How to Do Things with Words: Poems by Matt Hart


Wavelengths We Go To

Stuck between stations
in my ears….The sound of waves
I am at the borrowed cottage
overlooking the great lake
Michigan….It is July
Agnes is six
And I have just run six miles
along the beach….One more six
and I could be the Devil’s minions
Or I could be only one

…………………and the sky’s gray-blue
since it stormed all night,
great sheets of lightning and car-
crashing pockets of air in the air,
in our lungs, in our heads, in our dreams,
sort of sleeping

…………………But now, standing
on the deck behind the house
and the beach stretching out
its heavy face far below me,
I see Agnes in her coral-blue
bathing suit, rocking in sand
on her heels, looking out
at the impossible water, Melanie
and Judy in canvas chairs
right behind her

………………….And with one look back,
as if to say, Is it okay to go in now?
or maybe to declare it, Yes!
I am going in now, I see my daughter—
still so small, even for her age,
against the backdrop
of the lake-giant waves, the sky
and the horizon line—start walking
with purpose into the lake,
into the slosh and vast of it,
as if she might go to the far edge
and then over it, to the place
of sea monsters, the glass dome
of stars

……………………………which is when
I feel myself becoming
irrationally afraid at seeing her
so fearless, all her weight against the world
we get lost in, so easily/uneasily
a little panic flooding through me
I am holding

………………………………my breath
until she turns and starts
moving back toward the beach,
and that smile on her face, even from here,
I can feel it, and Melanie up out her chair
with a towel…..Neither one of them
can see me, and I think to call out,
but the lake is too loud,
all my stupid love
drowning…..So I wave
my arms wildly
to try and get their attention
in defiance of the distance
with hope




How to Do Things with Words

The sound of the train and the breeze
take me whistling. I walk down the street
and greenish light floods the world,
but only for a second. I am wrestling

with how green isn’t really green here,
and wondering if green is ever really green
anywhere? And could this line of thinking,
by virtue of its subject, be pastoral?

I doubt it. I’m having a hard time seeing lately
how to do things with words. I’m coming down
with a cold, and it’s clear it’s going to rain,
which is odd. Odd that I can feel it

before it happens. And I am still adjusting
to these ordinary thoughts about an ordinary day
using ordinary language in the ordinary ways.
But in my head the voice always wondering

if I could’ve done it better? All this revision
and little revelation. Something about heaven
at the earth’s sorry edges. Something I deleted.
And something else too about language, its limits.

I will stop this nonsense soon, or I will get
distracted and forget it. I will move on
to a hundred other things. Now rain
pings the roof of the house more or less.

Just as I predicted. I look out the window
at dark, wet leaves, and a grass-green house
that isn’t really green, streetlights reflecting
on themselves in the puddles. They don’t wonder

how to do things with words. They shine
a light, and it’s simple.



Sunday Afternoon This Fall

I sit reading about god and air,
about birds as god in the air,
some yellow, some mocking

the bodies ascendant and fallen
alike. Meanwhile, football rages

in the background, its thousands
of voices all cheering together,
raising up the green and the devils’

nostrils flaring. My head hurts
from drinking all these

nights in succession. Melanie
making pizza dough. Pumpkin
seeds soaking. Matty yelling

at the television to get serious.
Is anything serious? Are any of us

en-souled? Forrest on his way
to on his way and never growling.
I am thinking, but not well,

of how the sky works—
I don’t know—and open the blinds

to let in the marvel of heaven,
which isn’t really heaven
just the universe with its light,

a totally explicable thing
to somebody.

Matt Hart is the author of four books of poems, most recently Sermons and Lectures Both Blank and Relentless (Typecast Publishing, 2012).  A fifth collection, Debacle Debacle, is forthcoming from H_NGM_N BKS in 2013. A co-founder and the editor-in-chief of Forklift, Ohio: A Journal of Poetry, Cooking & Light Industrial Safety, he lives in Cincinnati where he teaches at the Art Academy of Cincinnati and plays in the band TRAVEL. Find him on Amazon, here.

photo by kevin dooley / flickr


  1. Joanna Schroeder says:

    This is stunning. Just gorgeous. I grew up in Michigan, on Lake Michigan, and we spend July there every year and you have just perfectly captured it. Just breathtaking. Thank you.

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