Monday, September 29, 2014

Robert Lavett Smith- Two Poems


"As to the amount of strain on the intellect now.
Was you thinking at all of poetry?" Mr. Wegg
inquired, musing.
"Would it come dearer?" Mr. Boffin asked.
"It would come dearer," Mr. Wegg returned.
"For when a person comes to grind off poetry
night after night, it is but right he should
expect to be paid for its weakening effect on
his mind."
—Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend

The Psalms have always
been good enough for him.

This new stuff doesn't make sense.

Why, for instance, is April,
season of lilacs and gauze-pale skies,
the "cruelest month," unless
it has something to do with income tax?

How much could possibly depend
upon so insignificant a thing
as a red wheel
probably already forgotten
by the unseen farmer—
and maybe even by the poet,
since it only seemed to warrant
eight short, simple lines?

Fog, as far as he knows,
doesn't have feet,
feline or otherwise.

And some poems he finds
even more ominous
and disturbing.

Take Allen Ginsberg, whoever he is.
Igneous knows the King James Version
chapter and verse, fore and reverse,
from beginning to end,
but can't help feeling
that something besides the righteous
indignation of the Old Testament
may underlie the bit about a:

...partition in a Turkish bath
when the blond and naked
angel came to pierce them
with a sword...

Frost, he remembers at the inauguration,
Reading his wind-blown verse before the nation.
(No one could make much sense of it, it's true—
But at least it rhymed, and had a rhythm too.)

The Belle—of Amherst—
Makes him think—
Of members—of his flock—
Secretly much—consumed—by Drink—
But never—prone—to talk.

Still, he draws the line at:

What a thrill———
My thumb instead of an onion.

The rest—red plush, hinge of skin—
is quite disgusting, and written
by a woman, no less!

The good Reverend pushes
the library books aside
in despair, bewilderment, and revulsion.
Perhaps the Sunday School
will have to do without a special reading
by their Senior Pastor, in honor
of National Poetry Month.

Alone in his darkening study,
Igneous takes down
his well-thumbed Bible
and begins to recite aloud.
His voice, rich as warm molasses,
fills all the shadowy corners
of the room:

Yea, though I walk
through the valley
of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil...


"It's wot's behind me that I am."
—Krazy Kat

He remembers the comic strip fondly
from a strange little book he found
while playing in his grandmother's attic
as a boy: the faded cardboard covers
warped, the curiously wide pages intact
although disfigured by a brown
blossoming of water stains.

From the first words,
this unassuming volume
spoke to him—directly,
without artifice or pretense:

Krazy Kat was a simple soul
who didn't understand much
that went on around him.

A few years later, on Saturdays
at the local matinee,
he laughed with schoolmates
as the antics of Mrs. Quakk Wakk and Offissa Pupp
flickered across a buckled screen.

But it was Ignatz Mouse
whom Igneous most loved—
perhaps because the broken name
so closely mirrored his own;
perhaps because Krazy Kat,
her very gender shifting and ambiguous,
her dialect all jumbled vowels,
was apt to refer to her crony
as "Ignatz Mice,"
somehow suggesting multitudes
contained within one tiny form.

Mostly, it was the name.
As a young child, Igneous
had disliked his, reshaping it
through endless permutations
into things his restless childhood
might find an easier fit.

But like Ignatz, he had come to see it as:

A name with euphony.
A name with harmony.
A name with dignity.

It was not until many years later
that Igneous, well into middle age
and pastor of a large and thriving church,
discovered that the cartoonist,
who signed his drawings simply "Herriman,"
with a scrawled "H" whose multiple crossbars
resembled the rungs of a ladder,
had been a man of color, a Creole
from New Orleans whose parents,
of French descent, had been listed
in the registries as mulattos.

Again, the suggestion of multitudes.
Igneous felt an even closer kinship
with Ignatz Mouse because of that.

But, although the Reverend Igneous Rock,
in the boundless charity of his Christian heart,
would be loath to admit it,
there is also the matter of the bricks.

To return to that book
he loved in childhood:

...when Ignatz was annoyed
he threw bricks. In fact,
Ignatz threw bricks when
he wasn't annoyed. He just
couldn't help it.

Igneous Rock always chuckles
when he recalls that pearl of wisdom.

The Reverend is not
a mean spirited man.
Not in the least.

But he likes it.

He just does.

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 Galway Kinnell. He is the author of several chapbooks and two full-length poetry collections, the most recent of which is Smoke In Cold Weather: A Gathering of Sonnets (Full Court Press, 2013). A new collection, The Widower Considers Candles, will be forthcoming from the same press in 2015.

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