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8 Apr 2010

Spend the Next Hundred Years Staring It Down.

Written by sally @ 7:39 am — Section: sally

Just because I’m not posting a poem a day doesn’t mean I’m not celebrating National Poetry Month. I read this last night and thought, Damn.

The Sweetness of a Peach
–Charlie Smith

1

Somebody must have rummaged in these attic boxes
recently, among the masks and dried petticoats, the refolded
telegrams begging on relentlessly for money
and love. My mother dreamed from here she saw a hundred babies
lying white and naked on the moonlit lawn. ‘At first
I thought they were mushrooms,’ she said, as if the important fact
was that she recognized them at all. My father, sleep swimmer,
pulled the clear waters of his death around him. ‘Fatal priest,
come at last’ was among the phrases drifting
down these attic stairs. Here we put on plays;
children taught each other’s flesh: prick
and cunt: be gentle when you touch. We flew the hundred flags
an uncle bought us, from all the disappeared empires of the world:
Thebes and Rome, Persia and the Confederacy — countries
that haunted us likes aches along the bone. My sister found a snake skin
coiled between two boxes containing our grandmother’s diaries
and our mother’s soiled summer dresses.

2

The floor is painted blue.
Above it windows let down a graceful light. The longest, I think,
lifetime ago, I constructed a fortress up here
that would protect me: stacks
of Atlantic Monthly magazines, the red square boxes of my mother’s
former circus duds, my father’s horse chains. In the cracks
I mortared in my dreams, all those harlequins
dressed for tropical weather, patriots
of the nighttime country who would never, they swore,
be rounded up. I could be saved then, my sisters too,
their barely explainable bodies moving
among the trees of light. Years later my best friend
fell back across the bed crying, ‘Why

am I such a coward?’ having reached a place
he could not return from whole. And yet he still lives,
as I live, on my feet in this
Demilitarized Zone, where the generations gather,
pretending they are ghosts.
Blue dahlia, iris, the sweet
unenduring delicacy of a daffodil. Look how the world
can turn around: set a single yellow daffodil
in a white vase. Place the vase on a pinewood table
in the light. Step back and spend the next hundred years
staring it down.

3

In a diary dated August 12, 1893, my grandmother wrote:
‘I have seen him walking on the road
when there was no one there, and I cannot understand
how I smell the scent of tea olive, I feel the red dust
on my wrist, I taste the sweetness of a peach,
and he is nothing.’
Grown old, she traveled from town to town
carrying, like an antique brooch, the faint
and singular hope that he might be living there,
unnoticed and uncared for
among the rise and fall of other people’s lives.

from Red Roads. Dutton, 1987. Pages 3-4.

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