* layers via michael s. harper & basho


Village Blues – Michael S. Harper

The birds flit
in the blue palms,
the can workers wait,
the man hangs
twenty feet above;
he must come down;
they wait for the priest.
The flies ride on the carcass,
which sways like a cork in a circle.
The easter light pulls hims west.
The priest comes, a man
sunken with rum,
his face sandpapered
into a rough of split
and broken capillaries.
His duty is cutting
down the fruit
of this quiet village
and he staggers slowly, coming.


Sgraffito, I learned recently, is a technique used in both wall decor and ceramics in which contrasting colors are layered across a surface, only to be then scratched into so as to reveal parts of the underlying layer. The result is an image made of a specific depth and texture.

This week’s poem – “Village Blues” by Michael S. Harper – performs via language in a way similar to sgraffito. Harper writes of a hanged man’s body by choosing to write about the life going on around it. In describing the birds, workers, even the flies at the scene, Harper layers the daily lives of the village over the dead body, and thus makes the presence of the lost life all the more felt. The description of the priest, too, as he “staggers slowly, coming” to the body, becomes imbued with the unspoken. Through indirect association, everything in the village “sways” along to the village’s “blues.”

These thoughts also bring to mind the following haiku by Basho, where the layered images give way to something deeper:

On the white poppy,
a butterfly’s torn wing
is a keepsake


Happy winging!


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