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Archive of poems by E. Russell Smith
Posted chronologically and indexed alphabetically.

  • Anthropomorphism

  • As Time Goes By

  • Avuncular

  • Barron Blues

  • Belafonte at Eighty

  • Below Hog's Back

  • Bennigan's Grill, Miami

  • Beyond Metaphor

  • Bird in the House

  • Birds of Cancun

  • A Birdwatchers' Lectionary

  • Black Ice

  • The Booth Lake Stud

  • Brief Workout

  • Bronze Age Relic

  • The Case for Faith

  • Catalpa

  • Carrington, a Portrait

  • Christmas Light

  • Citizens' Advisory

  • Coming to Jerusalem

  • Community Succession

  • Corrections /Agriculture Canada

  • Cottage Rain

  • Counterpoise

  • Doing Time

  • Eastering

  • Embarkation

  • Et in Arcadia Ego

  • Flowers for a Dry Garden

  • Flowers of Evil

  • Four Men Walking

  • Gaia

  • Game Without Losers, A

  • Genesis

  • Hic Sedo et Lego

  • Hymn to the Word

  • Imprints

  • It Is That It Is

  • Late Winter Wakening

  • The Least of These

  • Lily Lake

  • Mardi Gras North

  • Merryman's Yarn

  • Metamorphosis

  • Miami Transect

  • Midnight, Christmas

  • Mons Veneris

  • Motown Layover

  • My Boxing Career

  • Niagara-on-the-Lake

  • Nine Eleven

  • Nunc Dimittis

  • Old Polonius

  • Once More Into the Breach

  • On Giving Up Poetry

  • Over Sourmilk Gill

  • Recipe for Cross Rib

  • Sas-Bahu

  • Second Horse of the Apocalypse

  • Shield Country

  • Silent Generation, Walking

  • Smells Like Air

  • A Snowbird's Consolations

  • South Shore, Winter

  • Soweto, Palestine

  • Stanley Cup Finale

  • Storm Bird

  • Suburban Jungle

  • Suburban Rain

  • The Summerhouse

  • Solo Bushwhacker

  • Someone Else Must Tell

  • Summer Intrusions

  • Summer Thunder

  • Terminal Rustication

  • This Is My Body

  • This Is Our Dominion

  • Trust On Ice

  • The View from Thirty Thousand Feet

  • Vive l'Acadienne!

  • We Who Are About to Die

  • We Swat Mosquitoes, Don't We?

  • What he meant was

  • Winter Reigns

  • A Word to George Herbert
    Return to E. Russell Smith's Home Page

    Suburban Rain

    Finally -- after days of heat 
    and humid foreplay, and an hour 
    of electricity -- comes the rain, 
    like the upchuck that relieves
    a spell of chronic nausea.
    Behind my oriel with a glass of wine
    I watch the street. It is a river 
    swept by a witch's broom, 
    every bristle bouncing. 
    Tom's wife comes home from work 
    in a flimsy cotton dress. She pauses
    under a spindly tree across the street. 
    Then, clearly drenched, she grins at me 
    and walks on into the downpour.
    My peonies lift their turgid buds 
    to meet the wet. I see Noah's 
    pastel rainbow in the cloud;
    the covenanting sun descends 
    beneath the fleeting overcast.
    At the end of the day
    Tom comes out with his hose 
    as usual, to water his perennials.
    ©  E. Russell Smith, Ottawa 060531

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    Cottage Rain

    Our daybreak dip disturbs 
    the surface tension of the bay.
    A weak wet sun lays flecks 
    of fool's gold down a windtrack 
    ominous of weather.
    Tall clouds flicker and spill. 
    Raindrops bounce
    on the throbbing lake, 
    and scour the decks and shingles. 
    Glitter threads the needles 
    of unfailing pines, until 
    a breath of air releases it. 
    ©  E. Russell Smith (Eagle Lake, Ont., 060719)

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    Coming to Jerusalem

    Other pilgrims have stopped
    out of weariness or sloth 
    or bad advice, and settled 
    for a fantasy, venerating 
    all the sainted dead enshrined 
    in holy reliquaries, giving up 
    on life before they die.
    In this citadel at last, far from 
    the west side of the wilderness,   
    I stay my course to dance
    barefoot on these cold stones. 
    Here I discover you once more, 
    my only burning bush.  
    © E. Russell Smith 060514. E.B. See Browning's "Aurora Leigh" Bk vii:810-811: 
    "..every common bush afire with God: But only he who sees, takes off his  shoes."

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    The drama was Too True to be Good. 
    That night we walk the length of 
    Queen Street, empty but for us,
    a floral panoply of hanging baskets, 
    curbside planters, window boxes.
    In the dark we poach two slips 
    of lambent sweet potato vine  
    and take them home in water picks
    we've saved from pillow roses
    courtesy the Prince of Wales. 
    © E. Russell Smith 060706

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    Summer Intrusions

    Pine cones drop on the cabin roof 
    and start my day. A red canoe 
    takes me far along the bay, 
    where morning would be quiet 
    but for a celebration of loons, 
    and a camp of urban savages, mustered 
    on a promontory, chanting tribal hymns. 
    I penetrate the heart of marshland, 
    and its brilliant hush. The redwings 
    have taken their sabbatical at last. 
    At midday I retire beneath the trees,
    to read another life. A damsel-fly 
    lights on the page. It punctuates 
    the passage and the import 
    of its own and every gift of being.
    A cruiser bearing half the world
    passes, and is soon forgotten 
    till its train of bow-waves 
    trails along the rocky pediment 
    and reminds me of itself.
    In time the hot sun finds me
    through the forest canopy. I move, 
    but still it dogs me, so I drowse 
    and wait until unfailing Earth 
    rotates me into shadow.
    ©  E. Russell Smith 060819

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    Flowers of Evil

    Rachel is weeping for her children, because they are not.           
                                     Jeremiah 31:15 
    Before the rain, the hot wind
    winnows birch chaff  
    over spiders' webs, 
    hairspun nets that camouflage 
    the dark intentions of the lily-beds. 
    After a late-day thunder shower 
    the sun returns to kindle
    hanging drops of light 
    and to inflame the toxic fruit
    that glows in guilty shadow.
                                July 18, 2006
    [This month in Palestine the slaughter of innocents begins another generation of hate.]
    ©  E. Russell Smith 060718

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    The Booth Lake Stud

    In memory of Liam M'Carthy, 1828-1895   
    At first, he ploughed and planted alien corn 
    among these stumps. The shallow soil  provided 
    till his stubborn share struck sparks on stone, 
    and quaking aspens raided at the wild edge.
    The shallow land could not bear harrowing.
    He prospered, breeding Clydesdales for the camps.
    He died in this old house. For years thereafter, 
    till the fire, the furniture still danced. The floorboards 
    creaked beneath the mill-end rug. The window-blinds,
    half-drawn, slapped up against the glass.
    Breezes walked the empty hall, and dust motes 
    winked in a cold beam just beyond a glance.
    Now the earth rolls up and hides behind itself, 
    a small eclipse. His spirit  hovers near, 
    a hoodless falcon that has slipped its tether.
    Here, till dawn, are lights -- the moon, the fireflies, 
    the phosphor of a rotting stump. The horseman's legacy: 
    a pit of rust and blackened timber, rank with fireweed. 
    And in the morning sun, where fireflies have come 
    to rest, dew glitters on the web-spun bracken.
    [© E. Russell Smith 1996. Liam M'Carthy settled near Booth Lake, 
    now in Algonquin Park, and farmed 1865-1895.]

