Thursday, April 30, 2009

National Poetry Month: Day #30

Today is American writer Annie Dillard's birthday. If you haven't already done so, please find yourself a copy of her most excellent book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and read it so you, too, can know what it means to see in a way that is not seeing.


"I'm a wanderer with a background in theology and a penchant for quirky facts." —Annie Dillard

I thought a lot about what things mean,
what hidden messages come in the intricate veins
of a maple leaf or the spots on the back of a beetle.
I suffered myself to search for the complex
algorithms left by whatever passed for gods
before people who thought a lot came to be.

Then I followed you down
past the tree with the lights in it,
past the row of Lombardy poplars
that grew outside your bedroom window,
beneath the moon you reached for
(I reached for it, too.)
believing enlightenment
could be so easily grasped,
down the winding path,
through the meadows and woods to the creek
where you rolled up your eyes to see
in a way that was not seeing
and I just took my glasses off
and saw the same
as you.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

National Poetry Month: Day #29

As we near the end of National Poetry Month, I realize I haven't yet featured a poem specifically about the frustrations of writing poems. Here's one of my favorites:

Ambiguous Undulations

Reluctantly, they gather
when I call
my thoughts to order.
My agenda meets
with anguish and resentment.

I can't write a poem

smooth and cool as a rock
worn down from a boulder
by the relentless sea

crisp and clean as a leaf
golden green at birth
on a black limb

sleek and fluid as a tiger
lethal by nature
obscure by design.

A quiet kind of treachery
haunts Sunday mornings,
rustling like feathers
in the nest at dawn presuming
they anticipate the will
of the goddess of sleeping cats.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

National Poetry Month: Day #28

Some days it's easier to imagine a simple, more satisfying life of objecthood:

I Would Be

the tuft of moss
near the roots of a white cedar,
cool and damp

the subtle twitch of feather,
a momentary adjustment of wing tip
that takes the hawk nearer to the sun

the irregular arc
of egg shell, smooth
and sturdy, speckled brown and gray

Monday, April 27, 2009

National Poetry Month: Day #27

Few things in this world better represent mankind's tenacity than the subject of this poem:

The Tower

From the first ring of stones
set in the sand and shells
of the field of miracles,
the widow's tower, begun
by sixty coins in remembrance
of the Holy Virgin,
its twin at flawed conception
a thousand years of engineering

From their first misguided corrections
men have struggled to put right
or to preserve,
to hold off, if only for the moment
of their lifetimes,
the inevitable surrender
to gravity.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

National Poetry Month: Day #26

Sometimes a clichè is just a clichè. Others, it's a metaphor that rings in your head, the best advice your mother ever gave you:

By the Horns

Is there a better way, I wonder,
grappling as I do with antique, agrarian clichés,
to take a bull?
They seem the obvious choice for reasons
of convenience, ergonomics, and optimism.
And it's better by far to face the thing
that frightens or threatens you
head on — snorting, struggling,
studying you with eyes full of blood —
than to meet your fate
at the other end
of the bull.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

National Poetry Month: Day #25

Yesterday afternoon, we went north to LaConner to look at tulips. It's an annual event, a pilgrimage of sorts that reminds us, when we are weariest of winter and gray walls of rain, that life is about change and color and sunlight and laughter. The year after my mother died, I wrote this poem on the day of that pilgrimage:

In Tulips

Today, beneath a plane
of sheer, unbroken blue,
while Baker's snowy shoulders shimmered
pink and gold in the distance, I caught
a glimpse of her
among the sun-drenched cups
of fairy porcelain
quivering in the breeze,
her cheeks as pale and soft as petals,
that wry smile and arched brow,
emerald eyes glistening
with a thousand hours
of laughter, dancing
with her sisters:
the flapper, the philosopher,
and the long-suffering saint.

Just then a giggling child,
his round face like an ochre moon,
set with eyes of glittering obsidian,
stumbled into me and gasped
surprised, I think, by my cool
touch on his chubby arm.
He turned and ran, clumsy as a puppy,
to grasp his mother's dangling hand.

