The Place Where I Write: Janice N. Harrington

It’s a small L-shaped room, and at the end of its longest side there’s a small alcove, roughly a yard long and yard wide. It’s the view through the alcove’s eastern window that a visitor would especially like—the magnolia’s pink and dizzy profusions in the spring, full moons caught in a hairnet of black limbs—but, best of all, on the narrow sill of the eastern window: nineteen empty blue bottles (wine, Bromo-Seltzer, exotic lotions, Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia) collected on walks, given to me by family, or purchased for a modest fee from an antique store in Hannibal, Missouri. At daybreak, the sunlight strikes the bottles and leaves blue light over the pale stucco walls, intense panes of cobalt blue like the stained glass of Chartres Cathedral.

My work station sits at the entry to the eastern alcove. Several encyclopedias and The Riverside Shakespeare hold my mouse and mouse pad. Volumes J-K, L, H, Ci to Cz, and F of the 1964 World Book Encyclopedia lift my keyboard, and another stack of books holds up the computer monitor. This arrangement allows me to stand, easing a right shoulder that is prone to crankiness. On the desk, where my computer looms, are several dog-eared collections by favorite poets, a tea cup (still holding its dregs of tea) and tea pot, flower pots filled with pens and pencils, a basket of hand fans (heat flashes), and, given pride of place, an antique tin of Prince Albert Crimp Cut Long Burning Pipe and Cigarette Tobacco, the brand my grandfather smoked. Don’t ask me why, it just has to be there when I begin working. On the stucco walls, behind my work station, hangs a collection of taped photocopies and handwritten notes: helpful grammatical advice, instructions for backing up the computer, the definition of words that I like to confuse with one another, and, on carefully folded paper, words I transcribed by hand from the movie Babette’s Feast based on a story by Isak Dinesen.

There comes a time when your eyes are opened, and we come to realize that mercy is infinite. We need only await it with confidence and receive it with gratitude. Mercy imposes no conditions. And lo! Everything we’ve chosen has been granted to us and everything we rejected has also been granted.

Janice N. Harrington’s poetry collection, The Hands of Strangers: Poems from the Nursing Home, was published in October 2011 by Boa Editions. A former librarian and professional storyteller, she now teaches at the University of Illinois. Harrington’s poem “Wild Onion” appeared in the September/October 2011 issue of Orion.


  1. The words from Isaak Dinisen are like the light oozing through those blue bottles to cast a welcome light over the work of writing–exotic and magical and ordinary at once, already known at some level, but not before named. You name things beautifully. Thank you.

  2. Thanks, Orion, for this new feature. And thank you, Janice, for welcoming us into your writing space…is that tea I smell?

  3. You write with pure vision.I can see these places plain as day.Keep up the great work.

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