Michelle Kingdom © 2018

Michelle Kingdom © 2018

by John Harn

words I Don't Know


A cold north wind
strips the beach this morning.
Calm by noon
then a sweltering end.

When a day lasts a year
I’m obligated to remember
the old ones who were here before us.

A woman with a baby and a basket of fish.
Two men and a net.
Abalone swapped for hides.

I squeeze water from a handful of wet sand.
Words I don’t know
stick to my palm.
Songs I don’t know
roll in the waves.

Out in the oyster beds, silt
Pearls strung and unstrung.


local fiber


Thor Heyerdahl’s raft appears offshore, soggy-burnt and broken.
My parents’ love letters are stapled to the mast.
A boy from the village swims out to retrieve it.
He takes the rope in his teeth like JFK and swims toward shore.
The raft is bringing my wedding vows home to roost.
I can smell them from my hammock.
My hammock is made of local fiber.
The raft was made by God’s apprentices.
My grandfather the Greek tied the knots.
My Sicilian grandmother poured the red wine.
The boy beaches the raft and gulps his breath.
Village-elders shower him with shell necklaces.
He becomes a man. Locks of his hair
are tossed on a bonfire. The raft is tossed on.
It pops and cracks like bones and sinew.
Sparks rise toward Sirius. Andromeda is asleep.
In a storage room on the mainland, my life sprouts a rash.
Thor Heyerdahl films it with a camcorder.
You don’t need this anymore,” he says.
I trust him.
He sailed the Pacific on a stick.
He caught fish in his hands.
He knew right and wrong were the same damned thing.


John Harn’s full-length collection, Physics for Beginners, was published by Blue Light Press in 2017. His poems have appeared in Pleiades, Denver Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, Carolina Quarterly, Hotel Amerika, Spillway, Post Road, and others. Originally from Michigan, he currently lives in Galveston, TX, where he’s working on a new manuscript.