RENEE LIGHTING A CIGARETTE
Renee was Black, spectacularly fat—
In short, my absolutely perfect woman.
My lust for her was almost superhuman;
She always seemed a bit bemused by that.
And every time she lit a cigarette
I watched in fascination, a non-smoker
For whom her habit only served to mold her
The more exotic, harder to forget.
On Mission Street she’d cup her hands around
A flaring match to shield it from the wind;
I loved the glow it bathed her features in;
Igniting flame made such a sexy sound.
Then, when she exhaled, rags of smoke uncurled
Through streetlight beams—each shining thread, a world.
MY BIRTH-BLIND EYES INVITED NOTHING IN
In nineteen fifty-seven, I would arrive
Just after midnight on the summer solstice,
The hapless victim of divine injustice:
Born early, and at first, barely alive.
My birth-blind eyes invited nothing in.
In the glass coffin of the incubator,
One of so many tombs life had in store,
I struggled fiercely with a fierce season.
Later, when light began to penetrate
That gentle darkness stolen from the womb,
Phantasmal figures hovered in the room:
Something unspeakable was lying in wait.
A lifetime’s worth of trying would not dispel
A radiance that didn’t wish me well.
Bimini, Bahamas, summer 1965
The outboard sputtered, coughed, abruptly died,
Our metal dinghy livid in fierce sun;
An afternoon of boredom had begun,
My little sister sullen by my side.
Dad couldn’t start the thing; he tried and tried,
A faulty fuel line must have come undone;
Judging by shadows, it was nearly one,
The hottest hour, and farthest from the tide.
But when we drifted into the green shade
Of the old freighter scuttled on the reef,
Then I began to really feel afraid.
Its hulking presence offered no relief—
Ragged with algae, it lay dead ahead,
A grim leviathan holding its breath.
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. He has recently begun work on an new collection of sonnets—his second foray into the form—which is entitled Sturgeon Moon, and which will hopefully be published by Full Court Press at the end of the year.