Poetry: Arthur Smith

Two favorites from Arthur Smith's older collection, Elegy for Independence Day (1985). Smith has a new collection out now: The Fortunate Era, his first collection since 2002. Perfect timing since Elegy for Independence Day was the last I had left to read.


I found silence in Virginia,
A covered bridge.
Shrubs crowded
Most of the road, and branches
Hummed in the stream.
Fireflies surfaced and were gone.
I sat on the damp bank breathing
The green air, watching the evening
Fan out from the trees.

Above the birches, a nighthawk
Sliced through the dark rounds,
And I was carried
Back to those memories
Of us walking a new way, hand in hand,
Of how I left you in the fog
And drove all night,
And how, outside Oakland,
A Salt Lake station burst
Through static.

In the silence, I wept
Simply and heavily into my hands,
And my shirt rocked in the dark.
You were in the car above me, waiting,
And we were both alive.


Waking at dusk, the room

Red with the last
Light of summer, I leave
Her sleeping and walk out
On the screened porch.
North, above the hissing
Power lines, a sky studded
With clouds, hailstones
Ticking the tin awning,
And the smell of crushed rose
Rising from the grass. I thought
I would never age, but seeing
Her face swollen from lack
Of sleep, I saw my mother
Once again crossing
The corner lot, home
From the cannery at dawn,
A bag of plums and peaches
Cradled in her arms, her face
Lined with the night.
I remember a rush
Of sunlight flooding
The open door, her clothes
Dropped down the white hamper,
And the cool, stiff covers
Turned back. And then
She slept, and I slept,
And the day went
On and on.