A Journal of poetry and kindred prose

Penny Harter

is published widely in journals and anthologies, and her literary autobiography appears as an extended essay in Contemporary Authors. Her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in The Barefoot Muse, Exit 13, The Edison Literary Review, Gargoyle, and The Valparaiso Review.

Her most recent books are Along River Road; Lizard Light: Poems From the Earth; and Buried in the Sky. A new collection The Night Marsh is forthcoming from WordTech Editions in 2008.

She has won three poetry fellowships from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, as well as awards from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the Poetry Society of America, and the first William O. Douglas Nature Writing Award for her work in the anthology American Nature Writing 2002. She works as a teaching poet for the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, Arts-in-Education program.  For more information, please visit her website.

—Back to Poetry Contents—

The Oracle

The oracle wears the whiskered face
of an unknown animal, its eyes glowing
from tangles of weeds and roadside trash.

Its sharp white teeth may provoke
the cries that startle us awake
from what we call our sleep.

The oracle eludes our traps
and slaps its tail for emphasis;
has learned that we don’t care to heed
its silent message.

Some have seen the trail it leaves behind
as it flattens the undergrowth on its way home,
and those who dare to follow that faint path
claim they hear a keening in the grass,
a sorrow in the rustling leaves,
a cradle song that’s always just beyond
in the unrelenting night.


The Green Gaze

Sunlight glancing through the trees
dissolves to dirt.

I meet the green gaze of my cat—
her almost yellow eyes, black rimmed—
along the path I follow through green ferns
to her gone flesh, her lifeless fur.

She demands love, nudging my ankles
in the old way, thrusting her wet nose
into the palm I lower by her grave
where I stroke rough weeds
into her shape.

It is the eyes we notice first,
those almost human eyes
that meet ours in a space
we seldom recognize as shared

where an inchworm hangs from a leaf—
back and forth across the sun.


The Wall at the End of the World

The animals got there first—
the buck who tried to leap over
and fell, bloodied, at its base,
then rose to limp back toward us;
the crow who climbed the dark
until her wings broke,
until she dropped like a stone in our path;
and the others, rats and rabbits,
great whales and starfish—
all those we met coming back,
their eyes without reflection.

Still, though, we keep climbing.
For us it will be different.
Are we not just a little lower
than the angels on the other side?