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    Lily Lake

    You can recognize a small truth, because its opposite is falsehood. 
    The opposite of a great truth is another great truth. -- Niels Bohr
    Spruce and hemlock 
    shade the shallows 
    where I see my face,
    a moment easily forgotten.  
    Beavers at the outlet 
    keep the level of the lake -- 
    a small truth, but yet enough, 
    with little faith, to take us 
    through a day of paddling.
    A greater truth is the lake itself, 
    its opposite a dry bed, 
    just as great.
    	   near Mount Uniacke, NS 
    © E. Russell Smith 060907

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    Shield Country

    Water chuckles, breaking gently, 
    patiently among the stones till 
    in a distant epoch it has etched 
    a record of a million days like this.
    On such a day, warm enough 
    to draw a lone cicada's keening,
    fine enough to bring out scooters
    to offend the perfect lake,
    grace is lost. Even on Sundays, trains 
    whistle through the rural crossings 
    taking away our stones to satisfy
    an appetite for quicker evanescence.
    ©  E. Russell Smith 060730

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    Over Sourmilk Gill

    for Denis and Audrey Tetlow 
    A fine day, green and wet, 
    glows beneath the morning sun 
    and offers only cloud enough
    to decorate an empty sky.
    I have no map. An old fell-walker, 
    now restricted to the dales, 
    points me with his ash-plant 
    to my way. His lady smiles. 
    North of the tarn I find the track. 
    A devious break through bracken 
    takes me dryshod through a wilderness 
    of fell-bank wet with side-hill seepage, 
    dropping  finally to Far Easedale. 
    Only sheep observe me, and, 
    as I arrive, my frail guide 
    shuffling with his stick to meet me.
       Grasmere, Cumbria, 22 September 2006 
    ©  E. Russell Smith 060922

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    Terminal Rustication

    Witched from his court into another shire, 
    hunched against the obloquy of three millennia,
    the crippled ruler of the Rollright Stones
    mourns beyond the circle of his cohort,
    seventy-seven poxy minions.
    Nearby, three conspiring officers, 
    grown weary of their whispering, 
    have nodded  off to sleep.
    (The Rollright Stones, near Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire --  
    a circle of 77 stones, a solitary menhir and 3 standing stones of a Neolithic dolmen)
    © E. Russell Smith 060926. 

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    A Bird-Watchers’ Lectionary

     1. Advent 
    A glacial angel, vestal of the great divide, 
    holds in her glassy cup and paten  
    secrets of a time between two testaments.   
    God fancied her with unicorns and dragons,  
    an afterthought too late to be included, 
    a brief moth, dust on her frozen wings. 
    Above a dark baptismal font, prepared 
    to pardon us for failing to make love,
    an unbound falcon stoops to word made flesh. 
    		Jasper National Park, Alberta
    2. Christmas  
    Thomas Didymus skated east of Eden
    late in the shortest day. Transparent ice 
    heaved and groaned beneath him. 
    He found a captive fish embedded, 
    inches down, and even as he watched, 
    an eagle dropped and clawed at it an hour,  
    unable to extract it from its reliquary. 
    It is right, thought Thomas, that the fish 
    remain secure from such assault.
    3. Epiphany 
    In church that morning I perused
    the formal liturgy prescribed.
    Before it started I departed. 
    Far beyond the hallowed opulence, 
    cold air cleared my head of incense 
    redolent of lurking death. 
    Going home, I watched three crows 
    consume the remnant of a fish
    discarded on the right-of-way.
    4. Shrove Tuesday  
    Overnight starflight of paper lace 
    scatters on velvet this immaculate dayscape, 
    laid to be tracked and gone by sundown.
    I am a morning sparrow waking up street 
    and steeple where once God heard, now, 
    I think, under snow and two thousand years.
    You are there, confessor, hearing old sins 
    and new conceits at the end, eternal keeper 
    of keys and ledgers. The snow forgets.
    5. Easter  
    Each fall the kinglets feed  
    on stink bugs  in the birches 
    by the house, and head on south.
    Someone said they had returned 
    on this spring morning, 
    but look, they are not here!
    See, these are the trees! 
    But they have gone ahead,
    to nestings in the boreal taiga. 
    6. Pentecost    
    A river flows between our solitudes, 
    that was an obstacle in other times 
    to  insolent intruders.   
    Now friendly vessels carry 
    visitors who speak in many tongues,
    from either side, into the whirlpool, 
    and in this woodland where we watch, 
    ruby-throated hummingbirds descend 
    like flames, out of the hardwood canopy.
    ©  E. Russell Smith 061105

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    Rain again. Still, for the exercise, 
    I walk, and I discover change, 
    wet mutations I'd have missed 
    through foggy windows of a car -- 
    a footpath, once a muddy track, 
    now paved by order of a council  
    finally acceding to persistent
    corner-cutters over public land;
    a playground full of slides 
    and monkey bars where once
    we Indians and cowboys, packin' 
    cap-guns, fought for territory;
    a bike path where the railway ran 
    behind a bakery and a warehouse, 
    with asparagus gone native 
    on the clinker-dry embankment;
    and where there stood a Texaco
    garage with pumps and a mechanic,
    an ethnic grocery selling organ meats 
    and ugly roots that probably are edible. 
    Icons of my lively memory vanish,
    landmarks of secure indulgence 
    cleared propitiously away for 
    emblems fresh and green and wet.
    © E. Russell Smith 060112. 

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    Winter Reigns

    Dawn doesn't break, it bends, 
    to a pewter shade of icy black.
    Pines and spruces hiss and rattle.
    Glazed and naked maples quake. 
    Inside the cedars, sparrows prattle. 
    The halfway hazard of December
    finds the sleeping city unprepared.
    Commuters hunched in tired surrender
    crunch across the crust to cars 
    and set out risking fender-benders. 
    © E. Russell Smith 011130. 

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    Below Hog's Back

    The morning sun ignites new snow 
    in this steep valley. A rusty pump 
    stands useless where we quarried 
    granite for the walls that buttress
    and sustain these strangled lanes.
    Squirrels and chickadees appear, 
    expecting to be fed.  Below us, 
    rapids tumble. Here, our forebears 
    once canoed a catastrophic passage, 
    emerging wet and not much wiser 
    for the warning. They began the world, 
    and we, having filled the continent, 
    now devise, unlike the dinosaurs,  
    our own impending overthrow.
    In memory of Braddish and Lamira Billings 
    Homesteaders, 1813
    © E. Russell Smith 011229. 

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    Suburban Jungle

    Idlers watch me fit my skis
    and start across the brutal crust. 
    A cyclist, scarfed and hooded, 
    clatters past. A jogger 
    heels her unleashed dog. 
    An old man inches over glass. 
    A phantom fox considers me 
    and vanishes. His random tracks 
    criss-cross the waste of frozen 
    goldenrod and milkweed shells.
    A rusty camp-cot in the snow 
    awaits a summer resident, 
    with more boudoir accessories --
    a crippled folding chair, 
    an empty tea-chest, and 
    a three-wheeled grocery cart.
    Beside me roars black water, 
    where I dare the river ice.
    It groans beneath my weight 
    and rumbles far along the shore.
    Uneasy in this demi-monde
    of neither charm nor grace,
    I climb the bank. The white sun 
    drops into the bones of trees.
    Idlers watch me stow my skis, 
    and with a shiver not of cold, I leave.
    	Ottawa, 20 February 2006
    © E. Russell Smith 060220. 

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    Midnight, Christmas

    A vaulted firmament of stars 
    soars above the western chantry 
    of Our colonial neogothic Lady,
    filled with choristers and brass.
    Pleated pillars painted green
    uphold a species of authority 
    and semblance of an antique order. 
    Capitals flower in gilded plaster,  
    purity of the fleur-de-lys   
    mingling with acanthus leaves 
    whose spines convey conviction 
    and the trenchant dole of sin. 
    On this Mithraic observance 
    of the return of heavenly Light,  
    a distant bishop, far to the east, 
    celebrates a Word made mortal. 
         Notre Dame Basilica, Ottawa
    © E. Russell Smith 041224. 

