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     Spirit Under Construction
     by Jerry Harp

Jerry Harp grew up in southern Indiana, where he studied English at St. Meinrad College (BA), a seminary run by Benedictine monks. He went on to receive degrees from St. Louis University (MA), the University of Florida (MFA), and the University of Iowa (PhD), where he specialized in Renaissance literature. He has taught at prep schools in St. Louis and at Kenyon College, and he currently teaches at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, where he lives with his wife, Mary Szybist, and their cat, Anime.

Spirit Under Construction
by Jerry Harp

"With a clear, unsentimental lens on the past, Harp’s smart and captivating poems dissect the remnants of time and what grief charges us with daily. Lyrically powerful and unique in their stark American landscape, these vibrating poems serve as ropes that pull us back into the river and out again towards a safer shore."

Ada Limón, author of Bright Dead Things: Poems

ISBN 978-0-9975021-7-6
82 pages
5.5"x8.5" perfect bound, paper

To purchase this book click HERE.



They’ve been around in dreams a long time now,
those houses where nobody lives, hidden
along long stretches of field, accessible
if you run alone down dirt and gravel roads

late in the afternoon when shadows start
to sift like sand. I think you’ll know the place
better than I. Maybe you’ll finish this poem.
Here’s my attempt to hand it over to you.

The time. The place. The sound. They fade from me
as my pen scratches across the ragged page
and the cat lounges, observing every move.
By the time I climb the stairs to sit before

my glowing screen, how many days and years
will have gone by? But only you will know.
Someone is sitting by an upstairs window,
head bent beside a desk lamp, writing. You knock.

No other houses show. There is no answer.
You cross the dusty living room. A grove
of alder trees, entwined with vines, appears
out back—on the mantle, a clock without a face.
The crickets scrape their stridulation from
the shade. The nighthawk with its plaintive cry
and rush of wings appears at the right time.
Nothing stirs upstairs. You look in every room.

The moonlight shines through a far window. Now
the poem begins. The anticipated turn.
The much awaited answer from the trees.
Here is the moment when translation begins.

Heart Prayer

I really over-shared that night,
with tinsel, trinkets, and strings—
it all came out huddled beside
that documentary about a lost boy

proving he was there all over again.
It was a yard with screens, twitches, and blades,
the springs and wheels running down
that ran the mechanism running me,

a broken-livered rhythm coming on
like the fog I breathed when I was six;
I’m losing half an inch a year since then
while others tick and trek along.

The soft-talker I followed all this time
speaks long pauses over rice, and my longing
never ends up belonging, nor does any
other-where ever shine like foil.

Like the old man said: Never stay
where you’re welcome. He was right
on cue, his stupefaction coming on
to me, so here I go off script.

I’m my own Linear B, which I can’t read.
It was the moon-landing night, the old man
shot cardiac sparks, and sure enough I was next,
out walking fields in mud and rain

somewhere between God and none.
What difference does it make, some transcendental
desire suffering the universe
while planets reel in empty space?

Either way, by the time those dots of light
get here, their stars have moved or gone,
and here I drag this thing I am along
with shadows that are me and that are not.


“The only thing’s to go back where I came. / Trouble is, that’s an expanding blank / with an even blanker blank inside”:  thus does Jerry Harp’s Spirit Under Construction frame its challenge from its very first poem.  In this collection, the perilous imperative to mark one’s life runs up against the expanding blanks of memory and of the language in which we resign ourselves to recover it.  The poems and prayers that fuse forth poignantly acknowledge that they are both vital and shortfalling, “monumental and impoverished.”  Beneath the hum and penance of the imaginable world and the loneliness of the unimaginable one, these poems weather.”

Kimberly Johnson, author of Uncommon Prayer  

“In Spirit Under Construction, Jerry Harp makes room for “the monumental and the impoverished.” These poems are beautifully strange and prescient, formally deft and subtle. The poet attempts to read the world he encounters, to make sense of its mystery. What is before him, he says, “illumine(s) into a script I cannot read.” Yet in these poems, he transcribes and translates the world (and the otherworldly) into all its complexity. When he turns his keen attention to the ordinary, it transmutes before our eyes into the miraculous.”

Eric Pankey
, author of Crow-Work