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15 Apr 2004


Written by sally @ 8:48 am — Section: sally

It’s time for the poem of the day.

Charlie Smith

What brings me alive
is less than simplicity,
is a company of soldiers in shiny blue jackets
boiling chickens in the shade
by the Erasmus Gate, is the fact that my grandfather
died begging for mercy
in a hotel in Atlanta, and that my grandmother, in 1910,
mourned because her breasts
were small.

I know four men
who paddled the length of the Mississippi
in a dugout they hacked
and burned out of a beech tree. When anyone mentioned rivers
they would look at each other
and their eyes would soften with the memory
of mists and sand bars,
of the grave black brows of river barges.

I come from a country as large as Brazil,
but all I remember
are the wet silver webs
of golden jungle spiders
netted in the cane.

I wake up thinking of my brother,
who, on a July morning in 1954,
killed a boy without meaning to.
And I can tell you that this isn’t true,
that my brother didn’t,
as he swept back a four iron
on the lawn of our house in Sea Island,
crack the temple of a boy we had only met
the night before. I can say Yes
I am lying again,
about the boy, about Sea Island,
but as you get up to fix another drink
I will tell you a story
about sleeping in a hay barn in Turkey
and of waking in the night, as, one by one,
the farm hands stood out of the rank straw
to greet us.

I want you to know
that my life is a ritual lie
and that I deserved to be loved
anyway. I want you to smile
when I tell of the purple hyacinths
caught in the gears of the raised bridge
over the Chicopee River, I want you to pretend
you were there.

My sister’s hips were two ax handles wide,
she wept that no one would love her,
my sister, who waded among yellow poppies
and wondered if she were really alive–I want you to wish
you had married her,
I want you to say Please, why did she leave me,
Get her back, O my God,
how can I live without her. I’m not even amazed
that I want you to say this. Listen,
I came downstairs this morning
and somebody had filled the house with flowers.

(from Red Roads, New York: Dutton, 1987, p 36)

4 Responses to “Liar.”

  1. Kicker of Elves said:

    Amazing. “My sister’s hips were two ax handles wide” – god I love that.

  2. gorjus said:

    Wow. Wow, wow–who is this guy?

  3. Sally said:

    Charlie Smith is my official favorite poet. He has several books of poetry, and a new one that just came out (called Women of America). I have an extra copy of another collection (The Palms–the first poem in it is unbelievable) if you’d like to have it.

    He was the poet-in-residence at Alabama one semester when I was there, and I saw him in the halls but could never talk to him. It was tragic. I’ve had this poem hanging in my bathroom or kitchen for the past 7 years or so.

    He gave a reading and I put a note in his box at school requesting he read this one. At the reading, he announced that he didn’t have a copy of it with him and that someone had checked Red Roads out from the library. For some reason it enraged me that he couldn’t produce a copy of his own damn poem.

    What I love–love and adore–about this poem is that we keep on trusting him, even down to the last line. He keeps reminding us that he’s a liar, and we keep falling for it. What, what? Purple hyacinths? Your sister? Flowers filling the house? Tell us more.

  4. bulb said:

    Some political doggerel

    The Effect on his Campaign of the Release of George W. Bush’s College Transcript

    Calvin Trillin

    Obliviously on he sails,
    With marks not quite as good as Quayle’s.