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    We Swat Mosquitos, Don't We?

    Today in Baghdad, convicted 
    by a duly constituted court,
    depravity incarnate, human in form 
    but void of any sense of turpitude, 
    suffered quick disposal at a hempen end 
    before his sycophants could rally, 
    or misplaced sensibilities 
    could raise a voice against it.
    He should go nameless into history 
    lest his martyrdom be assured, 
    lest the hatred of his minions 
    and our own antipathy smoulder on 
    through morbid generations.
    © E. Russell Smith 061229. 

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    I bring you gifts, 
    you who can purchase 
    anything you fancy, 
    but do not. 
    You need, as I do, 
    love, and touch, 
    and beauty,
    and another's fair regard 
    an indulgent wish, this last, 
    but self-approval only 
    is a quick-step 
    to a partial measure. 
    © E. Russell Smith 061222. 

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    Four Men Walking

     Stephen Harper   
    I turn right when I reach the street,  
    follow the curb, turn right again 
    at every crossing that I meet,  
    until I'm back where I began. 
     Jack Layton 
    I do the same by turning left, 
    and thus, as every walker should,
    I face the flow of traffic and 
    uphold the law and public good.
     Stephane Dion
    I alternate from day to day, 
    and can be swayed to change direction
    if one goal remains in sight --  
    to triumph in the next election.
     Gilles Duceppe 
    Peu m'importe le chemin
    je suis toujours le tour du Bloc,
    un  Quebecois surtout, malgre
    le manque d'interet du ROC.
    © E. Russell Smith 061203. 

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    This afternoon a hundred crows 
    fly east, silent, except for yelling 
    "Hawk! " at a pair of circling red-tails.
    There's been rain, and Sawmill Creek 
    is high, here where it enters the city, 
    before it's channeled, cribbed and curbed. 
    I push through shabby second growth, 
    tracing the line a king's surveyor 
    drew two centuries ago
    with plane and alidade, and I
    emerge (like him, I must suppose) 
    arrayed with burs and beggar-ticks.
    Close to the Transpo overpass, 
    across the ravine from the railroad track 
    where the O-Train glides to town and back, 
    I sit in the sun on the crumbling pier 
    of a vanished bridge where early settlers 
    crossed the creek, and think I see
    in craven crows and hungry hawks, 
    in streams confined in concrete walls, 
    in the craft of humankind arrayed
    against the supple wilderness, 
    brief rivals only, in a neutral 
    cosmos that can never lose.
    © E. Russell Smith 061123. 

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    Miami Transect

    No one walks across the Causeway! --
    only I, weary of art deco , seeing 
    too many homeless, sleeping rough 
    on the South Beach sand, I seek 
    the grace of Renaissance or Baroque,
    far back in time -- but I have time. 
    The sun is high, and I set out on foot 
    across the Bay to Coconut Grove 
    and the Villa Vizcaya, exotic folly 
    of a merchant prince who left off selling 
    harvesters to build a doge's palace,
    with imported antique ceilings, frescoes 
    and mosaics, porcelain and  tapestries -- 
    a classic room for every period.
    Briefly an old man's winter home
    protected from the sight of poverty,
    it has outlasted hurricanes, 
    rogue tides and negligence. Now 
    visitors will pay to wander through,
    at once enchanted and offended 
    by such a spectacle of riches.
    © E. Russell Smith 070105. 

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    Bennigan's Grill, Miami

    "What's that you're writing?" 
    asks a U.S. Army grunt 
    who joins me at the bar. 
    "A journal," I reply. He says,
    "I tried that once. I couldn't hack it." 
    "Sure you could. You should!" 
    "No way. I turn out bullshit!"
    At his table, he's been drinking 
    in the keeping of a watchful sister.
    I persist. "Just do it! Let her read it,
    no one else. You'll get the knack of it."
    We talk about Iraq. He fortifies himself 
    before reporting for his second tour,
    becoming more convinced wih every drink
    that his service is a patriotic duty, and
    that he could blog about it brilliantly.
    © E. Russell Smith 070105. 

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    Vive l'Acadienne!

    In old Grand Pre, Evangeline 
    stands young in epic bronze, 
    raised on a plinth to gaze 
    toward heaven. The pending season, 
    cold and golden, quickens her 
    to follow her abducted lover.
    Far to the south, I find her
    once again, now grey and old, 
    in lonely marble by the church
    of St. Martin de Tours.
    Her hands are clasped; she rests 
    her sabot-blistered feet.
    Apres le grand derangement, 
    centuries beyond the heartbreak
    and generations of diaspora, 
    she figures forth one truth
    in all the fantasy and myth -- 
    the faithful sinew of old Acadie.
    © E. Russell Smith 051104. 

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    We rise five miles 
    into a darkening sky,
    high over iceworn peaks, 
    pawprints of man,
    the lower river and a city 
    where the falls reverse.
    The horizon over Fundy curves, 
    subtending in our solar space 
    this Goldilocks roundel.
         13 February 2007
    © E. Russell Smith . 

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    South Shore, Winter

    Distant from the hoofbeats of the sea,
    an ecclesiad of wooden churches 
    hallow the ice-choked anchorage. 
    We moor at Mader's Wharf, and stroll 
    the sheltered lanes of painted cottages. 
    The townsfolk welcome us, 
    strangers from the cold, 
    to chowder in an upper room,
    safe harbour, still and distant 
    from the hoofbeats of the sea.
         Mahone Bay NS, 16 February 2007
    © E. Russell Smith 

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    Belafonte at Eighty

    A favourite for half a century, 
    tonight, in black and white  
    (like all of us) and standing tall, 
    Harry hosts the opera gala. 
    Two thousand voices sing to him
    (an honourary citizen)
    a "Happy Birthday," "Bonne Fete",
    with full symphonic orchestra.
    He thanks us for our kindness
    after Nine-Eleven and Katrina, 
    for sanctuary to draft-dodgers and 
    deserters from wrong-headed wars. 
    And then, assuming the prerogative 
    of contemplative age, he warns us 
    of the folly of a failure to support
    the Arts in our curricula.
    The Governor-General gave him lunch. 
    No one warned him, so he says 
    with twinkling eyes, that she's a woman, 
    Haitian born, and black, and beautiful. 
            Ottawa, 17 February 2007
    © E. Russell Smith

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    Black Ice

    The cottage where his children grew 
    faces the frozen river, one of a row 
    that once were village dwellings,
    now a faded cloister by-passed
    and cut off from urb and suburb. 
    Traffic hisses by on flooded asphalt. 
    Water percolates along the curb. 
    He chops the ugly black ice back,  
    can't wait for spring to have its way. 
    Invisible beyond the fog, new children
    chase and shout beside the stream, 
    tempted to cross it one more time. 
    To warn them off, he ventures over
    through the silhouettes of naked trees. 
    A little snow persists where skis 
    of spectral passersby have tracked.
    Instead of children's laughter now
    he hears ducks gossiping together.
    A flush of mallards splash and forage
    in melt-water on the parkland turf.
    The houses that endured with him
    another wretched season, watch. 
    He turns away from winter's shades
    to chop at black ice on the roads.
    © E. Russell Smith . 070314

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    This Is Our Dominion

     After the mid-March thaw, we thought
    the skiing season had expired, 
    until a fresh fall yesterday, eight inches, 
    just enough to cover bare and icy spots
    along the trail to Herridge Lodge.
    This morning we skip church, and ski 
    the three miles in, and back again, 
    under brilliant sun, just cold enough 
    to keep the new snow dry. A brisk wind 
    sweeps it from the fields and sculpts it 
    over ditches. Sheltered where we are, 
    the forest road reveals an honest world.
    Juncos on the ground are watched 
    by one barred owl that always lurks 
    close by the lodge. Circling blue jays 
    cry alarm. Last night a hunting ermine 
    left a track across our way, and blood. 
    All is in order. This is our dominion. 
    © E. Russell Smith 070318

