Without One Plea (and other poems)

Without One Plea

Sometimes half the day passes and I’ve still not found
a way in, an angle of inventiveness, so that the whole thing
doesn’t feel like the dullest experiment with my dumb self
at the helm. Is there a reason why I’m here, an undisclosed
location, and not on a mountainside, say, in North Carolina 
or Montana, and is there a reason I think to ask such questions 
when, just as likely, I might have been content with looking
out a window early mornings over coffee, two more hours
of overtime the only thing I’m thinking. For some reason
I go back a lot to one day with my siblings running down
the aisles and through the pews of a country church,
some Saturday, I’m guessing, the four of us called back
from foster homes to visit grandparents, sneaking off
to push those wide doors open. Churches weren’t locked
back then.  We crawled beneath the pews in mock wars.
We opened hymn books and bellowed mocking voices
at the rafters. We passed collection plates to figments.
It’s likely I’m the only one who carries forth this memory,
the wooden floors, the window’s stain of light across 
our faces. The oldest, I stayed awake to listen for 
a mother’s car returning not returning long into the night.  
Weekends over, we went to different homes. Soon enough,
we settled into other selves, other voices, other rooms, 
and grew to be the absence of each other’s presence,
the presence of each other’s absence. I hear their squeals
of glee being chased, the end of our time together already 
beginning. Is there a reason why my brother, decades later, 
stepped into the presence of a bus he didn’t see or hear, 
into a grave I’ve never seen and have no way of finding 
now? I’m here, not there, wherever I am, whoever I am.  
I’m him, not me, sometimes. I’m that collection plate 
borne along above the absence of a congregation. 
I lift my face and sing off key some ancient words I can’t
remember to faces forty years have turned to figments too.  
I like to think they mattered once and rose above that 
holy place—no one home to tell us not to enter, not to leave. 

Leaning Towards Another

Some things I’m content to let go of, though 
don’t ask which things, or when, or why, since
even my trusted answers I can’t completely
trust. After all, this morning a blue sky so easily
turned drab, and now the trees sway in a windy 
gentleness that seems expectant, though trees lack
consciousness, of course; so what I see must be
my own need magnified. Maybe the rain will come.
Maybe this moment is a prophecy come true
about which I know nothing nor need to know.
I reach and tug loose an oak leaf, which might be
a prayer, though don’t ask me what it seeks or praises; 
don’t ask me who this intercession has in mind;
don’t ask am I my brother’s keeper if you’re not
prepared to hear. When one tree leans toward another,
I want to eavesdrop. I like to think they share 
a brotherhood, though it’s as clear to me as anyone
I’m speaking of myself. What if I am wrong, and
in the higher limbs are words we have to climb
to find and hear? What if I overturned a stone
and light shone forth? It’s possible, even today,
the roots of my soul are entwined with another’s.
I like to imagine a person speaking and his words,
like black skimmers, circling an inland pond.
I’m content to let an hour pass and trust the sky.
Some words come back having touched some image
far out we can’t see from where we wait all morning.
How lovely the glide of their dipped wings 
                                                                             steering away.


  • Jeff Hardin is the author of six collections of poetry, most recently No Other Kind of World and A Clearing Space in the Middle of Being. His work has been honored with the Nicholas Roerich Prize, the Donald Justice Prize, and the X. J. Kennedy Prize. His poems appear in The Gettysburg Review, The Southern Review, Hudson Review, North American Review, Poetry Northwest, and many others. His seventh book, Watermark, is forthcoming in spring 2022. He lives and teaches in Tennessee.

  • These images come from a catalogue distributed by “Görransson’s mekaniska verkstad”, a gymnastics equipment company, and are reproduced in a book published by Dr. Alfred Levertin on Dr. G. Zander’s Medico-Mechanische Gymastik (1892). Aside from the shock of seeing the gymgoers’ choice of athletic wear (thick three-piece suits with pocket watches affixed on chains), there is something uncanny about the marked lack of exertion displayed on Zander’s patients’ faces. As Thomas explains, unlike contemporary Peloton and Crossfit leaderboards, which prioritize competition and reward individual effort, Zander’s technology was marketed as a passive activity — with some devices even driven by steam, gasoline, or electricity. All one had to do was connect their body to the machine and it would do the work for them. . . or so they were told. From Public Domain Review: publicdomainreview.org/collection/zander-gym. For more on Zander, see the article by Carolyn de la Pena at www.cabinetmagazine.org/issues/29/pena.php