An Expatriate Love Song
& Other Poems

Randal Sean Harrison, PhD


The poems ‘Odalisque’ and ‘In Memory, M. Jackson’ (appearing here as ‘What Rises Inside You’), were first published in The Poetry Conspiracy.

And he sounds like he’s missing
Some thing or someone that he knows
He can't have now
And if he isn't, I certainly am

—Suzanne Vega, “In Liverpool”


In all that I paint you loom

An exorbitant odalisque, gaunt and
Unsmiling you hold to your chair
As if to fly out and tear my hair

Or perhaps two pears
An aspect which startles
When arranging them I
Fall on your figure

Or a blue vase and bulb
Or a bean in a green bottle or cat
Or couched reclining nude in
Showy evening primrose softly stricken

Or candle-blacked and withered wicks
Or sticks to make a crucifix
Or kind of nimbus in cup's fluted lip

Or you are absent conspicuously so


For Shreya

What is this flowering
This natured rising in me?

From winter failing
Such force in my every fuse

Prising from black night a field of light
with flower-flare singing yellow

Now days of rusted root renew
In apple-sweetness white

In pulling mouths of nectar
In Irises of opened hands

This newest me sprung from
Spring in you

The Misery Bell

      for Eunice Gonzalez, in memory of her husband John

When it was suddenly pressed upon me
To make myself a space of shadow
And to make a very great space between us
Where before I had been like a tower
All the hours of light and stone

And believing myself cathedral
At first refused away the voice
Which was intimate and hinted at grace

It meant everything to remain when my
Life fell in upon me like a sea
And I was crumbled and suddenly made nothing

It was then I became something larger
And discovered myself less a man and
More a wind which stood on the waters

And I listened to your wail,
Its tolling made a misery bell

Come down from your bell tower my love and listen

And when you lay your woman's head
Against a window considering,
I will be the breath of the world which
Presses against you through the glass

What Rises Inside You

      for my grandmother, Merle H. Jackson

The Autumn Moon stone dead —
And what rises inside you is
The intimacy of the impending

High off, the rain stands like the figure
Of a stranger on a hill
Watching a house
Where none sleep

In waiting for the rain
I am remembering your bedpans
Eaten bones and liver,
Your death like an ellipsis,
Like an ellipse

A photograph of you in nineteen forty-nine
Standing smiling outside that New York bar
And that space to your left is how it had its
Hands on you even then —
Its hands in your pockets and to your ear whispering
How this thing has happened
As surely as it will

I wake suddenly to rain-torn houses
Sliding into the sea
Out my window, the storm-stained horizon
The clouds shape the soldiering dead
That history never knew

The Language of Stripes and Spots

      for Adam Duritz

A man suddenly or not so suddenly
Lifts one day his eyes from the table
The book and plate and his hands among them
His hands which lay like fish on the table
His whole life like dead fish on a table

He thinks to move house move
South down the coast — it's a renaissance
Must be

He makes a gift of the table and the plate
The book he places in a small bag,
Ties his shoes, fastens up his needs and his
Fears in the middle and hangs them around his neck
And moves south away from himself

When he arrives he is new
A new skin under a new sky,
It seems to him, suggests a new animal

In some limited sense,
In the language of stripes and spots,
This is true — true enough
Who can deny it?

An Expatriate Love Song

I listen to your parking lot eyes
And your skin white as our
Hill house near the sea

Years spent in a promiseless peace
Even as you lie blue against the bedframe
While the darker sky reaches down into you
I resist coming to you as if I were able

This Monday the mail leaves you
Wanting from America
From America waiting for word
This one more Monday and the mail
Bringing no word from America

But Monday-come we'll see this finished
Monday-come the charm is wound
I'll grow the grass and absence of my empty lot
When this promise has been withdrawn

America remakes her movies
And her loves makes new
Or abandons old hopes as we are wont to do

And we prove Americans still
As we wait for a sign in the sighing of wind
And a slow-moving postman
Rounding our hill

Dancer in the Dark

What is it, oh my God, to walk willing
or stumble toward it — even made music —
Jesus Christ! To be hanged to death
by a stiff neck?