I looked again into the endless
stripes of color, but they were gone.

Only tulips danced like swaying gypsies
on the wind.

Friday, April 24, 2009

National Poetry Month: Day #24

A few years back, the trend in spam was strangely poetic word groupings. One such inspired this poem:


The random text arrives:
"chemise similitude oligarchic meadow
suggestible bile wherewith clubroom frizzle."

The poet trapped
in some vile computer bug,
a victim, I'm certain,
of nefarious mathematicians,
sends me hidden messages, accidental
odes to unforeseen
circumstances and unwelcome
enticements, abstract pastiches,
beautiful, beguiling
in their incongruity.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

National Poetry Month: Day #23

It's William Shakespeare's birthday. It's also the 12th anniversary of my arrival in Seattle. Today, a bonus, two sonnets:

Days of Glory

"Life is as tedious as a twice-told tale vexing the dull ear of a drowsy man."
—Wm. Shakespeare, King John (III, iv.)

This day's as good as any, I suppose,
to ponder loss and wonder what is left
when water comes only from a fire hose,
and he who thirsts is still as much bereft
as one who wanders in the desert sand
beneath the sun's most relentless gazes,
confounded by the emptiness of hand
after grasping for the sweet oasis.
What willow will not break if bent too low
by buckets, torrents of tenacious rain
and slide into the slurry, just let go,
dissolve to sticks with minimum of pain?

For us who are made of flexible stuff,
sometimes too much is worse than not enough.

Will & Grace

"In all external grace you have some part..."
—Wm. Shakespeare, Sonnet 53

What elemental, eloquent design
lies underneath your public artifice,
that countenance so perfectly sublime
that jealous angels rival for your kiss
and hosts of lovers fawn to touch your skin?
What architect of heaven made your shell,
braving for glory's sake a deadly sin
that worldly thoughts of beauty would dispel
and leave instead an aching sense of loss,
a vacancy forever unfulfilled,
a palate bored by meat without the sauce,
an eye blind to the lily without gild.

Fair to wonder what good your maker meant
when the fruit of his work is discontent.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

National Poetry Month: Day #22

Another Neil Gaiman-inspired poem, this one tips its hat to Neverwhere:

My Life as a Door

Most days ajar, inviting
with a narrow glimpse
inside where sunlight diffuses
through soft, green curtains
and the crisp, dark perfume
of hot coffee lingers
on the still kitchen air,

others transparent, sliding
out of the way on instinct
triggered by proximity
and aggression

and sometimes locked,
no light on the porch
or welcome mat to lie
at my feet
about my inclinations.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

National Poetry Month: Day #21

Today's poem is for my friend Tea, who deserves all the bright blessings this world can offer:

The Secret of Flight

In darker times,
when science was magic
and the devil, not God, dwelled
in the details,
any woman ripe
for burning knew what to pick
from the hillside greens
to make herself
moonkshood, henbane, deadly
nightshade, mandrake, hemlock,
nothing safe or pretty
as the garden rose,
she picked and dried and ground
into oil and spread it thin
across her skin
and spread herself
across the sky, floating
like an angel
toward the moon.

Monday, April 20, 2009

National Poetry Month: Day #20

Oh, how I wish I had another Sunday, a day of rest ...

This Longing

"Take this longing from my tongue..." — Leonard Cohen

No cup of coffee does
when sweet tea, blond with cream,
brews in the brain
as the cure
for the hollow,
the drop through the floor,
the feeling like someone pulled
the plugs and squeezed
to rush the soul right out of you
like stale air escaping, sending bubbles
to the surface like a letter
written in a language
the receiver cannot read.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

National Poetry Month: Day #19

For my love, who has spent an entire weekend doing yard work and household maintenance:


Like a Florentine painter,
brown from the Tuscan sun,
I work in the wet, fingers
racing pigment into plaster,
capturing character in color
and line, catching gestures
subtle as shadows at noon
in quickening marble ash.

