24 | from Gray and Something

from Gray and Something

At a bar in New York, a famous New York poet told me that my poetry was evasive. He said I built walls around myself. He placed his palm on my chest and said, “You need to write about what’s in here.” I said, “I think you might like it more if you saw it in the context of the full manuscript.” The context of the full manuscript. Shut up.

I kept wanting to write something he’d like, to make him see me as something other than the kind of poet he thought I was. But now he’s dead and somehow every night they find new things to show on TV.


Craig is dead too and every time I open Word, there aren’t any.


I think I wrote this in 2004:

I bought a shiny black cable

so I could listen

to your voicemails

in amazing surround

but it didn’t work.


You did this poem at the haiku slam in Omaha, something like, “My cat is gray and hungry / like life without you.” I think about that all the time, the literal gray and literal hungry, the figurative hungry and figurative gray. But I’m never sure if it was hungry. It was gray and something.


Just last year it was about interweaving communities for social change but now they’re like in Alabama running a chicken truck, Instagramming videos of themselves talking about their chicken in voices that seem maybe racist? I don’t get it, but I’ve never been paid to make anything tangible in my life. I don’t like knowing there are mice here either. But you know.


The most successful writer in my master’s program was the least congenial. Your cornbread was the thing today that I enjoyed the least self-consciously. My greatest fault is my belief that records make me interesting, but you can likely think of greater faults. It’s not jealousy, it’s something else.


And then there was the refrigerator door full-on coming off of the fridge two days before Christmas. It was too funny to be a punchline, after the MRI and the CT scan and Coronavirus and police brutality. It slows your thoughts to one-at-a-time. How do you fix this? Does anyone fix it? Should I unplug it? Will the president try to stop the inauguration? Are the cranberries even still good? Or it wasn’t funny enough.

I’m scared my altitude sickness will become a thing you resent me for.

Elliot Harmon was a poet. He lived in San Francisco.