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Jeff Hardin


I know, in America, we think ourselves David
holding a stone, 
                      ready to leap toward the fight,
but what if it turns out, instead, we're the giant.

Too few people have decided to fail, to step
to the side so another can stretch toward the finish line.
From the swallows we learn 
                                       how to swap who will lead.

You and I have spent centuries telling our stories,
one to another, face to face, in this smallest of rooms.
Even Frost, in his sestets, 
                                   didn't reach clear conclusions.

I want the original version, Magritte's Still Life
or those pair of initials, hidden by Leonardo
in Mona Lisa's eyes, 
                            he thought would never be found.

In you, in me, one has to wonder what God 
has hidden
                --a weeping for piano notes entwined
or for the moment the goose far behind catches up.


Those fog-stalled streets of old movies--
that's the world I want. And the one, too, 
where the old raggedy couple who usually waves

decides, instead, to step inside the café 
where I sit drinking coffee, having imagined 
I'm an echo fading out across a neighbor's field--

and I find that I have money, enough to buy them 
lattes and muffins; and the wife tugs her scarf 
from habit, that slow let-me-get-settled-in-for-

kind of tug, which happens all too often but 
without a word or glance. And there we sit

surrounded by so many spoons and sugar packets; 
and smoke from fires that burn the forests 
of the West will never reach us, nor the sounds

of table lamps switched off by widows of this town, 
though it is true we can imagine them enough 
that when we bow to sip from steaming cups,

we add their lamps and sudden dark to who 
we are, since no other kind of world occurs 
to us, no other kind of self but one who

doesn't waste the crumbs that soften thumb 
and finger, one who tastes a second life, 
awake to prayers that course the crowded air.


Assassins, I know you're out there, but what makes you so insistent on
bumping me off? Why waste time tracking my whereabouts, just one more
chump poet looking for a fix of rhyme and measure? I've read the sage
Dalai Lama's weigh-in on this matter, and it appears, surprisingly
enough, your efforts will prove unsatisfyingly, eternally 
futile, even dimwitted upon further inspection. Try your hand at a sonnet,
ghazal, or pantoum, I implore. Occasionally there's applause. Or what about
haiku? You've got sabi written all over you. My suggestion: let us 
investigate your motives by counting first the syllables you think
justify sliding a bullet in a gun. And look around: we share a magnanimous
kingdom with ample room for each of us to do our own wild thing. I'll follow
leaves end-over-ending this sidewalk, and might I suggest a revision to your
mission statement? Maybe add Mozart; long looks out train windows; 
needlework. No more looking through scopes, sharpening knives, 
obsessing over my half-rhymes and iambic substitutions. I think your own
pensees could do wonders for our relationship. We'd be like Ishmael and tattooed
Queequeg, wandering around in an Ahab world, each of us a mystery we cannot
read alone. Just picture us sitting down to coffee and swapped stories,
soliciting the other's world view. Regarding mine, ever notice how many
times the word self is used as a prefix? Not quite as often as
un-, which, by the way, means release from! I've always thought trust the most
vital gift we can offer another, so I guess I'm saying I trust you'll do
what's best in this narrative we've come to share, even if that means
X-ing me out. After all, I've spent my life arguing for thoughtful, precise revision. 
You, perhaps better than anyone, know what I mean. And since we're marching to
Zion, the beautiful city of Zion, let's let our joys be known; and you, oh you, are mine.


-from No Other Kind of World (Texas Review Press, August 28, 2017), selected by Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum, Founder & Editor

​PROMPT: On the way!

BIO: Jeff Hardin was born in Savannah, TN, (Hardin county), an eighth generation descendant of the county's founder. He is a graduate of Austin Peay State University (B.S. in English) and the University of Alabama (M.F.A. in Poetry). He is the author of two chapbooks, Deep in the Shallows (GreenTower Press, 2002) and The Slow Hill Out (Pudding House, 2003) as well as four collections of poetry: Fall Sanctuary, recipient of the Nicholas Roerich Prize from Story Line Press; Notes for a Praise Book, selected by Toi Derricotte and published by Jacar Press; Restoring the Narrative, which received the Donald Justice Poetry Prize, and Small Revolution. His fifth collection, No Other Kind of World, recently received the X. J. Kennedy Prize and will be published in 2017. A limited edition letterpress collection, Until That Yellow Bird Returns, was printed by Red Hydra Press in 2015. More than 500 of his poems have appeared in such journals as The Southern Review, North American Review, Ploughshares, The New Republic, The Hudson Review, The Gettysburg Review, Southwest Review, Poetry Northwest, Hotel Amerika, Meridian, Tar River Poetry, The Florida Review, Southern Poetry Review, Poem, Zone 3, and many others. His poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize multiple times and have been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and The Writer's Almanac. He is professor of English at Columbia State Community College in Columbia, TN. He is an editor for the online journal One.

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