Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

Woman Pausing on the Side of the Road To Tie Her Shoe

Woman Pausing on the Side of the Road To Tie Her Shoe

By Jana Harris

Frances Stanton, Cottonwood Idaho, 1889

It is written: where your treasure is,
your heart be also, but
a broken shoelace shouldn't make me weep.
Easier to gather grapes from buckthorn
figs from purple thistle flower than
dispel this inner darkness.
What is it they tell children
while thrashing hazelnut switches
in front of cracked faces: stop blubbering
before I give you something to cry about?
Where's the treasure amid a landscape
as featureless as oatmeal,
endless oven-hot winds and ice pick rocks?
Dust in my shoes, behind my collar. And beneath me,
razoring through a dry river of brown
bent grass like the hair of the dead, a snake.
What was it mother used to say . . . cried because
I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.
And when you lose the secret shelf your soul sits on,
where's the silver lining then? What's worse than this
drum rolling electrical storm of the self?
The sting of November's never-ceasing rain,
a phlegm-gray sky for months on end?
When did I first look up into the firmament,
seeing holes where stars had been?
How desperate I've become:
My shoestring has broken, the frayed end
undone again and I've no other laces.
My boot flops like a palsied head –
a lolling tongue letting grit steal in, my heel a bed
of pearl blisters. What cleanses the spirit
when Jordan turns brackish?
My neck too weak to hold up my chin.
Bonnet so heavy, I remove
the brim slats, let the bill droop
across my face, a veil shielding my eyes:
I imagine that small snake's
dark serpentine the shade-cooled
milk and honeyed Hallelujah shore of my youth.

Stand up, Mrs. Stanton. Stand and tie your shoe.
You ask for bread, here is a stone;
you ask for fish, here is a serpent. But
many rocks piled will build you a house;
even ravenous wolves fear the tiniest snake.
Where your treasure is, your heart be also.

Prairie Schooner, Vol. 77, No. 3 (Fall 2003)


Jana Harris

Jana Harris is a poet, novelist, short story writer, and essayist. Her award-winning books include Manhattan as a Second Language and Oh How Can I Keep On Singing? Voices of Pioneer Women, both Pulitzer Prize nominees. Her seventh book of poems, The Dust of Everyday Life, won the 1998 Andres Berger Award. Her eighth collection of poetry We Never Speak of It, Idaho-Wyoming Poems, 1889 (Ontario) was published in 2003 and nominated for the Kingsley Tufts Award. Born in San Francisco and raised in the Pacific Northwest, Harris teaches creative writing at the University of Washington and is the editor and founder of Switched-on Gutenberg, one of the first electronic poetry journals of the English-speaking world.  Jana is a member of the National Book Critics Circle, PEN, Poetry Society of America, and AWP She won a Reader's Choice Award in poetry from Prairie Schooner in 2004.

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