Jeff Hardin

A Different Tone

Maybe, if I held my poem in another language,
a tongue I cannot read or speak; if its tone
were different, more explicit or less so, clearer
about its own uncertainties, then I wouldn’t
need to sit for hours in a gathering silence
to hear how, even when here, the poem is
really elsewhere. It is standing at a barn door
while a man inside reaches a bucket back to
its nail. The poem waits beside a river where
a crowd amens a family’s baptism. Unlike
so many, it is not weary; it continues; it moves
past the baker opening his shop and the wino
asleep at the edge of an alleyway. Neither notices
metaphor, enjambment, metrical substitution,
vowel to consonant ratio, assertion versus
question. Soon, the poem has entered seminary.
It wants to know how certain words, translated
incorrectly, or incompletely, have warped, even
defiled, our view of nature, love, government,
so much about which our confidence leads us
astray. Maybe the poem is searching for a hush
that silences whoever speaks. Was Heraclitus
correct, most of us ill-equipped to experience
words? Is strife truly justice? Will the boundaries
of the soul never be found? Perhaps if the poem
were bolder, shyer, more forgiving, less heedful.
If the poem were filled with hillsides of snow
or geese elongating the sky’s eternity. The poem
is only itself, going where it goes. Can it even
be trusted, for out of nothing its language had
to be invented to contain it—how poor it is,
how insecure, how unremarkable. It thinks its
last line a beginning, an inquiry that finally
gets somewhere—until nothing more is found,
no word or image, no metaphor or aphorism,
no anaphora or caesura, no mourning or joyful
noise, no arc of light to trace, no cardinal flying
again and again against a window, lightly, insistently,
not enough to batter itself to death but enough to
remind us we cannot enter even what we see through.


Jeff Hardin is the author of five collections of poetry: Fall Sanctuary (Nicholas Roerich Prize); Notes for a Praise Book (Jacar Press Book Award); Restoring the Narrative (Donald Justice Prize); Small Revolution; and No Other Kind of World (X.J. Kennedy Prize). His sixth collection, A Clearing Space in the Middle of Being, is forthcoming in 2019. The New Republic, The Hudson Review, The Southern Review, Southwest Review, North American Review, The Gettysburg Review, Poetry Northwest, Hotel Amerika, and Southern Poetry Review have published his poems. He teaches at Columbia State Community College in Columbia, TN. Visit his website at