Do not spindle
Do not bend or fold
These instructions are simple,
The first we learn
When first we learn to correspond

Song and silence and
The Goddamned wrong decision
The worst most wrong decision
Ever she made

The New Church

      Interior of the Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam (Emanuel de Witte)

It's perfect, the dog with cocked head
Considering the Madonna motif

The workmen shovel and survey
Like workmen always
Watching the gentleman with rapier
His fat eye, his wig and wide brim

The workmen, the workmen —
The weight of the world as
Each stingy atlas sustains us

So it holds that when all the days are filled up
In violence and in flat accounts
We'll find the workmen will
Anyway shovel and survey

In the interior of the Nieuwe Kerk
Where what is most remarkable is the
Hidden marvelous machine of the working men

7 Rue Pigalle

When afterward he would end his workday
and from the café follow the others
out along the avenue until each forked away
With their own tired backs and stiffening fingers
Wandering down their own sounding streets
Left to arrive at his own small apartment
Under his left arm a small baguette
Day old most likely and in his pocket a gazette

The days, he would wonder,
How the days had laid him out
Like a boxer with quick thick fists

And his sister would bring him cooked coffee
And put the light out and they would sit quietly
Drawing the night through their window
Neither mentioning the very absence of stars

The Titan

You filled me as a child
Filled me to swoon like the
Old men who full with wine
Quietly sing, sit alone with their longing

Early awakened to your breasts and hips
Your lips and eyes and tied hair
And the smell of your skin dusted with powder
With always the tightening in the
top of my throat, swallowing my
Shame like stones

And from your brother Dima
I hid you beneath my eyes
As we swam together in the evenings
And when we sometimes struck senseless
In hoping to know it
Lay holding one another in arms
Then the brown arm that held me
Borrowed from the blood you shared
And it conjured the stolen sight of you sleeping

And now as I stand a woman grown
In a street now strange to me
I watch you lay your hand on
The neck of your young child
And my stomach fills suddenly
With burning stone


I might be such water as
Runs its course to you over stones
Collected Sundays
In light tin pails strapped fast
To your stick-leg pinch-mule
Carried homeward where its taste of
Rock-sprung lime is the
Only strange sweetness to follow
The bitter of unripened apples
Found afield
Found falling just red not
Far from your home

Beauty and the Beast

I would shutter tight up like a man
Who'd dashed his conscience against
An unspeakable and necessary act

I would, like a moon refusing away
The light, claim this other protection and,

House in a storm,
All the little waters I was proof against

But when you drew me out deep
I found no path home
And sounding suddenly near me the dogs
I see through the trees their smiling shapes

That we invite the inevitable
That we extend ourselves and our
Opened homes to the inevitable
That she not shape her magic against us
Is a bald lie

Another Lunatic

We make three bodies, three wheels
In a spokeless rhythm of whim
And how I am the least member, a distant third
Does not escape me — you've made clear

You are cooled and spun,
The beauty of inaction, a
Glorious economy of light
An amazing subtlety you have it
All over him who rages brilliant bright:
You are nothing without me!

But I don't reach you and
Nights when I find me
Swaying under your call
Just suddenly I rise up to shout down
The song of your sweetness

Which is emptiness
Which is silence
Which is nothing but stone


There are sounds sometimes
An onomatopoeia of pain
Sounds which speak to one saying
Well, like a thing falling or scraping
You see it’s a crash, a clash
which draws our eye

Perhaps the sound of rust, or how the
Ringing of wind on metal sings loneliness
Or when a rhythmic dripping sings the memory of
nothing real, season after season after season

Sometimes in cities we are sunk senseless
Sunk in sound, on a bus, on a bench
But waiting for a kind of alchemy
Waiting to be called to see or say

Still I was unsuspecting when
From promised-seeming silence you broke
to become at once the sudden real sound of you

And I was called but struck