Thursday, January 22, 2015

Robert Lavett Smith- Three Poems


How insidiously death
seeps into every corner
of my world, like a shadow,
a stain, the stale smell
of winter sunlight.

At dusk, at the moment
when mauve surrenders
to black, those who are gone
return, as darkness smudges
the edges of the ineffable.

So they come back:
Jaimes, the brilliant poet
wasted to a skeleton by ALS,
speechless that final night
save for an eloquence in his eyes.
Victor, gentle Deadhead,
killed by a drunk driver
as he walked his pit bull puppy
in the woods near Santa Rosa,
a hundred yards from the shoulder.
Sophie, murdered by friends
in a dispute over a man,
her dismembered,
decomposing body buried
under a hedge in Golden Gate Park.

Mike, dead thirteen days
after a stitch in his side
proved to be cancer,
his internal organs
hopelessly compromised.
My gracious wife Pat,
the growth in her brain,
against all expectations,
abruptly erupting
in a blaze of blood.
There is nothing to do
about any of this,
so I write these words—
a futile gesture, I know—
in memory of them all.

I’ve been thinking about
this respiratory infection
like a damp avalanche
in my lungs for weeks,
considering the mundane
misery of an afternoon
which announces itself,
through drawn blinds,
as achingly clear light,
in spite of everything.

If only Jesus, broken on the Cross,
Could have foreseen the tension at the table—
The forced, tight smiles almost intolerable—
The butchered egos and the sense of loss.
Our faces bloodied by cranberry sauce
We hide our rage as well as we are able,
Conviviality, at best, unstable:
This season proffers pain, the rest is dross.
Oh, Lord, now is the dark night of the soul,
When days grow short, and tempers, shorter still.
Though none are truly maimed, no one is whole;
The cutlery is honed as if to kill.
So pass the turkey and the buttered rolls,
Endure this martyrdom each must fulfill.
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.

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