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    Doing Time

    I'm supposed to bend my elbows 
    at right angles, roll each step 
    from heel through toe, fast enough 
    to make the aging heart beat faster. 
    I walk for fitness, pocket radio 
    tuned to CBC for sanity, a mile 
    to circumambulate the block
    (my minimum). Two miles 
    in one direction or another 
    takes me to the bank, post office,
    public library,  grocery store 
    or cleaners, to my in-laws 
    who will give me tea, or through 
    the Little Wood that has been left 
    untouched, forgotten by the Council, 
    and is now abandoned to the birds.
    The more abjectly I persist, 
    the more I scruple to observe 
    the rigid rules of this regime,
    the longer will this sentence last.
    © E. Russell Smith  070323

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    This Is My Body

    The aged priest awakens 
    from his stolen forty winks 
    to voices of angels (so he thinks)
    who "out of love for the truth 
    and the desire to bring it to light," 
    are posting their radical theses up 
    on the distant western door. 
    Wiping his hands on his alb 
    he raises the pyx and offers it 
    to the empty, echoing nave.
      The Church is the Body of Christ, 
      broken for you, flat broke,  
      bankrupt, for sale to catechists 
      of faiths more militant, or 
      to money changers, zealous vassals
      of the Book or of the Bank, 
      given to extremes and dreams.
      This could become a bingo hall,
      or worse, the meeting place 
      of humanists, holy or profane!
    He weeps, and limps to the vestry, 
    using his crosier for a cane. 
    © E. Russell Smith  070405

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    What he meant was

    he believed in Law, and called it God, 
    believed in Love, and called it God, 
    a God so radical and so simple that 
    the temple priests arranged his murder 
    on Passover eve, two thousand years ago. 
    His followers preserved his faith 
    and passed it down to us, disguised
    in myth and metaphor, in stone,
    stained glass and gilt, but still 
    a timeless truth that few can bear.

    © E. Russell Smith 070402

    Merryman's Yarn

    She left O'Brian twice a widower, 
    once of a snake bite, so they say, 
    and that was on their wedding day. 
    Her angry bridegroom swore, b'gar, 
    there are no snakes in Ireland, 
    and he would go to hell and back  
    to save her. This he tried, and failed, 
    searching the bottom of a whiskey jar. 
    And so, for him, she died again. 
    He lived out his redoubled pain, singing 
    songs to his guitar, to charming boys, 
    to bog birds, berry bush and rocks. At last,
    when overcast was all his life, a court 
    of thwarted mistresses assaulted him. 
    More useless than a priest, they said.
    He faltered, sloughed his human carapace  
    and only thus did he rejoin his spouse,  
    to her Eurydice an Orpheus.      
      After reading Ovid's  Metamorphoses 
      and Brian Merriman's  Cúirt an Mheán Oíche 
      (The Midnight Court), 1780.
    © E. Russell Smith . 070403

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    Nine Eleven

    I drive from Ottawa to Montreal
    one fine clear morning,
    two hours with the radio off,
    in an outer space of my creation.
    The road bypasses every town.
    Here are flat and fenceless farms,  
    with silo clusters standing tall 
    and safely stowed with corn.
    As I cross the shining river,
    Monteregian hills, with towers 
    and temples, rise on the horizon. 
    Later, over and over, I am shown 
    the apocalypse I missed. I mute
    the commentator's quavering voice, 
    jealous for my careless peace, 
    stolen in the impact of that moment.
                  11 September 2001.
    © E. Russell Smith 070429

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    My Boxing Career

    In Grade Ten, we school boys were told
    to learn the manly art of fisticuffs.
    They matched me with a boy named Michael. 
    He was just my size but better built. 
    I thought he'd win the bout quite handily. 
    Our gloves were not "best quality and new" 
    but otherwise the Queensberry rules
    were conscientiously observed.
    We squared off at the scratch. I understood 
    that I should try, in three, to plant 
    as many blows as possible on 
    Michael's head and upper body, while  
    I warily avoided such from him. 
    We crouched like fools behind our gloves 
    and danced the ring like Cassius Clay. 
    Our teacher bellowed loud encouragement. 
    I placed a trial jab on Michael's fists,
    which he returned, but when I tried again,
    regretfully I missed, and suddenly 
    his nose was bleeding like a drain.
    The bout was stopped, and I retired 
    to my corner and forever from the ring, 
    relieved and happy that the other  fool 
    recovered quickly, and went on to be 
    the flyweight champion of the school.
    © E. Russell Smith 070508

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    Smells Like Air

    They say we must appreciate and care 
    for our good atmosphere, and keep it pure. 
    I go outside and sniff. It smells like air, 
    like any other day, and yet they say 
    "It isn't good enough. Let's clean it up, 
    and expurgate olfactory stimulants." 
    A nose more sensitive than mine detects 
    accumulated greenhouse flatulence. 
    Here comes a second carboniferous age!
    The first one wasn't all that bad. 
    The dinosaurs were flourishing. 
    For safety our ancestors only had 
    to keep from being stepped upon 
    or swallowed by a sabre-tooth. 
    Some of them moved into trees. 
    We'll have to do the same, forsooth.
    © E. Russell Smith 070509

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    You laboured, happily or not, 
    on my small shore, with tubes 
    and burners, Petri dishes, 
    microscopes and scalpels, 
    rats and fruitflies. You 
    explored the field, acquiring 
    specimens, mosquito bites 
    and sunburn, hugging trees. 
    For thirty years I launched
    your paper boats. Now high tides 
    wash your shallow keel-tracks 
    from the beach. Once my charge,
    you have become my immortality, 
    and now you contemplate your own. 
    © E. Russell Smith 070522

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    Old Polonius

    Good sense fails while idle hope prevails.
    We abuse our bodies, act the fool, 
    assume a new religion, style of speech, 
    peculiar passion for a sport or party; 
    feign an alien sexuality; 
    adopt capricious dress and conduct --
    all to win the fancy of another 
    who has snared our transient humour.
    Falseness risks approval. For a time
    it holds a foolish bond beneath its spell. 
    It wavers when its object is secured
    and so the trifling whimsy dies as well. 
     © E. Russell Smith 070522

    Birds of Cancun

    We light on these hardscrabble shores 
    like  frigate birds, our pouches 
    swollen and inflamed, to nest, 
    to harass native occupants 
    into disgorging our requirements.
    We snorkel in freshwater streams 
    and brackish pools, with dabbling ducks 
    and sergeant fish.  We plunge 
    with pelicans into the Himalayan breakers, 
    just beyond the tide-line rocks. 
    Lateen-rigged on a simple craft, we glide
    through mangroves on the glass lagoon 
    to dine in silhouette against a fiery sunset
    on chimichanga, lime and chicken soup, 
    tequila-flamed bananas. 
    Our cenote  pantheon exhibits no 
    Corinthian capitals, but dripstone 
    columns, hanging bosses. No birds here,
    but fruit bats enter by the oculus 
    above the liquid opal where we swim. 
    The feathered serpent Kukulcan 
    once hovered like the frigate bird, 
    soaring over Yucatan. At equinox  
    he slithered down at Chichen Itza 
    bringing life and law and learning. 
    We can read his cryptic words 
    still visible among the shards.
    It is the season of his Evening Star,  
    whose setting signals times of war...
    Our airbus joins the frigate birds.
    © E. Russell Smith 070527

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    Stanley Cup Finale

    While I await the boarding call,
    I watch the world go by -- 
    suited businessmen or politicians, 
    mother with a toddler in a stroller 
    and a crumpet in the oven, seniors 
    with excessive carry-on,
    a "Senator" with hockey gear, 
    calling home to Trois-Rivieres...
    The pilot causes turbulence,
    an obvious excuse to send 
    the children  to their seats. 
    Buckle up, he says, which doesn't 
    please a trumpet-tonsilled boy,
    unmuted even by the white 
    cacophony of engines and the slip 
    of rare cold air across the fusilage.
    Somewhere over Kansas or Nebraska
    I consume my tuna sandwich  
    and set out to walk to Colorado, 
    up one aisle and back the other, 
    stopping halfway in the galley 
    for a stretch and contemplative 
    deep knee bends. The cabin crew 
    should organize a congo line.
    At L-A-X, while I await my lift, 
    I watch another world go by --
    jaded crews, emerging first, and 
    hurrying toward layover fun, 
    an anorexic woman, tanned like leather, 
    cradling a poodle, and a victorious 
    "Mighty Duck" with hockey gear, 
    calling home to Trois-Rivieres.
    © E. Russell Smith 070621

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    In a valley of the Aravili foothills, 
    Lake Baghela shines in winter sun.  
    Across the water from the dusty road, 
    have stood for a millennium 
    two sandstone temples, 
    "Mother" and her "Daughter-in-Law,"  
    once vandalized by Moghul raiders, now 
    by poachers hunting souvenirs -- 
    but still, in flourishing geometry 
    remains a decorous pavilion, 
    portaled in the four directions, 
    pillared with a deep relief where 
    minor deities and nymphets rut and frolic. 
    Here Lord Shiva the Transmuter 
    meditates in manifold apotheoses. 
    There an empty cell awaits 
    the coming of Lord Vishnu, 
    Second Person of the Trinity, 
    preserver of the universe, governor 
    and spirit of all time and being.
    In the meantime, human life persists. 
    Below the ruined Mewar fortresses, 
    on steps of a ramparted ghat 
    a modest woman in a sari washes clothes, 
    and gleaming boys are bathing.
    © E. Russell Smith 080223

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    Hymn to the Word

    "...the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 
    And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, followed him..."   
     Rev. 19:13-14 
    "In the Inuit tradition... in the beginning there is no word. 
    In fact there is no beginning." 
           Alberto Manguel, "The Bricks of Babel" 
    In grand Creation's changeless Law, 
    certain as tides, we place our trust; 
    this is our justice, sole and true,
    and here we watch, as watch we must, 
    stand guard, not only for ourselves, 
    but every hour in our small place 
    for other living things with whom 
    we humbly share this time and space. 
    Glad in our own creative gifts,
    fearful to trespass, we take care
    to know how every creature lives, 
    and this must be our only prayer
    for lives to come, our progeny --
    that they may know an ordered world,
    and clad in white, proclaim their faith, 
    as wisdom's banners are unfurled.
    [Can be sung to Tune: Jerusalem, by C. Hubert. H. Parry, 1916.] 
     © E. Russell Smith 080519

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    We Who Are About to Die

    the shambles you inherit --
    fevered world 
    of melting ice 
    and acid tide. 
    Our fetid breath 
    poisons your air. 
    Your daily food is fuel 
    for our infernal engines, 
    while you starve.  
    You must change 
    the present paradigm, 
    to pipe a better future 
    into our account 
    at the unknown, 
    unremembered gate.
    © E. Russell Smith 080714

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    On Giving Up Poetry

    I may have wasted twenty years
    trying to discover how many muses 
    dance on the point of a metaphor.
    © E. Russell Smith 070630

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    Christmas afternoon. We walk 
    through empty streets of homes 
    where other weary celebrants
    recover from their gifting, 
    and await the evening turkey.
    Barbara's tree has vanished. 
    On the flood plain of the Arboretum, 
    an uncouth spite of weeds
    stands ragged in the snow
    in place of her memorial.
    Our climate does not suit catalpas.
    This one had suffered surgery. 
    Its neighbour has already died 
    and they have taken it away. 
    Perhaps its fall from grace 
    destroyed the one we planted
    sadly, such a little time ago.
    I will inquire. We will restore 
    a living stock on which to graft 
    the tribute that endures.
    © E. Russell Smith 2008

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    Christmas Light

    I thought the ritual proceeded 
    well enough, with backup 
    from a well-trained team -- 
       candle-lighter, lay reader, 
       storyteller, suppliant, 
       greeters, ushers, 
       choir and director, 
       organist, a manager 
       of sound and light... 
    The snowy churchyard glows 
    beyond the darkened vestry window. 
    Over coffee, some approved the homily, 
    but one complained that she 
    had listened vainly for a word of hope. 
    She despairs of human vigilance  
    but does not countenance 
    the thought of our extinction. 
    Her need for faith subdues
    all urge for freedom. Mystery 
    seasons reason, to save her 
    from the bleak and the absurd.
    Faith like hers presumes indefinite survival, 
    no man-made apocalypse, let alone
    a cosmic cataclysm, and it trusts 
    in myth, where comprehension fails.
    Reprieve is not beyond the Law. 
    I have strung white lights around
    a half-grown serviceberry,  
    not the tattered balsam fir.
    © E. Russell Smith 090106

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    The Case for Faith

    As children we trusted them.
    They told us God is everywhere, 
    like Eli told young Samuel 
    that it was  God who spoke.
    We trusted without being told 
    what God is. I could now dissent, 
    but just in case I'm wrong, 
    I don't -- what  I believe
    does not affect the truth. 
    © E. Russell Smith 2009

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    Trust On Ice

    One late November Sunday, 
    I trudge two miles to church,
    following frozen footpaths. 
    Other walkers pass...
    Our lives are adequate;
    we protect our little space --
    no superficial intercourse, 
    no unguarded eye or word. 
    We go our distant ways, 
    too mean-spirited
    to speculate on strangers
    or risk a new dependence.
    Squirrels and chickadees 
    forage in the underbrush, 
    ignoring me as well. 
    In snow-pent January 
    they will come to hand 
    to take sunflower seeds.
    © E. Russell Smith 2008

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    Beyond Metaphor

    Each one 
    may know, 
    by a grace 
    sui generis,
    and name 
    with no word 
    the Word that 
    every Self.
    © E. Russell Smith 2009

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    It says here that God 
    made Man in his own image 
    a work in progress.
    © E. Russell Smith 2009

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    Late Winter Wakening

    A boisterous day of warm winds 
    quickens the thaw. A season's litter 
    rises from the curb-side snow
    blackening in the steely sun. 
    Melt-water trickles to the drains,
    and I migrate into the countryside. 
    One pick-up stands beside a fishing shack 
    where smoke is rising, but the lake ice 
    grumbles under heavy snow. 
    Seepage surfaces and spreads. 
    I leave my vehicle ashore. 
    Skis bring me to the island
    in an hour and a half. I skirt
    the Narrows where dark water 
    rushes fast. No one else appears, 
    only commonplaces of the wild --
    an eagle creaking in the sun,    
    a raven croaking on a rocky point,
    a bobcat crouching at an opening 
    to drink, two turkeys, and an ermine 
    trailing its black-tipped tail.
    © E. Russell Smith 2009

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    Recipe for Cross Rib

    A savoury onion is our faith.
    Peeling it raw reveals no core,
    and yet, if left to flourish
    it celebrates in pyrotechnic bloom,
    sets its seed and multiplies.
    I've spent my life unlearning 
    Sunday School mythology,
    a well-done pabulum, wisdom 
    braised with onion 
    and tastefully received.
    © E. Russell Smith 2009

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    Silent Generation, Walking

    In the street this afternoon, 
    I met a solitary woman 
    walking toward the mall, 
    pulling a shopping cart -- 
    not remarkable, except that,
    considering her gray hair,
    I think that both of us were 
    children of the Great Depression
    and grew up in wartime.
    I discern my self in her. 
    Strangers, we have walked 
    the strict and radical middle  
    between two angry lines,
    caring for lost parents 
    and our surprising offspring -- 
    Baby Boomers, X, Y, Z...
    and walk on, strangers still, 
    into silent solitude. 
    © E. Russell Smith 2009

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    Bird in the House

    I found it in the fireplace last night --
    bad luck for it, I thought, but surely 
    not an augury of death. A redwing, 
    possibly -- so begrimed with soot
    it could have been some other bird
    behind the glass, afraid of me.
    I'm not equipped to catch a bird; 
    neither could I leave it in the ashes.
    Released into the house, my guest 
    flew straight into a window pane, 
    and stunned itself. I put it out, 
    and heard it later, scolding from 
    an alder where it perched to groom 
    and repossess its ruffled dignity.
    © E. Russell Smith 2009

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    Bronze Age Relic

    Joshua in Canaan
    left not a soul remaining, 
    but utterly destroyed 
    all those that breathed, 
    just as the God of Israel 
    commanded, forty 
    centuries ago. 
    Today the God of Joshua 
    is called upon
    as "Allah" by 
    the Taliban.
    © E. Russell Smith 2009

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    Flowers for a Dry Garden

    Miguel the keeper rests 
    from trimming rosemary
    to chat with us, to let us 
    snoop inside an old stone barn. 
    In the dusty gloom we find 
    Life Magazine, October '38, with 
    Carole Lombard on the cover.
    We walk the canyon trail, 
    looping higher to return
    by splendid belvederes.
    Haze hides the distance; 
    colour inspires the nearer slopes --  
    sky lupine, purple nightshade, 
    redberry, and the golden state's 
    official poppy; buckwheat 
    for butterflies, and tarweed 
    for future days of famine;
    sacred datura to keep the soul 
    united with the body 
    (or, lost to it forever,) 
    Our Lady's Little Glass, 
    and six-foot flames of 
    Our Lord's Candle, burning
    after many patient years; 
    Spanish broom to ward off evil, 
    and the pale blue yerba santa, 
    its grey-green leaves sacred 
    to phlegmatic Luiseños --
    all less thirsty than exotics 
    in our irrigated city gardens, 
    but not here for the taking.
    Back with Miguel, the paths 
    are strewn and redolent still 
    with rosemary for remembrance.
       Deukmejian Wilderness Park, Glendale CA, 12 May 2009.
    © E. Russell Smith 2009

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    Once More Into the Breach

    After church she helped with juices.
    "Here's the serving wench," 
    I noted, with a grin. She bristled.
    "That's offensive," she declared,
    regarding me as she would 
    the slime left by a passing slug.
    "Sorry," I said, without conviction.
    She repeated her indictment 
    to be sure that it got through,
    and went off in Stygian pique. 
    I  registered surprise, and then
    regret, vexation and dismissal. 
    All unfortunate -- I had been 
    disposed to like her. Now 
    we are each other's prig and lecher --
    a gap of gender and generation
    aggravated by one's feminist chip
    and the other's careless banter.
    © E. Russell Smith 2009

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    Summer Thunder

    In Algonquin -- wary and wet,
    I paddle hard for the portage, 
    a long walk under my canoe,
    or at day's end, a small tent, 
    and bannock over a reluctant fire.
    On the road home, raindrops 
    bounce like flowers of evil. Tires 
    plane on the glassy pavement,
    wipers beat, barely coping, 
    and I peer through spindrift 
    from looming semitrailers.
    In the city -- dry as ledgerbooks, 
    I watch in doubtful safety 
    from a glass tower, swaying
    in electric cumulo-nimbus.
    Commuting rain-struck 
    in sodden shoes or on a bike 
    that sprays my hunkered back,
    I wish myself beneath my 
    solitary roaring roof, behind 
    rain-rattled windows, safe as 
    a squirrel in the scantlings.
    © E. Russell Smith 2009

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    Barron Blues

    A twenty-minute walk around the block
    used to be a mile, but now they say
    it is a kilometer plus. We got slower; 
    then you dropped walking altogether. 
    Too many years have idled past since
    last we went to paddle down the Barron.
    A green canoe hangs in the carport,
    drying out, like us, and needing care -- 
    neat's-foot on the thwarts and gunnels.
    I could paddle solo, but to get it down 
    takes two, two drivers too, to organize 
    a two-day paddle down the Barron.
    I'm looking through the fridge for 
    something near its best-before date
    that should become our dinner.
    Those freeze-dried packages 
    would boil up easily for camping fare,
    if we should paddle down the Barron.
    The weather's fine, and  I could golf, 
    nine holes perhaps, but I have phoned 
    around for company and everyone 
    is busy. So for exercise I vacuum floors. 
    I clean the carpet on the stairs -- 
    and we'll not paddle down the Barron.
    © E. Russell Smith 2009

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    The Summerhouse

    I paddle solo a backcountry river, 
    dark flat water flecked with spume 
    from a high cascade above, marbled 
    by the random eddies, clearing to reflect 
    a blue intenser than the sky itself, 
    and high white cumulus gleaming.
    One red maple in the general green 
    portends the season's imminent change,
    and under it, inverted also in the stream, 
    stands an old gazebo, only clue 
    that this is not a wilderness, although
    throughout this whole long afternoon
    I've been alone, down this slack reach
    and one white spate that I must drag 
    to reach my launching site again.
    How has it served, this edifice? 
    -- a trysting place perhaps, or setting 
    for untroubled family gatherings,
    where parents sat in friendly shade 
    on summer days long past, and watched 
    their naked children splash and shout,
    swing and drop from the knotted rope 
    still hanging from a shoreline tree, 
    straight from green to glassy green.
    © E. Russell Smith 2009

    A Game Without Losers

    We ignore the forecast, 
    and suffer October rain 
    the seventh thru eleventh holes.
    The turf is waterlogged,
    but under bumbershoots 
    we keep our club heads dry, 
    and in the end, we win 
    against the odds, the card 
    too wet to save the score.
    We finish after six 
    in rosy light, drive home 
    into a full moon rising.
       (Near Ashton ON, 
       4 October, 2009)
    © E. Russell Smith 2009

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    It Is That It Is

       "I AM THAT I AM." Ex. 3:14. (KJV)
    Law and Beauty prove, 
    through all creation and within,
    to proffer grace.
    A thrush is potent
    as a poet's measured voice,
    to ears that hear.
    A wind print crosses
    fields of barley, truth unveiled
    to eyes that see.
    A sudden certainty
    conceived in wakeful night
    contents the soul.
    © E. Russell Smith 2009

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    Hic Sedeo et Lego

    I envy mediaeval monks their chance 
    to walk in solitary cloistered bowers, 
    and read from breviary, Book of Hours, 
    or Testament -- a consecrated dance
    between the spirit and the intellect, 
    a virtuous stewardship of precious time 
    from prayerful Matins to the hour of Prime
    when on our vast Creation they reflect.
    This afternoon, in scarf and Tilley hat
    I quit my sheltered house and cosy hearth
    to face October's sunny chill instead;
    I found a plastic garden chair and sat.
    Without a colonnade around my garth, 
    I did not ambulate. I simply read.
    © E. Russell Smith 2009

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    Someone Else Must Tell

    ...'Tis wonderful 
What may be wrought out of their discontent.
    		     W. Shakespeare, King John III.iv.179
    Someone else must tell of our abuse, 
    in times of stress, of the Acadians 
    (their expulsion still too little known), 
    of Japanese Canadians, or the Jews.
    First Nations' tellers must record, 
    before they die, their suffering 
    in our patronizing schools, and voice
    the folly of our Inuit dispersals. 
    In due time victims will recount 
    the fruits of our environmental 
    lethargy, and our self-righteous impositions on a poorer world.
    The best tale turns around adversity. 
    My generation lacks all discontent;
    we enjoy our serendipity. Surely 
    I'm too lucky to be competent.
    © E. Russell Smith 2009

