I’d have him say:

Do not mourn for me
Cry for yourselves if cry you must
The loss you feel is yours
And none of my own.
We have but one life to live,
One cup of life to drink,
And I have drunk mine
I’ve drunk it to the full.
I have what you have not,
I have it all now,
All that life will ever give.
So do not cry for me;
Cry for yourselves if cry you must.

And if you care to remember me
This is what I’d have you do:
Enjoy a summer day
Kiss a lover in the dark
Read a poem or two
And through it all
Drink your cup of life
And drink it to the full.

September 1998


When I was young my parents planted trees at the ranch as a shelter belt. They flourished for a time and then died out; the prarie is not kind to trees.

Men plant trees
On the praries.
They grow there,
And having grown,
They die.
The grass returns;
The seedlings never take.
The dead trees stand there,
All twisted and gnarled,
Like driftwood
Hanging from the sky.

October 1998 index

This is not a serious sentiment. I don’t really want to be a mumbling old stumblebum but the notion has a certain cachet.

When I am old I shall mumble a lot
And scratch my privates in public places
And offend the goodly folk
Who hold their noses up as I go by.
I’ll do it then, I swear I will
And they’ll never know
I’m mocking them.

October 1998 index

Sunflowers are a chancy crop. If they don’t make it they aren’t harvested. The unharvested fields are striking – acre upon acre of black. [Note: this is incorrect – the fields have to blacken before they are harvested. The seeds must dry out in their last mortality.]

When sunflowers fail
They do not fail
In the manner of wheat and corn;
For fields of grain wither to brown
And sunflower fields blacken instead.
The great green leaves fall away;
Each plant becomes a stick.
The yellow eyes that once
So proudly followed the sun
Are humbled;
They bow their heads in ebony.
Row upon row the sunflowers stand
Like candy canes awaiting Halloween

November 1998


I haven’t the vaguest idea what this poem is about. It seems silly but I like it.

Dog Person!
He barks at the moon
But not on Fridays.

November 1998 index

One of my rose bushes was confused about when it should bloom.

The last rose of summer hangs there
Curled and brown like crumpled kleenex
Dead but not gone, it doesn’t know
That winter comes.

November 1998 index

I’m working on getting the Christmas spirit – whiskey, rum, or gin.

Another bottle, another day
The shelter’s full, that what they say
And where I’ll stay, I do not know
But it really doesn’t matter
As long as I have got
Another bottle for the coming day

People pass; some give; some don’t.
They laugh; their clothes are clean.
They aren’t like me and I’m not like them.
And I don’t much care for I have got
Another bottle to get me through
Another day

I drink when I can and I don’t much care
What I drink or where. For when I drink
That black place in my memory
Goes away, although I can’t recall
Exactly what was there.
And I don’t much care;
Another bottle is all I need.
And it really doesn’t matter
About another day.

December 1998


Excelsior may be a chilly mistress but she can be loved with a love as great as that of any wife.

Silent and cold, taller than men,
The mountains call the heroes forth
But few will ever scale their heights.
The many remain in the plains below
To carry the packs and man the camps.
They labor by day and collect their pay.
While heroes freeze the many enjoy
Warm beds and merry wives.
Excelsior is a chilly mistress.

December 1999 index

We’re much better these days with doctoring. It betters life and delays the end; none-the-less the end always comes.

Death wears a three piece suit.
He’s modernized; he comes equipped
With a little black bag that’s filled
With modern medicines.
He smiles with rows of even teeth.
The symbols change, the end’s the same:
Beneath his face – the same old skull.

December 1999 index

This is a little silly; but having asked the question one is obliged to answer it.

Who is the dead man on that masked horse?
‘Tis the rider he killed, Milord,
When he shied at a glove a lady tossed
Afore the path of a handsome knight.
The horse will be hung in the village square;
Masked he goes to his deserved fate.
Thus perish villains, two legged and four.

December 1999

Index Of First Lines

I spent my youth on growing old
When a poster won’t behave
I was in the mall the other day
An island there was that rose from the deep
I have debts that must be paid
The sun shone bright; the flowers bloomed
A poet’s poet I sought to be
A whale dies
I went into the dead lands of the west
As I walked upon my way
Heather ale and witches three
The ice winds blew from out of the North
Father, Father, whom shall I wed?
A coiled serpent in the stone
One hundred million years ago
I sought her love and wooed her well
The unseen stone lies on the road
Speak to me of times gone by
Three lists for evolutionists under the sky
The horseless man is incomplete
The empty land is filled with grass
All dirty gray, bereft of leaves
She was old. (The purple dress)
The maiden cried when she read the poem
Living in the automobile
A scientist says
I never knew that I would write
No angel ever wept in tears
Play dough people
The great American store
Tick tock
The echo chambers of the heart
I do not know
What does Emily want?
Visions from a private Hell
I keep some pets that I should not
He was just a little boy
Books! Books! Books!
Here is the garden where simples grow
I saw some soldiers on parade
The trees that stood stand no more
I glower a lot
The geese are in the North
Some place, some where, quite long ago
Pawn to king four
Above the land on which I roam
Behold, I wandered in the summer lands
She preens before the mirror
The August sun was shining bright
It happened long ago
I do so love
When I am dead
Men plant trees
When I am old I shall mumble a lot
When sunflowers fail
The last rose of summer hangs there
Dog Person
Another bottle, another day
Silent and cold, taller than men
Death wears a three piece suit
Who is the dead man on that masked horse?

Copyright © 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999 by Richard Harter
This page was last updated June 13, 2004.