Shining Rock Poetry Anthology

Poems by Dave Smith


I don't understand the violence of men
who bring screams to a child by tossing it
against a concrete garage wall, the butts
of drinkers, the young girl raped. I don't
understand how two men jump from Ford
pickups same age different color punches
start flying in the intersection we want
only to pass through, our dinner waiting.
I don't know how I didn't understand
if I put my hand in the mailbox blindly
the wasps would feel I might have reason
to harm them, so I got more than my mail.
In Syria middle school kids pick up pieces
of their cousins so somebody will know
who is not coming home. They don't ask
what the bomber looked like, they don't
watch the window at night as the moon
pushes their faces under cloth scarves.
Maybe I understand they run for cover
the way green lizards do if a bird comes by.
In my town after dinner lazy summer night
slides through the solemn streets where we
used to chase the mosquito truck, gagged
by sweet fog we didn't know was deadly.
Soon the faint popping of drive-by shots.
They don't stay long. Afterward voices
angry, muffled shouts, somebody slams
a door hard. That's all. Time to go stand
on the moon's porch and listen. The buzz
of insects is like a big breath let out slowly.
It's not painful, just something I understand.


Once in Sewanee, Tennessee I went outside
naked, a fully grown man. It was foggy
up on the mountain so no one could see.
Inside me my blood sugar had plunged so
I believed I could fly, I guttered my arms
up and down, I made noise like a heron's
deep in my throat, I pushed the grass to lift
my fatness into the silver air. It took time
but I remember how the deep offside of
the mountain called me like a waterfall
a child might tumble into. By then Dee was
tugging my arm, afraid, trying to anchor me,
her voice that shrill whistle of the red-wing
when she grips the marsh-grass flutter-top.
Some would believe I never flew up at all,
saying it was only the nakedness of an idea
that makes a man confuse what is true. But
I remember every detail, starting with a door
opening, birds I couldn't see in morning fog,
voices of people on the golf course nearby,
the brush of cool pine needles on my chest,
my feet landing on crowns of moss, then
her face with its flame of anger, an angel's
grimace when a demon has grabbed her parts.
I have heard they cannot be captured but
sometimes the right lie will work to bring
forth the love that seems like hurt in a saint.
I can't think of anything else to explain how
often, over more than fifty years married,
I have gone flying and she brought me back.
Surely that is the proof, even if no one else
saw her struggle to stay on the ground, of
how love has kept us flying, up and down,
up and down, body to body alive. For now.


                        How blessed horses smell...
                                                Jim Harrison

Death riding him, Jim Harrison's poem
brings the smell of a horse into the room
where I sit glaring at my black pond,
a giant my daughter Lael rode years ago
one Bennington summer, odor a man
forgets, if he can. But I remember how
a horse touched by its name can make
earth tremble as it passes, a god giving
off low gruffs of breath. A black gelding
my girl dropped on like a goldfinch,
legs locking, trying to ready herself
for whatever's coming. When I hear him
speak something I almost understand,
a smell of massive excrement comes,
of heaps of goldenrod, of gold tulips
from the field where he watched small
riders come to be carried in their joy.
Vermont sunlight burned like love as
he pissed on the boots of tiny groomers.
Good luck, we called to each one rising.
All day fear fluttered our hearts as he rode
his shade back and forth, each learning
how veterans smell, how gaits of courage
can open an unblinking leap in mid-air
only belief keeps. Her small clinging
fingers were bloodless as nymphs rude
gods heave away or claim on a whim,
but how her face gleamed when she slid
down onto the sunny dirt. His black shade
walked away from us then, for a while
she held my hand in the light. Until time
to go came, and that smell in our clothes
closed, and I knew I would remember it
as sometimes a poet does with right words.

Dave Smith's most recent book was HAWKS ON WIRES: POEMS 2005-2011, LSU press, 2011.  Poems reprinted with the permission of the author.

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