Red Letter Poem #39

Steven Ratiner, Arlington’s Poet Laureate, is today’s guest blogger.

Everyone loves a good ghost story – Charles Dickens understood that – not to mention the dream of second chances.  So when old Mr. Scrooge is visited by his phantom possibilities, we too believe we might reach across time and circumstance – to comprehend our own tangled narrative, to soothe old wounds, and prepare ourselves for what the new morning may offer.  And for that reason I love the matter-of-factness of Jeffrey Harrison’s writing; he offers a counterbalance to the strain of contemporary poems that seek to recreate the universe from the inside out.  He implicitly trusts that the materials of his life (which very much resemble the lives, landscapes, and histories we too inhabit) are sufficient for that most basic of challenges: how to bear the weight of our own past and still enter the new day clear-eyed and open-hearted.  Jeffrey shies away from rhetorical flourishes and works within the bedrock American idiom.  The music of his lines is only slightly heightened from that of earnest conversation or the voice of our internal monologue – and so the situations he presents possess a bracing actuality. 

“Double Visitation” – which appeared recently in Between Lakes (Four Way Books), his seventh volume of poetry – is a ghost story inside a ghost story.  And the questions it raises seem especially appropriate today, in the midst of the mid-winter holidays representing so many spiritual traditions.  So I am left wondering: what secret message am carrying inside me – and whose ears hunger to receive those words, right now, while such an exchange is still possible?

Red Letter Poem #39: 

Red Letter 39

The Red Letter Poems Project was created in grateful partnership with many of our town’s cultural resources: the Arlington Commission for Arts and Culture, the Arlington Center for the Arts, the Robbins Library, the Arlington International Film Festival, and Arlington Community Education.  See the full archive of the project at  We’ll send out a poem from a new poet every week. If you enjoy them, we encourage you to forward them to friends –  in Arlington and beyond –  or to post them on your social media platforms with the hashtags: #RedLetterPoems, #ArlingtonPoetLaureate. If you want to make sure you receive these poems directly – or to receive notices about future poetry events – send an e-mail to: with the subject line ‘mailing list’.

In ancient Rome, feast days were indicated on the calendar by red letters.  To my mind, all poetry and art – and, in truth, even the COVID-19 crisis itself – serves as a reminder that every day we wake together beneath the sun is a red-letter day.

– Steven Ratiner

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