This day's work
is finally

Saturday, April 18, 2009

National Poetry Month: Day #18

Twelve years ago this month, I pulled up stakes in Pennsylvania and set off across the country to Seattle. Many things have changed in my life since then, but one of the things that has remained constant and comforting is my friendship with the subject of this poem:


When my world reduced
itself to boxes traveling west,
decisions about the fates
of cats and roads to skirt
just south of flooding farms,
you were there.

You broke the bottle
across the bow
of my new life,
waving from the dock
as I embarked.

Now that anniversary approaches,
and you are still there,
between winter and better,
warming that mountain town
with your ready smile,

and still here
as blossoms flutter like confetti
through the twilight.

Friday, April 17, 2009

National Poetry Month: Day #17

Like the title of this poem, today's offering is a little late arriving. It's been a brutally busy week. I'm glad it's over.

Spring Late Arriving

Why such reluctance
when every limb
bored with black angularity
strains to soften
in chartreuse the sight
of sky?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

National Poetry Month: Day #16

For friends going through much worse than they deserve:

In Such Times

(for Theodore Roethke)

When a cold wind comes over stones,
I pull my collar up and tuck
my fingers into pockets.

Glove-clumsy, I patch
the cracks in the foundation
and brew strong coffee
to drink while it dries.

When the wind of love's
worst ugly day plays the blues
down the chimney,
I whistle a counterpoint
in harmony.

When the garden looks more like a grave,
I sprinkle crumbs and seed
to keep small things

When the spirit moves not upward,
I stoop
to pick it up.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

National Poetry Month: Day #15

Go ahead. Close your eyes. Imagine something wonderful. Then make a wish.


The first is lost to memory,
that earnest, eyes-closed whisper
chanted as my fist gave way
to fingers, flung the treasure
to the unseen, hungry sprites
of hope.

Other silent secrets, one
for every candled cake
and more for shimmering
cosmic cataclysms
I forgot almost as soon
as I didn't get them.

Still, somewhere between
a penny and a meteor must
be a price
for days of honey
yellow light and warm
breezes, soft edges
and softer centers,
no less than you deserve.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

National Poetry Month: Day #14

Sometimes, a cup of tea is all you need to make a poem:

Susceptible to Metaphor

"The whole world is less susceptible to metaphor than a teacup is." —Wallace Stevens

Van Morrison rails incantations,
valedictions to John Donne, while I step
into the kitchen to perform
the minor miracle
of turning water into

I reach into the cupboard, take
a cup and then a moment
to regard its mute companions inverted
like hollow men, their handle arms akimbo,
poised expectantly on their nonexistent

White as bones beyond
the supplications of flesh,
these shallow, patient bowls
unnerve me with their arrogance,
their assurance they will be

Such purpose disturbs me,
and I think of Pascal
railing against his mistress
of the world, imagination.
Then I remember they are just

I close the cupboard door, pour myself
some tea and go back
to Morrison's soul in wonder,
a pleasant irony to lull me
while I write this

©2000 L.A. Smith.

Monday, April 13, 2009

National Poetry Month: Day #13

For all my bibliophile friends out there, a poem from April 11, 2002:

Used Books

It isn't that I can't afford
or don't relish the crackling
of fresh pages between stiff

It's more about salvation:
loving the loveless
tending stray cats
imagining the choices
that brought them
to abandonment,
wondering if underlined
phrases cross the lips
of my predecessors
like the names of lovers
lost in youth.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

National Poetry Month: Day #12

Happy Easter, everyone of the Christian persuasion.


After sacrifice comes much rejoicing.
That's the message I remember most,
but my childhood mind struggled
to reconcile the myth
of the rabbit
and the carpenter's tale.

Both steeped in unlikely generosity,
mysterious concealment,
and jubilant discovery,
the stories overlapped
like the particolored reeds
that made my basket.

