A BRIEF APPRECIATION OF GUNK
It seems it has always been with us,
although its exact nature and composition
at any given moment depend on circumstance:
Irascible, lowest-common-denominator grime,
the leveler: Salt of the earth, the earth itself.
It’s the mulch a laborer with metal hooks
in lieu of hands flings onto the back of a flatbed,
the luminous potato peelings
flaring like wounds in an old stone sink,
the hair of the beloved broken down
into anonymous chains of complex proteins,
the rivulet of sallow tears in every gutter,
writhing unnoticed at our feet.
In its way, it’s the stuff dreams are made of—
less grand perhaps than we might have hoped,
but somehow more honest, more accessible.
WE CAN’T BE SURE
Dad, there are times when your eyes
shine with a momentary clarity
that almost makes it possible to believe
you are the man we remember,
that you remember us.
The beard an aide
at the assisted living facility
shaved off because of a misunderstanding
has mostly grown back now,
if paler than it was,
adorning a face
ever more translucent and ghost-like.
We can’t be sure how much of you is there,
or for how much longer—
we take each day’s uncertainty as a gift,
knowing the days ahead, at best, are few.
WHISKEY AND WOMEN
I met John Lee Hooker
once ages ago after a show;
a decade or so later, he died
on my birthday, although
I no longer recall what year.
Despite the guttural growl
pouring from my speakers
like something unholy risen
from a swampy grave, I don’t
particularly feel his presence now.
Whiskey and women, John Lee
snarls, almost wrecked his life;
for all I know, that may be so.
But the solitude of Sundays
weighs heavily on me tonight.
Sometimes I suspect I’d actually
be grateful for such a florid
demise, for the sort of storied
ruination I imagine might be
wrought by either of those things.
Raised in New Jersey, Robert Lavett Smith has lived since 1987 in San Francisco, where for the past sixteen years he has worked as a Special Education Paraprofessional. He has studied with Charles Simic and the late Galway Kinnell. He is the author of several chapbooks and three full-length poetry collections, the most recent of which is The Widower Considers Candles (Full Court Press, 2014).Two poems from this newest book have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.