WHEN PERCY SANG
i.m.: Percy Sledge, 11/25/41-4/14/15
When Percy sang “When a Man Loves a Woman,”
I felt his pain, though I was just thirteen.
Of course, back then I’d never really been
In love; lust hovered like an evil omen.
I’ve heard it since done many different ways:
Wafting from my transistor radio,
That first Atlantic single long ago,
An anthem of my adolescent days.
Years later, at an outdoor festival,
The Man himself poured forth his shattered heart,
His voice enough to tear the moon apart;
I stood there waiting for the sky to fall.
Art Garfunkel, Bette Midler, Michael Bolton—
When Percy sang, he was the only one.
Glimpsed through the tinted window of a bus
On the New Jersey Turnpike at twilight
A broken smokestack pressed against the night
Proclaimed the place a vanished factory was.
The lip was crumbled, but the stack stood tall:
A pedestal supporting the first stars,
Rising above the flood of passing cars;
A derelict, a lonesome sentinel.
When I was younger, and still lived Back East,
I watched each evening for this one landmark
As the surrounding neighborhood grew dark;
It must be thirty years by now, at least.
Why did this simple thing impress me so?
Well, for the life of me, I still don’t know.
i.m. Dr. C. Lavett Smith, 1927-2015
In recent years, the summers have grown colder,
Disturbing in a land besieged by drought.
On the horizon, constellations smolder;
The sturgeon moon seems swollen, hollowed out.
August’s long dryness puts late Spring to rout,
And Winter seems eternities away;
Small creatures leave their burrows now, no doubt
Stifled by the insistence of decay.
We understand, of course, you couldn’t stay—
Your breathing insubstantial as a wish.
But something intimate returns today,
Beneath this moon we speak of as a fish.
Your body’s ash; still somehow you remain,
Beyond the scope of any grief or pain.
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.
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