Erin Elizabeth Smith
Love Song for an Armadillo
A man in the movie store is wearing your cologne.
Seven years later with twelve states between me
and where you used to be, this man – caught in his mid-life circus
with the too-tight jeans and the too-tan girl –
becomes you, quickly aged in the Florida heat.
You have drawn up your hair since that July
when I was thinner and rusty with summer.
We were quick with our hands, digging
holes for the hibiscus in my father's garden.
The rhododendron, late-blooming pansies forgotten.
Lakeland in the siege of summer,
when the palms have opened from their asparagus beginnings,
and the freshwater mussels dug up toward the shore.
That heat was an animal that lived without breath.
The winter, the distance, the bad poetry were nothing then,
yet the armadillo crushed in the road was remarkable and strange.
We marveled at its bloodless death,
its eyes eaten through by the day's bivouac of bird.
Its armor a tapestry of shingles,
its small claws clenched in recognition.
Back then, New York was another world,
as if there could be a time before Binghamton,
the slow-changing of white ash in autumn.
A time before the crushing distance,
your rapid hands floundering in my shirt.
Before the man in the movie store put his hand
in his girl's pocket, leading her toward the door.
As if that armadillo had been hit two days later,
by a housewife driving her boys to school –
it would have been their lesson in ending.
Not ours, standing over the beast, with the world in bloom,
poking its body with a branch,
knowing it would rise,
knowing it would all fall away.
A Box of Paperclips
In some ways it's simple. Here
is the weight of a hand. It is a box
of paperclips laid on a chest. It is the wet
heat of Mississippi, a longing
of the bones to be free
of the skin, the way they lean
and lean from the body
into the frenetic
of an acorn squash. A postcard
slapped on a refrigerator door.
The haloes of halogen
and that unformed object
at the end of the
Love, what does this turn
us into? What does distance do
except stay measured and sure?
Except open like a cracked geode
to reveal itself – bright and smooth
and impossibly hard.
Drawing What I Hear
In the coffee shop, the last time I see you, I hear you move from me. My friend is saying "I don't know what he'll do. I don't like him anymore." She is talking about her husband. There is a swallow in my throat. Water drips into a pot. Steam. My body is shrill, the way the lids lower and brush to you. Your hat, your shirt, they make no noise, but they did when you threw them on your bed, always unmade, always cold and expectant. Though some nights last winter we made it warm and I heard you say my name. And you saying, "Wait. No." Then the turning of my body in your hands. The sounds of sheets bunched at the heels. The night you told me about your ex-wife who held you like I did. I hear your sink drip in the bathroom and do not rise to stop it. Dishes make glass sounds in the sink. The click click click of a pilot light and the opening conversation of flame. The near silent way your hand covered mine at the bar the first night I met you. The way your darts hit the board, so clean, like something going in that can't come out. The way you made it come out. The pluck of it. The night you said "Come in." And I did. And here today, my friend saying "He was never this way. Or he always was." I say "Come here," and her hair makes a sound across my cheek. I do not hear the closed door of your leaving, your car start up in the lot. Instead I remember fingers in your hair the last day I knew you. The way I didn't say your name when you passed. The way the air didn't raise its breath to voice, but it could have been the sound of your voice. The sound of your voice saying "No" and then the brushfire in my bones, the low, long crackle.
The truth about wind
is that it can
become a body
of water, a divide as wide
as the St. Lawrence
in Montreal – the way it splits
but always comes back
to the self.
The wind announces
what it touches,
what it lets go. Not in
of sky in green,
but in the lifting
of dry leaves,
hair on a neck.
In the summer
it rises like a girl
on stage who opens
to sing. And this winter
the humming of cars
from the freeway,
the snow like a sleeping
child, its flushed voice
saying I am sorry,
I am sorry.
We must go.
The Prairie State
The bridges are not
bridges on the plain,
but the gaping
that hollow kernel that softens
There are women
who can find birds
of prey in any terrain –
screech owls that sound
or the loud rustling
The afternoon is mottled
with blackbirds –
the cleaving sun
against the sky.
in this middle
place where the land
grows long, can toughen
or green? Where barns
float like buoys on the horizon,
always red, always shingled
white, always filled
with the thing
nobody quite expects.
Erin Elizabeth Smith is author of the book The Fear of Being Found ( Three Candles Press, 2008) and a PhD candidate at the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi where she serves as the managing editor of Stirring and the Best of the Net anthology. Her poetry has previously appeared in Third Coast, Crab Orchard, Natural Bridge, West Branch, The Pinch, Rhino, The Pacific Review, and Willow Springs among others.