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 this year.
THE REVEREND IGNEOUS ROCK WATCHES IT RAIN
The leaded glass in his window
only serves to further
blur an already indefinite sky,
a study in diluted grays,
and a backdrop
to the seemingly endless downpour.
It’s been hissing down for weeks,
clearing only briefly,
and never for long.
Noah must have felt
something like this,
when the firmament roared
and rivers began
to overflow their banks
in those final hours before the deluge.
The heavens are meant to declare
the splendor of His handiwork,
but clearly Our Lord
is no watercolorist. The monotony
of the smudged light
that fills these afternoons
has become almost unendurable.
And at such times,
the dead draw near, unbidden.
They are in Glory,
the Reverend firmly believes,
but somehow they’re here too—
as though this weather
has reluctantly granted them
a backward glance at the lives
they’ve left behind—
and however much he may aspire
to welcome and to comfort them,
even the Reverend Igneous Rock,
a man ever steadfast in his faith,
finds himself burdened
beneath the weight
of their unimpeachable sadness.
IGNEOUS ROCK PERUSES THE FAMILY ALBUM
The oldest photos, daguerreotypes,
depict ancestors whose names
have long been lost, stern shades
in starched collars, whose eyes
shine like the night eyes of beasts,
as though they were caught
in a moment of stunned surprise
as the onrushing years ran them down.
In fading snapshots from the fifties,
a girlish Beulah and her late mother—
weighing nearly a thousand pounds between them—
beam for the camera, flowered sun dresses
struggling to restrain their unrepentant girth.
It’s a family picnic, or some such.
Almost hidden in a corner of the frame
is a splinter of sunlight snared in the lens,
a ghostly rectangle of bleached brightness
Beulah used to tell the kids
was the Door into Heaven.
Polaroids taken in the sixties
have buckled and blistered
on the wide cardboard pages,
hinting those turbulent times
were singed by an unseen fire.
The final leaves are empty, forever unfilled.
Everything’s digital nowadays, Igneous muses,
as if all our lives, at the instant they happen,
were already vapor, slipping through our hands.
Although she is usually loath to be seen
so scandalously under-dressed, Beulah Rock
actually owns—stashed in the back of a drawer
somewhere—a prodigious yellow tee shirt
bearing the slogan I Believe in Angels
in bold blue letters as vivid as a summer sky.
A gift from Myrtle several birthdays ago,
it’s aired out once a year, at the annual picnic.
Some insist these celestial messengers are merely
symbolic, but she and the Reverend know better:
Many’s the time, at dusk when the diminished light
transforms fields and trees to a brief, dusty gold,
she’s sure she’s heard them softly singing,
voices concealed behind the rustling leaves
or in the patient refrain of the nearby river.
A reassurance, perhaps a benediction,
the words are strange, and vanish instantly,
like fragments of a conversation overheard
and then forgotten an instant before sleep.