Harmonica

By Robert Morgan


Robert Morgan is one of America’s greatest living poets and writers of prose fiction and biography, and we are delighted to offer four new poems by him for the premiere of Appalachian Places. Readers familiar with his poetry will recognize his love for musical instruments, his deep knowledge of scientific phenomena, and the recurring presence of Uncle Robert, who appears in many of Morgan’s poems and stories. Each of these new pieces also features a relatively recent development in his poetry: the appearance of the rhyming end-couplet, which offers a startling sense of recognition and natural fulfillment to the poems. Morgan is a native of Zirconia, North Carolina, just outside Hendersonville. He has been called “the poet laureate of Appalachia,” and we believe these new poems demonstrate the ongoing case for that claim.


Sent back from wartime Britain with

my Uncle Robert’s last effects,

the instrument was gold with red

inside where notes were made by breath.

I put it to my lips and blew

a chord at once exotic and

familiar, the holes aligned

like seeds on cobs. He must have bought

it over there to ease himself

in hours and nights between the raids

above the flak and oxygen

of Germany, the mouth organ

enhancing vowels of voice, and left

behind for his return. I cupped

the music in my hands as though

to shield it from a threatening wind,

the flame of grief and memory

in search of Cold War harmony.



Robert Morgan is Kappa Alpha Professor of English at Cornell University, where he has taught since 1971. Among his sixteen poetry collections are The Strange Attractor: New and Selected Poems (2004), October Crossing (2009), Terroir (2011), and Dark Energy (2015). His collections of short fiction include The Balm of Gilead Tree: New and Selected Stories (1999) and As Rain Turns to Snow and Other Stories (2017). He is the author of seven novels: The Hinterlands (1994), The Truest Pleasure (1995), Gap Creek (1999), This Rock (2001), Brave Enemies (2003), The Road from Gap Creek (2013), and Chasing the North Star (2016). He is also the author of two books of historical scholarship, Boone: A Biography (2007) and Lions of the West: Heroes and Villains of the Westward Expansion (2011). Among his numerous awards are Poetry’s Eunice Tietjens Prize, fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, the James G. Hanes Poetry Prize from the Fellowship of Southern Writers, the Southern Book Critics Circle Award, the North Carolina Award for Literature, and an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts.