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<b>Recent Poems by E. Russell Smith</b> Creative Commons License
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Recent Poems by E. Russell Smith

Selection last changed October 7, 2013 (Click here for an archive of poems posted in the past) >

  • Getting the Finger

  • Prufrock's Labyrinth

  • Order of Service

  • Wrack of the Homestead

  • Finding Closure

  • Dead-heading the Roses

  • Hollywood Drift

  • New Shoes for the Hitching

  • Topanga Beach

  • Damages

  • St. Paul on Malta

  • Monteverdi Vespers

  • The Autumn of Our Discontent

  • When Less Is Best

  • Marriage at Cana

  • Graven Images

  • Metamorphoses

  • Code of the Sunday Road

  • Arctic Warming

  • Up-side Down

    Getting the Finger

    As sure as rolling seasons
    hot and cold, leaf fall, comfort
    of snow and greening spring, 
    partisans elections are coming, 
    Oscars, competitions and debates,
    revivals, parliaments and
    councils of disputing nations,
    all occasions where charisma
    counts. In undistinguished actors
    it can swell box-office sales 
    to squealing fans. Preachers
    having it ispire deluded faith,
    and politicians rely on it to render
    voters purblind and amnesiac.
    As sure as creeping glaciers, 
    regrettable as stealthy frost,
    it seaches out the G-spot 
    ofevery promising affinity, 
    evoking wanton rapture
    in defenseless individuals 
    and simpleminded multitudes.
    Catch-22, for we are safe
    from such deduction only
    in chaste and cloistered solitude, 
    withdrawn from flesh and blood, 
    from legislature, church,
    and all imperfect institutions
    we have built for our protection.
    © E. Russell Smith 2012

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    Prufrock's Labyrinth

    Long ago I saw a summit
    far away and briefly clear,
    and it became my lodestone.
    Now, with every night's eclipse
    I run into a wall of shadow
    whether I have progressed
    or not, and I retire to plead
    that love song once again.
    But morning always offers
    some untested way to turn,
    which I must follow, given
    that my life goes on at all.
    The new path rarely seems, 
    with my myopic vision, 
    to approach the goal.
    Oh, do not ask, "What is it?"
    How should I presume?
    The daily despot points 
    to left, or right, or face-about, 
    and I proceed regardless. 
    © E. Russell Smith 2012

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    Order of Service

    The congregation will please 
    rise (as you are able) and sing,
    then sit and read the passages
    prescribed and printed out in bold.
    Abide the weekly lectionary readings
    from both testaments, old and older,
    our appeals for godly intervention, 
    and a homily of appropriate length. 
    Leave your offering on the plate. 
    Come forth by rows to have
    the sacramental elements 
    (returning by the other aisle.) 
    Keep moving. Do not pause
    to hear a still small voice.
    After the benediction and Amen
    you may, if you wish, withdraw
    quietly, during the organ postlude. 
    Please take the bulletin with you. 
    There's tea or coffee in the hall.
    © E. Russell Smith 2012

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    Wrack of the Homestead

    The big cheese rises, roundly 
    optimistic over languid sloughs 
    of water weed1 and frogbit2, 
    promising abundant harvest, 
    though the fields are parched.
    You risk an early moonstroke, 
    swimming naked in the failing pool. 
    A swallow touches down and launches 
    one last ripple to the waiting shore.
    Urgency and awkwardness prevail,
    but lead to only injury and chaos. 
    Rip-saw and conflict initiate a rift;
    Portentous signs are out of kilter.
    A turkey vulture passes, seeking 
    dead meat where the milk is spilt.
    On the high road you've been given, 
    you dislike perplexities that sour 
    the cream of God's disinterest.
    Sledge and suspicion drive the wedge;
    cat's paw and jealousy pull the nails.
    Blowtorch and anger fuse the links;
    crowbar and cruelty complete the breach.
    The breath of daylight fails; 
    air chimes are mute, and silent gravity
    accomplishes the inevitable fall.
    © E. Russell Smith 2012

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    Finding Closure

    The white-brick church and parsonage 
    (its sparse and greying congregation 
    merged now into another charge) 
    have been converted into condos. 
    Shuttles to and from the airport
    stop there twice a day, and also 
    at the town-house subdivision built 
    on Hogan's forty-acre pasture.
    Quaint curiosity herself, Aunt Mae 
    is shutting down the fine antiquities 
    emporium and ice-cream parlour
    in her limestone home, beside 
    the disused railway station-house. 
    Twenty-five percent off everything 
    that's older than she claims to be
    (and there is nothing younger.) 
    We buy a hand-embroidered doily 
    for a dollar, and cross town
    to the Chinese for a lazy lunch. 
    But it is also history. We are forced 
    to use the fast-food truck-stop 
    on the four-lane by-pass, 
    where the foundry was, before 
    a foreign cartel bought it out.
    © E. Russell Smith 2012

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    Dead-heading the Roses

    We pack out to the two-rut track,
    hump the four-by-four to the depot 
    after flour, spuds and bacon, 
    pay a social visit to the banker, 
    and return to camp by sundown —
    possible if the rain holds off
    and the fickle river doesn't rise.
    Or, with a following wind. 
    we paddle to the narrows, 
    planing on the surf that rises 
    on the funneling current,
    drift down to the status dam 
    where man and beaver vie 
    to rig the level of the lake.
    We make such trips together 
    a time to hash through issues. 
    All being well, the float  
    is in the black, if only just, 
    the water higher in the lake 
    than in the swamp below, 
    and other matters laid to rest.
    © E. Russell Smith 2012

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    Hollywood Drift

    I climb the canyon to the sign,
    dodging Lexus and Mercedes Benz
    commuter traffic heading down,
    aiming to escape, in parched 
    and introspective solitude, 
    the counterpoint, the spectacle 
    and clamour of the city of the angels.
    But timid hares and rude coyotes 
    share the chaparral less easily 
    than we can touch each other in 
    our gated, guarded neighbourhoods.
    Here adolescent blackbird chicks 
    chase weary parents who would 
    just as soon abandon them. 
    Even dry-land blooms are sinister —
    tarweed a last resort in famine, 
    Jimson weed that brings delirium, 
    deadly purple nightshade, only 
    Spanish broom to ward off gall
    and rattlesnakes. A city hiker 
    might prefer to walk an urban mall.
    © E. Russell Smith 2012

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    New Shoes for the Hitching

    He hardly ever wears that suit,
    hanging in his closet since 
    his high school graduation. 
    For his wedding he's required
    to buy new shoes to go with it. 
    White runners are unsuitable, 
    the fat girl says, as are his sandals,
    even with his Argyle socks.
    He's found a twenty-dollar pair
    of classy penny-loafers, black.
    His only tie will have to do,
    despite the greasy gravy stain, 
    reminder of a tasty brisket
    months ago. He loves a pot roast.
    Hopes that she can also cook.
    © E. Russell Smith 2012

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    Topanga Beach

    Not Malibu, its massy multitudes...
    We share the sunbaked sea with petrels, 
    cormorants and black-backed gulls,
    with mussels, barnacles and winkles.
    Remainders of Pacific rollers 
    creep around the barrier boulders 
    on the threshold of the shifting sand, 
    to tease our castle-building children.
    We take the little shade there is
    to sit and watch the passing pelicans,
    as curious as we are indifferent,  
    like dolphins capering in the bay.
    © E. Russell Smith 2012

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    As in Adam, all die.
    1 Corinthians 15:22
    Pleading guilty in the end, 
    he stands convicted by the court,
    and so it must be true — 
    He did abuse his power 
    and violate a weaker person's trust. 
    But  he continues one of us, 
    while he evolves, we hope, 
    through bitter shame, self-loathing, 
    true contrition, penitence, and 
    reconciliation with his fallen Adam. 
    He cannot atone, and that remains 
    his lifelong sorrow. His victim 
    can't forgive; and that is hers.
    © E. Russell Smith 2012

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    St. Paul on Malta

    “...they changed their minds and began to say he was a god.” 
                                                              Acts of the Apostles 28:6
    A park bench turns our backs 
    toward that barren island where 
    one old saint and his biographer  
    broke ship and washed ashore. 
    Friendly heathens lit their fire,
    and were seduced by propaganda 
    of a novel oriental deity 
    that cured their gripe and fever,
    even warded off a viper's bite.
    An image of the derelict apostle 
    rises elevated on a plinth, 
    just visible on the offshore rock. 
    His marble temple stands nearby, 
    where devotees recall his visit.
    Other gods have come and gone. 
    We sit and watch them pass, 
    conveyed on wheels or wings, 
    full of attitude and property, 
    and with the coming of the dark,
    leaving only global lighting  
    to direct our footsteps home.
    © E. Russell Smith 2012

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    Monteverdi Vespers

    		Vespro della Beata Vergine 1610
    A baroque ensemble accompanied, 
    competed with, and even overwhelmed 
    the forty voices. Sackbutts and cornettas 
    only play fortissimo, and often out of tune, 
    perhaps attesting to their aging insufficiency.
    Thankfully, for most of it the horns departed.
    Only long-necked archduke, theorbo, 
    'cello and box organ were employed. 
    And the voices! — elegant ariosi, harmonies 
    rich in tierces de Picardie;  the rhythms 
    oddly, perfectly adjusted to the text, 
    evoking the reluctant virgin, another who  
    prevailed beyond the clamour of her day.
    © E. Russell Smith 2012

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    The Autumn of Our Discontent