The language of it, too, confounded:
One dyed eggs and hid
them in the bushes;
the other died
for my still unimagined sins.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

National Poetry Month: Day #11

A few years ago, one of my dearest friends, Elaine, became gravely ill. So ill, in fact, she died for a few minutes before doctors were able to revive her. Since then, she has made an astonishing recovery. She's had a second child. She has come back to being one of very few humans I know who lives largely in the present tense. I wrote this poem for her while she was recovering from that illness on April 4, 2003:

Back in Time

for Elaine

Under certain circumstances
it's easy to remember
your jangling, angling way
of talking, building
clause on clause the way life
is, so much a string
of dependencies.

It's easy, too, to recall
your laugh, that crisp
eruption of mirth
that follows the best
bitter ironies and least
appropriate jokes.

Remembering now how we sat
talking with no lights
on as summer stretched day
long into the night,
I pause to imagine
after coming so close
to nothing
but remembering
the next time we'll chatter
after you're back.
In time.

Friday, April 10, 2009

National Poetry Month: Day #10

At Easter, I always think about my late mother. I try, sometimes, to approximate her holiday cooking, but I always fall short. I think I do better at writing poems, like this one from April 8, 2001:

Palm Sunday

Each year she made us walk
to the white clapboard church
at the end of our street,
freezing or frying
depending on the whim
of weather and the way the moon
struck the calendar.

I wore my school clothes:
scratchy wool jumpers and scuffed
brown shoes with frayed
laces to remind me I wasn't as good
as God expected me to be.

My sister was always pulled
together better: a crisp blouse
and maybe even slacks
if it was cold enough.

We sat on either side
of her on the polished wood, aching
for hymns to break
the boredom and digging
for tissues in her purse.

We thought a lot about next Sunday:
crisp dresses and glimmering
shoes, hats and baskets, perfect
pictures on the patio.

After, we'd spend
our energy scampering back
the way we came while she
followed, cradling another year
of protection in her hands.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

National Poetry Month: Day #9

What is it about ancient things, worn and crusty, that so appeals to us? Why do we scour antique shops and garage sales for other people's junk? I can't remember what doo-dad or thingamajig inspired this poem back on April 6, 2005, but I'm sure it was a treasure:


It starts with the smudge,
a careless caress,
an accidental embrace, trace
evidence of something between magic
and magnetism.

Then comes the darkness, the memory
of breath like tropic winds
painting swirls and smoke
along the delicate curvature
of that which is exposed.

Then the tick-tock, tick-tock time
of no reply, no sign,
no dancing lights from beach
to bower to bed.

Now rediscovery, a gentle nudge,
the polish of thumb on brass,
the breathless agony
of unlocking the genie
and knowing these wishes
must be good.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

National Poetry Month: Day #8

Because there are differences between documenting events and remembering them, I offer this poem originally published on April 19, 2000:


Some people remember like cameras,
capturing every detail
in a glance, recalling
flawlessly the shade
of blue the sky became
beyond the trees, the height
of the grass, and the number
of squirrels scampering
for popcorn by the lake.

I remember like a painter,
taking liberties with time,
and space, inviting the dead
or merely disappeared
to join the party under a purple
sky full of dragon
flies on this rolling patchwork
green where all manner
of creatures compete
for your attention.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

National Poetry Month: Day #7

The only certain thing, some times, is uncertainty. Then as now, no matter how hard we try to anticipate it, the element of surprise will always surprise us. Thus, this offering, originally published on April 16, 2003:

Graceful Tumble

for Elizabeth

Practically from birth
we train
like cynical thoroughbreds
to seek surprise, dispel
astonishment before it crashes
us into fences or others staggered
by the unforeseen mouse
or sudden stinging insect.
We practice patience, vigilance
and balance, keep eyes
ahead and feet
the rug furls
like a flag,
a standard of futility,
topples us
without ceremony
leaves us only
with the graceful
way we fall.

