<i><b>Wicked Alice Poetry Journal
wicked alice| winter 2008

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 air.

Or the hollowed skull

of an acorn squash. A postcard

slapped on a refrigerator door.

The haloes of halogen

and that unformed object

at the end of the trail.


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

blown-open windows,

the roiling

of sky in green,

but in the lifting

of dry leaves,

the invisible

hair on a neck.

In the summer

it rises like a girl

on stage who opens

her mouth

to sing.  And this winter

it drowned

the humming of cars

from the freeway,

picked up

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
overpass that divides
the absence of corn
from the absence of tree.
The mountains, the sea

are myths
of the heart,

that hollow kernel that softens

or bursts.




There are women

who can find birds

of prey in any terrain

screech owls that sound

like love

or the loud rustling

toward it.

The afternoon is mottled

with blackbirds

the cleaving sun

stains them

against the sky. 




What survives

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.