Sunday 8 January 2023

Five Poems by James Higgins


Torn Photograph


There we are, standing next to each other,

dress uniforms, on our way out to sing


somewhere, Soldiers Chorus, Fort Ord,

’64, an old photo, black and white,


Taken by me then wife,

bottom torn off somehow.


Who knew that you would have blood

cancer, bone marrow transplant


& live through it, that surgery gave you

life, more time on this earth for us to talk


long distance all these years. That life-

giving marrow even gave you a springtime


allergy you never had before. Who knew

that night that both our marriages would dissolve,


that we would find new partners. We knew nothing

of the future, just on our way out to sing some


show tunes & patriotic songs, while new draftees were

training for the oncoming war in Vietnam.


What we did know is that we were the lucky ones,

the ones who would sleep at home that night,


that would leave the army soon without killing,

without being killed.

Trying On Hats 


She liked to go into Minter’s Dep’t Store

Just to try on hats, you know,

back then a woman, to be dressed, 

wore a hat, wore a hat and gloves.


Hats were on little stands, each sitting

on its own little wooden head-like thing,

veils, carefully arranged, colours together,

mostly navy blue or black.  


It must have been winter, I guess.

Seasonal colours were quite

important back then, no white shoes

or hats ‘til Easter please, but anyway,


there were these tables in the middle

of the hat displays, two at least, maybe

more, with high double sided mirrors

so she could sit there, try on the hats,


she chose, peer at her face in the mirror,

veil up, veil down, hat straight

or cocked to the side, now I wonder

what she was thinking, maybe


a daydream, seeing herself as another

woman, more glamorous perhaps,

who could afford to buy a hat or

even two? Maybe that face


in the mirror was the woman

she wanted to be, instead

of the separated wife of

a small town Texas mechanic.




The foghorn repeats itself all evening

like an old man

                    telling stories of his youth.


Wind chimes begin to play

                  their never finished melody

breezes sigh through treetops,


while silent            heavy-bottomed

white clouds sail

                         away from the coast


toward the mountains

                           that will pierce them

demanding water

                        like a thirsty child.


Sun sets silently on the horizon, sea

                                  lapping gently now

                          at the tidal shore


while we silently watch,


to this day pass, measured by sounds


that will be heard         tomorrow


in this room with a view

                    &       the next tomorrow

as well,           by others,      sitting

watching     listening           while


those images &            sounds

still play in our minds.


Train Watch


I want to stand on a train platform,

hear the long


as the locomotive passes

the last crossing before

the station, watch the engine

pull in, hear the brakes squeal,

the cars

            with tinted windows

slow, finally stop, passengers

rise, stretch,

             there’s the dining car,

small vases,

a flower on each table,

diners stare down

at us gawkers,


why we watch this railroad



if we watch every day   


is this an occasion we

made up

              for Pandemic



I want to stay though,

                   watch new riders

hug their friends or lovers,

climb the steps,

                 get tickets checked,

hear that conductor shout

All boarrdd,

see the doors close, big diesel

start to move, want to

wave goodbye as if I know

that woman, that child 

in the dark window,

want to watch that train

‘til it moves on, disappears

around that curve in the track.





I walk off the plane with my small carry-on

Into a place I’ve never been

Where no one knows me                     where few

Speak my language


My passport checked at Customs       How long

will you be here, they ask         As long as possible

Where will you stay?                    

Well…not sure                            Purpose of visit?

When I say escape     I get a look       so I smile    

Say vacation            but escape is true       peering

At ads on the walls        usual hotels    car rentals

Press a button for English                           a bus  

Downtown will do         then             an old hotel

Quiet room                Maybe walk the streets some  

Wondering why                                   still in flight

From grief      so sudden                   so consuming

Absence appeals                     from familiar places             

People             Sounds           smells          language        

Wanting to dwell                               maybe forever

In the unfamiliar.

James Higgins was born in Texas. He lived there and in California untiI deciding that Oregon was the place for him. He was formerly in a local poetry group here and had some poems that placed or won in Oregon Poetry Assn. contests. He has not submitted for years now, but is seriously pursuing publication. He graduated from the University of Oregon, where he studied poetry with Ralph Salisbury and obtained a BA in English literature.

Credits: “Chaos,” in Terra Incognita (2019) Anthology,

“Beyond Words”  in Beyond Words (September, 2022) 


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