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). He has recently been working 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 sometime early next year.
ECHOES OF ANCIENT MUSIC
i.m.: Galway Kinnell, 1927-2014
Your voice was resonant and gently wise,
More penetrating than perhaps we knew.
A passion for the craft preceded you:
So did the patient kindness in your eyes.
As starlings, when they catch an updraft, rise,
Whispering wing beats lifted into blue,
Something you often told our class rings true,
Hoisting my hurt heart upward to clear skies.
You said that we write poetry because
We hear an ancient music in its lines,
That otherwise we’d all be writing prose.
Our scansion betrays raggedness at times
Whose implications only the blood knows;
You offered us a taste of the sublime.
Not yet Thanksgiving, and the Internet
Begins to spew the carols we remember:
Songs I can never hear without regret,
Since my wife passed away in late December.
This festive season tends to disinter
Emotions I’d prefer discretely buried;
I really do grieve differently in summer,
When solstice light brings solace that I need.
Those twining serpents, loneliness and greed,
Lie coiled in every Christmas ornament,
Hatching as days grow shorter—and they breed
A vague malaise approaching discontent.
Whatever madness dashes through the snow,
I learned to do without it long ago.
A SORT OF MAD SALVATION
A Coptic icon somehow come to life,
He strides the sparsely planted median,
His wooden cross thrust forward like a knife—
A minor codicil in God’s Grand Plan.
I guess you’ve got to hand it to the man;
His shouted words and weird gesticulation,
Outroaring passing bus or minivan,
Prove more than equal to the situation.
The tangled beard is part of the equation,
As is the long black cassock that he wears;
It seems as though a sort of mad salvation
Has caught the drowsy traffic unawares.
And the declining sun seems poised to hold
His fervor on a field of beaten gold.