Born and raised in Oklahoma City, Pamela Harrison is a 1968 graduate of Smith College, and the Vermont College Master of Fine Arts in Writing. Her first chapbook, Noah's Daughter, won the 1988 Panhandler Prize from the University of West Florida, and Pudding House Press published her Greatest Hits in 2002. That same year, Ms. Harrison won the PEN Northern New England Discovery Poet Award. She was invited to read in the Poetry-at-Noon Reading Series at the Library of Congress in 2003. Her first full length collection, Stereopticon, was published by David Robert Books of Cincinnati in 2004. Her second collection, Okie Chronicles (also from David Robert Books, 2005), is a novel in poems recounting the misadventures of an extended farming family on the plains of Oklahoma during the 1950's. Adjunct faculty in English Literature and Creative Writing for the University System of New Hampshire and Dartmouth College, Ms. Harrison has won fellowships to the MacDowell Colony and the Vermont Studio Center. Ms. Harrison has lived abroad in Finland, England, Uganda, Canada, Carriacou, and Mexico. Recently, she collaborated with her husband, Dr. Dennis McCullough, on My Mother, Your Mother, an anticipatory guide for families caring for frail elders, due out from Harper Collins, Feb. 2008.
Until today, I never got the logic
of Shakespeare’s chilly comedy, why
Hermione stayed all those years away
while time played out the siege
of her love’s heart. I didn’t know my mother
made my father pay nine years of penance,
sharing a sterile bed. How did they bear
slipping between the sheets, lying
side by side each night under the cold
blanket of the other’s breathing?
How disciplined they were
before us, never a cross word,
upholding the mindful gloss of courtesy,
nothing alarming, nothing true,
allowing our ignorant, adolescent lives
to billow out the confines of that house
into the open contours of our own. Such kindness,
never to halve our hearts by telling tales. Starving,
utterly adult, they gave us their gold.
That last bad year, I’d call home
from college, catching her
in the loneliness of their empty house,
lost in her alcoholic blur, tongue
so thickened, speech so slurred,
I hung up without speaking,
never daring to name the suicide
she’d begun to live. Cold at heart
and letting the silence grow, I
My brother did the work:
Dad wept to tell him
how ruined he was, and why.
It was my brother, her one beloved,
who talked her back, refusing her
further refusals, coaxing her to speak
the unspoken, rehearsing the sad tale.
Weighing out the grains of weeks and months and years
of Dad’s remorse---while I wrote essays on The Winter’s Tale,
my brother forged words and lay them one by one against
the locked vault of her grief until, at last, it gave.
Leontes chastened. Perdita found. Hermione restored.
Oh, the truth is always larger
than the story told.
I have only my part recounted.
Forgive my need to speak at all.
I am the lost child, found;
the lost child, loved,
however lost she felt she was.
First published in THE GEORGIA REVIEW, Spring 2004