To One Inspecting My Poems
You there outside, thumbing through my book,
Come in a while and sip a beer. We’ll play
Joni and Dylan on cheap CD’s, and tell
Each other jokes about a bungled world
Unstitching like a baseball in the rain.
The day was hot and long, we’re both
Exhausted by the work we left undone.
You might well ask what wares I have to offer
A wary shopper wanting a good read.
Red syllables I stole in Zanzibar,
Or the open sesame to a bright cave
Where long-eyed genies curl in dusty lamps
And wait for lust to rub them the right way?
Or do I peddle God’s most secret name?
I know, the irony lies heavy on the tongue.
There’s no one buys that magic any more,
The uncertain spell that spins a singing line
To cast a fly for meaning that won’t bite
But almost pulls the sun out of the water—
But, no, I won’t say no one, dammit, if you
Will still shell out a twenty for my song!
Reader, I’m glad you’re here. Company
Sweeter than a sister’s or a brother’s,
Your mind on my mind, your eye to my eye.
I feared you were a vanished breed, a myth
That wordsmiths must revere, or simply die
For lack of any reason to flail on.
Here, have another, stay a while with me...
Because we have a lot in common after all!
I for my part have hungered just like you
To hold a language-mirror to the soul
And let the flicking tongue of poetry
Pierce, to coin a phrase, my heart. And I
Have loved the manna of meaning in a word
More than the bread and butter of my life.
And though I’ve lived to be a decent man,
Ethical, slow to hate, and glad enough
To live on the honey of the ones I love,
I feel some nights that I would trade it all
To twirl hot words toward heaven like a rope
And clamber where the raging giants storm
And be a welcome party to their song.
So here we are instead. Oh, well. Out the night-
Blind windows—in bumper-sticker-speak—
Prose happens. And eternity. And the galaxies,
A little further off, harmonious, ceremonious,
Circle the center of a perfect yawn. Stranger,
Companion, friend, more self than other,
I’m set for elsewhere if you’ll come with me,
Just two kids strolling by a sunset stream,
Sipping beers from a six-pack we stole somewhere,
Our tall tales skipping over the stretch of blue
That merges at the horizon with our dreams—
Until laughing ourselves hot, we stop and strip
To dive headlong into the murmuring water,
The elusive whisper of some shareable song.
My father is an angle in the room,
A looking down, an eyebrow at the window
So full of summer vagaries and dawn.
What is the meaning of this visitation,
This memory or yearning or old pain,
Spinning like a quarter in a ray of sun
Whose flickering quick shadows
Stripe the yawning dreamer as he wakes?
In and out of sense my father leans
Into clouds of talcum powder snowing
In the misted mirror and bay rum half-light
Mixing a lost fragrance with remorse.
Why now this forgotten sadness like a hoop
I am rising into and through, swish, swish,
Swish, from forty years away not even
Grazing the rim of the hole in his heart
Where a boy could never fit, the fathering place
He never could step into and become?
And now I do remember how today’s
The birthday of his death, black lawyer’s eyes
Fading as his very bigness went, the sheer size
Of his shoulders down the hall, until nothing
Could be smaller than his gurneyed, unpillowed
Head, his unspoken good-bye word.
I frame his gargoyle forehead in my hands, I trace
His frozen eyebrows with the shadow of my thumbs,
I breathe deep from the darkness where he hid.
And the deaf-blue air of morning ripens, August
Yawns wide and golden outside the windows,
And my soul gathering strength at last pushes
Away from dream through a door thrown open,
And hugs the light wildly, and the empty air.
Costa Rican-American poet Mark Smith-Soto is professor of Romance Languages, director of the Center for Creative Writing in the Arts, and editor of International Poetry Review at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. A 2005 winner of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in creative writing, he’s had work in Antioch Review, Bitter Oleander, Kenyon Review, Literary Review, Nimrod, Poetry East, Quarterly West, Rosebud Magazine, The Sun, and numerous other publications. He is the author of three prize-winning poetry chapbooks and two full-length collections, Our Lives Are Rivers (University Press of Florida, 2003), and Any Second Now (Main Street Rag Publishing Co., 2006).
Q: What was the inspiration for these poems?
A: The longer a poem gets, the more flaws it’s bound to have. Which explains why I’ve written more sonnets than most anyone else I know. Still, every so often a poem gallops onto the page before I have a chance to put on the reins, and “Morning Dream” is one of these headstrong and disheveled creatures that will only take so much grooming. “To One Inspecting My Poems,” on the other hand, has undergone endless sprucing up over a period of many years, and I am glad it has found a home with Prime Number so I can finally let the poor thing be.
Q: If you could create a soundtrack for your poem(s), what would it be?
A: Appreciative silence…
Q: What direction do you face when you are at work on your writing?
A: Backward, as a rule. Though often I will look up and be staring through a window…
Q: Opening move: Rock, paper, or scissors?