Benjamin Harnett

If You Have an Old House

They are everywhere, clawing
out of the earth, Night of the
Living Dead-style; last week
they were crimson shaded
into purple, now they’ve raised
and are opening green,
their many hands are webbing
into starry leaves – peonies,
our neighbor says, they are
everywhere if you have
an old house, and all our houses
are old. It must be the soil.
“They love it,” she says.
They’re not volunteers, just
the undead, survivors
of gardens past. Flowers
our predecessors (pre-deceasors?)
planted to enjoy some June
blooms. We have Netflix now,
and Disney+, they had badminton
and starched collars. The peonies
are moving, some clutch up
in the middle of a path,
or the path moved, to cover them.
This is our first year: we shall
find what colors the past
brings. I wake in an old house
all creaking and drafty,
but have learned to expect
a tenacious budding
from my head.

I’ll Show You the Life of the Mind

Children make up plausible stories
about the current denizens
of empty houses, as if communing
with ghosts. Courtney Love
owns Sylvia Plath’s tarot deck,
it had been gifted by husband Ted –
there was a lot of judgment
over his birthday letters, but Love says,
with some earned degree
of knowing, “I feel for him.”

I’m not sure what I think, but the dew
in the grass in the shadows
where I mowed is blue-green and tells me
to pull a card. Swords are the suit
of thinking and emotion –
the bicameral legislature
that is our mind. It’s not right

to be unkind to a friend, but
it happens – something something
Cartesian duality, John Goodman
raging as a fire, how disappointing,
but apt, that Eliot
made up his own major arcana

out of ignorance or in spite.
The past is a dead palace
full of empty rooms. We fill them
like picking from a deck.
I regret to inform you Barton Fink
isn’t as good as I’d like.
The ace is a hand
holding a sword.

It is a light.

About the Author

Benjamin Harnett is a poet, fiction writer, historian, and digital engineer. His poetry has appeared recently in Poet Lore, Saranac Review, ENTROPY, and the Evansville Review. He is the author of the novel The Happy Valley and the short story collection Gigantic. He lives in Cherry Valley, New York with his wife Toni and their collection of eccentric pets. He works for The New York Times.