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    Solo Bushwhacker

      "Did he take his cell phone?"
    Alone, first of the season, 
    he broke his own trail eastward 
    on the lagg beside the Ridge. 
    The pale sun cast no shadow
    on the new snow, cold and dry,
    but this incipient winter 
    had not yet frozen hard
    the jeopardy that lay beneath. 
    Two miles out, a caking slush 
    fouled his glide and bindings. 
    Skis off to clean, he couldn't 
    make the right boot hold again. 
    Turning back, he tried to scooter,
    with the one ski not attached. 
    His foot slipped off, punching down 
    through thin ice below the snow. 
    Water poured into his boot. 
    Pulling out, he fell, exhausted,
    in the hip-deep powder, 
    one pole out of reach. 
    The light was failing, and
    a freshening wind raised a drift
    across the mire. The sudden white-out
    hid his fall from grace, and filled 
    his traces leading back to base.
    Did he make it back? If so,
    he never told a soul about it.
    Mortified, he might have kept on, 
    eastward still across the pond
    to some obscure horizon, and beyond. 
    © E. Russell Smith 2009

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    The Least of These

    So faith, hope, love abide, these three; 
    but the greatest of these is love.
    					1 Corinthians 13:13
    Taking a chance beats worrying.
    I lift off in a winter rain,
    with faith that this machine
    will rise above all obstacle
    to fly me safely home,
    and with hope, ephemeral as 
    the overcast we pierce, to cruise 
    above the dazzling cloudscape, hope
    that snow, perversely from the south, 
    will not imperil our arrival;
    and all of this for love,
    which Paul suggests is greatest, 
    and he might have said as well
    that of these three, the least is hope,
    less helpful even than forbearance.
    © E. Russell Smith 2009

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    Carrington, a Portrait

    Left-handed, couldn't spell. 
    Paints, not words, her medium
    for any surface -- doors, walls
    and furniture bore her landscapes, 
    figures, flowers and fantasies. 
    Men and women loved her,
    in sustained succession. 
    She laid aside her brush
    to give cold access
    to her perfect body.
    She kept her purest love 
    platonic, for one old bugger
    who became infatuated 
    with all her passing men 
    in turn. When he died,
    she took a shotgun to herself.
    She bungled that as well, 
    suffering disemboweled 
    through hours of harrowing
    to end her life with brush.
    © E. Russell Smith 2010

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    Et in Arcadia Ego

    Rosa ranches in a canyon 
    of the thirsty chaparral. 
    Aurora's village lies between
    the muskeg and the tamarack.  
    Neither takes to whisky.
    For myself, I keep 
    in both their cupboards 
    a selected single malt, 
    aged ten-twelve years 
    in hand-picked oaks --
    on one shelf, mellow Speyside 
    for the cool Pacific evenings; 
    on the other, Islay, redolent 
    of peat fires and iodine, 
    for snowbound winter nights.
    © E. Russell Smith 2010

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    Here, through more than forty years, 
    we raised our children, and lived on. 
    Here their mother died, and here 
    I now have only space and things --
    millstone, albatross, and anchor.  
    Here is the port of my departure,
    where the young sailed long ago. 
    I'll go create new memories,
    when I can jettison dead traces 
    of times and worlds now altered. 
    © E. Russell Smith 2010

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    Love graces the beginning
    of our isolation. Rain is silent 
    but a fitful breeze shakes 
    large drops from the oaks
    that overhang our noisy roof.
    The far shore and its dark horizon
    separate the firmament above 
    and lake below our island perch, 
    both brilliant mirrors of the cold, 
    through silhouettes of foliage.
    We huddle by a wood stove stoked 
    for comfort and for making tea.
    The heedless wild lives on
    beyond our shell. Self-titled 
    phoebes nest below the deck. 
    A loon yodels to a broody mate
    tending their single egg
    on a nearby shore. A vireo
    claims the forest canopy, while 
    chipmunks chatter on the floor.
    At evening they have lived 
    a day that we have simply spent. 
    At dusk the clouds slide east. 
    A star-drift fills the empty vault; 
    we find the only grace we can.
    © E. Russell Smith 2010

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    Storm Bird

    A week of heat 
    breaks with a thump of thunder. 
    Little Leaguers in the park persist 
    so long as the rising gale is dry.
    Wind buzzes the French doors
    of my fourteenth-storey balcony. 
    A passing pigeon tosses like 
    a sere leaf in the willful air. 
    Far hills first and then 
    the nearer towers vanish 
    in a luminous mist. A few large drops 
    chase the players home. 
    The leading edge of the storm's wing 
    carves the sky, until the falling sun 
    paints its under tail coverts, 
    and it flies away.
    © E. Russell Smith 2010

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    Nunc Dimittis

    Today she told us
    she will go away. 
    She fled the room
    to sidestep our objections 
    and to hide her tears. 
    In shock, we wonder 
    whether we should 
    look for someone else. 
    Some think not, 
    to save expense.
    Some think her role
    is past its usefulness. 
    Much as we love her, 
    we agree to say she 
    simply cannot be replaced.
    At noon I buy her lunch -- 
    a salmon salad sandwich, 
    and a puréed pumpkin soup, 
    with sour cream, and parsley. 
    Parsley eases pain.
    © E. Russell Smith 2011

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    Second Horse of the Apocalypse

    "And there came another horse, bright red, its rider empowered to take peace from the earth."
    from Revelation 6:1-8.
    I have climbed this summer field 
    so often, to its sunny summit, 
    reminded only rarely of its horror, 
    while the meadow bloomed as always — 
    buttercup and Queen Anne's lace, 
    purple vetch and hawkweed.
    But now arrives November. 
    At the bottom, dead leaves gather 
    in sodden heaps, with rubbish 
    left by after-season tourists. They
    have heard the battle rattling in 
    the limbs of naked trees, and 
    turned their backs. Three horses, 
    white, black and palomino, 
    join a wild bay mare, abetting
    conquest, war and murder, 
    such pragmatic union useful to 
    their diabolic purpose. Riders 
    in Prussian helmets goggle back, 
    repossessing former glory, 
    mindless of artifacts broken
    under hammer-hooves and strewn 
    in bloody pools. My eyes cast down, 
    and now I see in the water darkly 
    their reflections thundering into 
    imminent oblivion. To walk in 
    radiant fields of flowers again, 
    must we forget?
    © E. Russell Smith 2011

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    Soweto, Palestine

    Desmond Tutu 
    but in November 
    a thick-skinned 
    Porgy and Bess 
    set in Soweto
    near Tel Aviv -- 
    of a prick of paradox 
    or cynical twinge -- 
    entertained illegal 
    West Bank settlers 
    while their walled-out 
    neighbours couldn't 
    get there from 
    apartheid villages
    © E. Russell Smith 2011

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    Corrections /Agriculture Canada

    Six prison farms have recently been closed 
    because the Government was not disposed
    to keep three hundred inmates of their ilk
    supplying flour and vegetables and milk
    to penitentiaries. They said the skills
    they learned in gardens, stables, fields and mills
    would not, as sentences served here will cease,
    prove very useful after their release. 
    Besides, the savings didn't cover cost,
    and too much time and energy were lost
    on convicts meant to be in durance vile.
    But then, perhaps the mild bucolic style 
    of life would heal an antisocial psyche --
    and we'd discover one that we could like.
    © E. Russell Smith 2011

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    The View from Thirty Thousand Feet

