Poetry We Admire: Harmony


It’s been a summer for the animals. I spent three weeks of July dogsitting for a charming, stinky octogenarian pup (dog years) called Lucky.

The home I stayed in is tucked into the North Berkeley hillside, windows set against the view of the sunset over Sausalito. On my first night there, walking up the drive back toward the home, the air was swollen with the dark that comes after. Somewhere in the night, distant hum of the BART exiting the stomach of the bay, I found myself between an antlered stag and a doe. 

Animals as we’d been before, darting in our mutual recognition.

John Berger, paraphrased: What it means for us to look at an animal is very different from what it means for the animal to look at us. I had just come back from watching Jordan Peele’s Nope. 

The writers are in conversation. For the next fortnight the deer and I were as well, eyeing each other. They stayed outside the house, a family, three stags, a fawn, spotted, and the doe who seemed to have taken on the responsibility of parenting it alone.

It occurred to me at some point, washing dishes and watching them, that they lived not because but in spite of the very architecture and human systems which convenience my living. The indoors (Jaswinder Bolina: A category of my making), hardware (Julien Baker: You pulled a moth out from the grid of your truck), my stasis as an omnivore with income enough to convenience alternatives (Wendy’s: Where’s the beef?).

Like the systems we inhabit, things live in us because and despite. I watered the flowers and watched the dappled shadow of a tree cross the dappled fawn in the breeze. Robert Hass: It must sometimes make a kind of singing.

It’s different when a person (animal) looks at an animal, I’m told. We can walk far away and still know they exist. So as not to disturb them, I’d take the back steps up to the main road. Harmony of my presence here. Harmony of my absence there, deer sunbathing outside the house or not.

Throughout, these poems made a music in my life even when I was far from them. I hope there’s harmony for you here.



I’m a part of everyone, but I am four
hooves herding departure.

from "I Can't Look at Horses Without Thinking About Love"

by Geramee Hensley in The Journal

One way of understanding harmony: The voice we find, with and through the voices which have allowed us. Geramee Hensley dedicates this poem to all their friends in Ohio, a poem like a heart, in constant motion. “I’ll-play- / river-over-here-and-you-play-river-over-there, / one day we can evaporate into the same cloud.”


The trees are moving.
We are speaking. The trees are moving.

from "Love Song in Bower"

by Aditi Machado in Bat City Review

Like the work of Shane McCrae or Rae Armantrout, to read one of Aditi Machado’s poems is to enter a space of discovery and certainty, each folding one over the other, continuously. Love Song in Bower tunes two song to harmony, the song of the familiar, the song in which the familiar is held. “Summer deepens / into a wasp.” Aditi Machado’s debut collection, Some Beheadingsis available for purchase from Nightboat books.


Everything will melt
at the bottom of childhood:
the road is the salt.

from "Salt Pieces"

by Taghrid Abdelal in New England Review, translated by Fady Joudah

Translation a kind of harmony as well, and so beautifully done in this translation by Fady Joudah of Taghrid Abdelal’s poem. Each stanza in this collaborative piece (translation is collaborative) stepping into epiphanies. Epiphany as question, as personal matter, as religious matter, as a way of understanding the world entire. I love this poem (see also: Fady Joudah’s latest collection, Tethered to Stars).


“I can’t think of any tiger poems right now, but if I come
across something, I’ll let you know.”

from "Tiger, Tiger"

by Marianne Chan in Crazyhorse

& I love this poem too. Marianne Chan’s All Heathens has a special place in my memory, read during the early days of the pandemic. Writing the intro to this PWA, thinking of the ways in which we see one another, Chan’s work came to mind, and it’s a joy to be able to fit this piece among those listed here this month. What I love about Chan’s work is how deftly she is able to identify not only the systems we exist in spite of but also the misperceptions born from these systems. Tiger, Tiger takes this interrogation further still, examining the way these misperceptions change who we are, make of our who a what (see also: Momotaro in the Philippines).


Benjamin Bartu