Monday, April 6, 2009

National Poetry Month: Day #6

In a poem called "Introduction to Poetry," former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins writes, "I say drop a mouse into a poem / and watch him probe his way out."
I took his advice and came up with this poem on April 1, 2003:

The Mouse Inside This Poem

The mouse inside this poem
is blind,
sad, suffering bastard,
tailless wonder
what cataclysm
brought him here
without his kin
who must be puzzling his absence
between them.

I'd reassure them
if I could
some how
some way
some day
they'll find themselves
together in some nursery
or Kindergarten,
but I don't think they'd understand
the complex, self-referential

So for now at least
they'll suffer uncertainty
like the rest
of us,
those other two and
the mouse inside this poem

Sunday, April 5, 2009

National Poetry Month: Day #5

I recall that I'd been reading Neil Gaiman a lot back when I started writing these poems. I'm not certain what effect that had on my own writing, but I do remember that this poem came straight from a dream I had after reading the story "Baywolf" in his collection Smoke and Mirrors. It's the very first one from April 1, 2000:


We've been here before,
you and I, but then
we didn't look like this,
bottled up in sacks of pale
pink flesh
like a couple of tender
underbellies ready to be torn

I've smelled this air before,
this crisp and prickling
scent of something
frightened, vulnerable,
and delicious
cowering low
just out of sight.

You caught it too,
and pricked your ears
then twitched your bushy
tail a time or two
so I would know
your appetite.

In unison then
like currents deviating
in a stream
you swept in left on silent
paws while I, so quick,
so ravenous, descended
from the right
to seize
the prize.

After, we lay
sated and savoring success
still on our muzzles
as moonlight bathed us
blue and breezes
sang our remorseless lullaby
through the trees.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

National Poetry Month: Day #4

Because it seems this year that spring is taking forever to get here, a poem from April 10, 2004:

Eventual Spring

That day you dreamed
when January's hollow heart
pounded all around you,
hoplessness mingled with cruel,
capricious flurries and a bite
of darkness long before cocktails
could be gracefully excused,
arrived today wrapped in gleaming
yellow light and soft wind,
warm as shallow breaths
on cotton pillows.

Friday, April 3, 2009

National Poetry Month: Day #3

Here's a poem from April 12, 2003:

Self Help

Do it gently
down to darkness
quiet among the low
gray light of a stormy afternoon.

Distill notes from nature's symphony
into your theme.

Flatten mistakes
like pressed flowers
into your belly.

Slide unintended consequences
and uncomfortable silences into brown
paper envelopes and seal
them with your kisses.

Drop your anchor
and defenses long enough to know
that intimacy
is when other people are close

Thursday, April 2, 2009

National Poetry Month: Day #2

Here's a poem originally published on April 20, 2000:


In simple moments, understanding comes
like a stray cat pawing
at the kitchen door
or a phrase of music escaping
from a passing car
to catch you
off balance, in the act,
shame-faced a moment before
you shove your hands
into your pockets and rock
on the balls of your feet,
staring at the ground
whistling a tune
to clear your head
of the one thought
that takes your breath
away with all the subtlety
of a Louisville Slugger.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

National Poetry Month Begins

In 2000, before "blogging" was a verb, I began to celebrate National Poetry Month by writing a poem a day and posting those poems to my erstwhile Web site, These poems were, for the most part, drafted in one of my many notebooks, then crafted online very early in the morning before I set off to work. Pressed for time, and hoping to get a wider audience for some of these poems, I'm going to re-publish 30 of them on this blog, one each day during April.

Here's today's offering, originally published on April 3, 2000:

Mrs. William Carlos Williams

Was it enough,
his simple note?

Did those 28 words
undo the damage,
of his selfishness?

Or did she pout,
hungry and left with nothing
but tea and toast
for breakfast?

Did she turn her cheek
to meet his lips
as he set out on his morning
walk to the hospital?

Did she brood all day,
regretting her decision
to marry him?

Did she serve him dinner
silently with his pathetic confession
still propped against the sugar
bowl on the table?

Did she wrap her curves in flannel
thinking, "If you liked how cold
those plums were, wait
until you climb into bed
with me tonight."