    The land lies freshly whitened 
    by the blizzard yesterday. We fly 
    above it through a constant dusk, 
    keeping pace with a setting sun.
    Dark forest interrupts, then yields 
    to bare and crinkled hills, profiled 
    by weak light from the west, a sky 
    still bright and blood red at the rim.
    A spot of yellow light betrays a town 
    tucked in the oxbow of a stream, or at 
    a junction of two right-angled roads,
    leading to (or from) the landscape's 
    four extremities. There people sit 
    at dinner, each with a reason or 
    a motivation that they never question, 
    asking only for that light and warmth.
    The yardlight of a solitary farmstead
    by its quarter section punctuates
    the crease of gridiron laid across 
    the arrant randomness of streams.
    They wander aimlessly, it seems, 
    with neither purpose nor utility, 
    but have in fact inspired direction --
    the inevitable way to distant seas.
            Nebraska, 2 February 2011
    © E. Russell Smith 2011

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    Citizens' Advisory

    Let us give up golf 
    (fairways are toast) 
    and also water sports -- 
    the reservoir too low 
    for boards and skis, 
    kayaks well-nigh useless
    in the scanty trickle down.
    The city pays the farmers 
    in the thirsty Valley, just 
    to leave their fields in fallow.
    Let us sit in the confusion
    of lawns and lotus garden,
    wallow in the warm jacuzzi
    and complain about the price
    of salad greens in February.
           San Diego, CA
    © E. Russell Smith 2011

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    A Snowbird's Consolations

    I miss the daily skate downtown, 
    and passionate skiing weekends.
    Christmas is so white, but so is a beach
    beside a green fairway, and I can play 
    on either one in summer shorts, 
    wander semi-naked in the semi-desert 
    through red-rose blooming ocotillas. 
    Here no sculptured ice on a frozen lake, 
    the signature of temporary winterlude;
    sturdy bronze instead -- Cubist Lipschitz, 
    perforated Hepworth, Rubenesque Maillol
    and malleable Moore, inverted in a pool 
    with lacy locusts and old acacias.
    I walk at will, without my balaclava,
    boots, mitts, scarf or overcoat, to scent
    magnolias and flowering almonds,
    weathering a short pink flurry, confetti 
    for an old affair that's now permissible.
    Petals lie where they fall on patio stones
    of havens and retirement homes, 
    pink or white or brown side up, 
    in random encounters, like dissidents
    in Tahrir or Tiananmen, Times or Trafalgar,
    fixed in a moment of waiting, waiting 
    for a shriving, for a shriveling, 
    for an acceptable number of deaths,
    for the morning when the sweeper comes.
    	Los Angeles, February 2011
    © E. Russell Smith 2011

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    Motown Layover

    Three time zones east of yesterday, 
    still I rise early. A pale moon fails. 
    I find a coffee, walk the vacant streets. 
    The horizon of an ailing city 
    rises out of ashes, dark against 
    a glowing sky of blood and roses. 
    A carrion crow relieves the owl of 
    its night watch of my wakeful hours. 
    High-spirited Sunday sparrows, 
    starlings, larks and winter finches 
    forage in the gutters; no other life. 
    This cruel cold may cauterize 
    two years of weeping lesions. 
    I fly before the dirty weather strikes. 
    			Detroit, 20 February 2011
    © E. Russell Smith 2011

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    Mons Veneris

    I'm not useless yet -- been here before,
    but the virgin camouflage, white and cold 
    in early morning light, has me mystified, 
    and I'm the first bushwhacker to the site.
    There is a way. I search a stupid hour 
    before I find the opening that never freezes, 
    not a secret, but obscure for good or ill,
    through the knotty tangle to the mire. 
    Later I take a mental memo, here recorded: 
    once I pass the "No Trespassing" sign and 
    reach the winter heartland, I must strike 
    along that open freshet till the cattails part.
    © E. Russell Smith 2011

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    Mardi Gras North

    I wasn't shriven this last Tuesday. 
    There was no extravagant parade; 
    no Bourbon Street carouse, only 
    an ecclesiastic pancake supper,  
    eight dollars cheap for three small 
    buttered flapjacks, maple syrup 
    freshly boiled up in the bush, 
    two tiny breakfast sausages, 
    and a string of purple beads. 
    After simple decorous festivity 
    I came home for a top-up snack 
    of beer, a baked potato and 
    my own leftover chicken pie. 
    A shriving now would be in order.
    © E. Russell Smith 2011

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    A Word to George Herbert

    Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back, 	
    	Guilty of dust and sin 
    		(from 'Love', George Herbert, d.1633.) 
    The guilty sin is not in dust
    that rises from your wasteland
    in a scourge of sudden scruple, 
    like a plague of god-sent locusts
    westbound on a tropic wind.
    Guilt seeks excuses for audacity 
    in fireworks of chrysanthemum
    and reckless guarantees of love. 
    Here is the acid test, if you pay heed
    to auguries of alchemy or creed: 
    Love is neither gratified nor troubled
    by untimely consummation; 
    Love yearns to offer welcome,
    once the urgent leg is over and
    the carnal appetite is surfeited.
    © E. Russell Smith 2011

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    Brief Workout

    He says they meditate 
    each morning and evening,
    precisely twenty minutes, 
    with a timer. She admits 
    she would be delinquent 
    if he didn't keep her at it.  
    He has instructions 
    and a silent mantra to
    anaesthetize the mind...
    ten minutes for a starter 
    sit up, feet flat on the floor
    empty the turgid brain
    ignore distractions
    traffic in the street
    choir boys in the vestry
    laughter in the corridor
    breakfast bacon Sunday
    persistent scrotal itch 
    Get a grip! this is religion...
    high altar, silver chalice 
    stained glass and candles 
    steeples, towers and transepts
    Jesus, Jacob, Jeremiah,
    original trespass (as in Adam) 
    Jonah in the belly of the whale 
    also much cattle, Apostle Paul
    bedazzled near Damascus --
    This game leads nowhere.
    No exit to this labyrinth.
    I can't think of nothing...
    Beep! Ten minutes.
    Was I sleeping?
    © E. Russell Smith 2011

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    "God said to the serpent...
    you shall bruise his heel."
    	   Genesis 3:14-15
    Before I call her, 
    I walk in the park, 
    a narrow glassy footpath, 
    frigid wind, but a sun strong 
    and warm, open beechwoods 
    to penetrate, dreaming 
    old wilderness.
    Before I call her, 
    I limp that country mile 
    of spring ice and frozen slush, 
    spasmodic hiccup of a winter 
    dying, east of Eden -- a hard
    mistake, on a heel bone
    bruised by a fall.
    When I do call, 
    her time is not her own; 
    she works the graveyard shift,
    nine-day rotation, like myself
    out of step with the world. 
    And her father is ailing
    (my old friend.)
    © E. Russell Smith 2011

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    Community Succession

    Alien coltsfoot waits beside
    the rugged foreshore road, 
    a flicker quenched by shadow.
    Spruces die of beetle blight, 
    and birches die of urgent age. 
    And so the rocky prospect widens,  
    just where stands a vacant church, 
    a whited sepulchre with porch 
    and gothic lancets, tiny tower 
    and probing steeple, up for sale --
    only seventy thousand dollars,
    antique oaken pews included... 
    Unobstructed sunlight falls,
    and hardy coltsfoot gilds the 
    harsh grit of the rustic shoulder.
    © E. Russell Smith 2011

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    As Time Goes By

    the scent of lilacs, 
    town parade, 
    boy on a pony
    (someone's grandson), 
    tortillas, rellenos, 
    refried beans for lunch,
    knees touching
    under the table cloth,
    delights we might have shared
    when we were young 
    as we are once more,
    fifty years onward...
    © E. Russell Smith 2011

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