    By our benighted lights,  
    there is no winter here;
    autumn overlaps with spring.
    Months pass, and one by one, 
    the outsized leaves of sycamore 
    clatter through the branches 
    to the yards and pavements, 
    till there are no more, while 
    scrambling Bougainvillea blooms 
    red, white and thorny everywhere.
    In the sun the gum trees burn 
    to maple red above the daffodils.
    Rain falls; the arid chaparral 
    bursts into grassy green. 
    Oranges and lemons ripen,
    organ pipe in berry too, 
    and local holly, just in time.
    Hopped-up robins gorge on fruit
    fermenting on the firethorn,
    while they, and monarch butterflies, 
    and we the other snowbirds wait
    to hear a signal to return.
                           SoCal, December 2012
    © E. Russell Smith 2012

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    When Less is Best

    Vivaldi's Gloria provides 
    full chamber combo in the pit —
    even so, the rex cœlestis 
    for soprano solo asks for only 
    reedy oboe and bassoon. 
    A solitary 'cello backs 
    an alto and her agnus dei.  
    Bach's Magnificat prescribes 
    another alto should accept 
    one pizzicato 'cello  
    and a pastel flute duet
    for her entire support.
    Beyond that company, 
    the silence of the hall 
    is fully eloquent, 
    and so the hall obliges.
             Master Chorale, Disney Hall, 
             Los Angeles, 16 December 2012.
    © E. Russell Smith 2012

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    Marriage at Cana

    Notices are in the social weeklies,
    full accounts of guest lists, 
    dignitaries present,
    presiding clergy on the site, 
    and ladies' gowns and flowers. 
    One reporter has composed
    a short transparent myth 
    to ascribe divinity 
    to a guest 
    who wanted only 
    to become the saviour 
    of a wedding feast that 
    had confronted judgement
    and the searing fires of obloquy.
    A mystery persists as to the origin 
    of one superior post-prandial 
    vintage cabernet 
    that was uncorked quite tardy 
    in the process of the celebration.
    © E. Russell Smith 2012

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    Graven Images

    Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image... 
    Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them.
    						Exodus 20:4-5.
    If we think about it, once a week,
    we try inventing our inventor, 
    sculpting thought and cerebration, 
    fashioning an anthropomorphic entity
    not large, nor wise, nor more creative 
    than our own presumptuous selves,  
    to worship, praise and supplicate. 
    What sort of other forges us, 
    and every everlasting else as well? — 
    One voiceless Word, transcending 
    every bourn of time and space,
    responsive, as we briefly pass, 
    to neither Sunday exaltation nor
    some casual acknowledgement.
    © E. Russell Smith 2012

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    Relying on flyblown mythologies
    to  answer  for  refractory nature, 
    and for rituals now irrelevant 
    that lose them in a labyrinth 
    of smoke and crumpled steel,
    survivors of the wars creep out 
    of their sequestered valleys, 
    cross deserted plains to perish
    in tsunamis of a tepid sea...
    provided that their jackboots 
    don't break through the crust 
    of this primordial magma.
    New prophets with new tales will 
    possibly direct a sapient few
    to start a new anthropocene.
    © E. Russell Smith 2012

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    Code of the Sunday Road

    Today he's short of bread. 
    As a child, he was secure 
    with love and bed and board, 
    and family outings after church
    into the city's wild ravines — 
    learning the names of trees 
    and flowers and butterflies,
    bird-watching, minnowing.
    He also learned to trust in order, 
    a loyalty that stuck, although 
    in adolescence order fell away — 
    wildflowers suddenly were only 
    weeds, and feckless migrants  
    failed to reappear, dismayed 
    when springs became uncertain.
    Now he's walking on his own.
    Hungry, homeless, he omitted 
    going to church today. He ought, 
    in Rome, to do as Romans do, 
    perhaps, but to pretend to walk 
    in this or that conflicting faith 
    offends his intellect. He wants, 
    at most, an awkward peace 
    across the spectrum of belief.
    Simply, if he has no bread, 
    his empty body suffers, but
    another's blameless hunger 
    wounds his empty soul.
    His ordered way informs him 
    of an easy remedy for that:
    sharing the little that he has 
    keeps his humanity intact.
    © E. Russell Smith 2012

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    Arctic Warming

    Turning all the switches 
    in our modern pre-fab igloo 
    only starts replacing heat 
    lost during six long weeks
    while we were gone up south.
    An empty larder — we will
    order in some seal-fin stir-fry
    from the take-out at the dock.
    Ice-water in the faucet means 
    no shower before tomorrow.
    We retire at last, into a bed 
    of furs and frigid flannel.
    Best sleep back to belly.
    Rotate at half-hour intervals
    for medium-rare and tender.
    	Pangnirtung, Nunavut 2013
    © E. Russell Smith 2012

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    Up-side Down

    White noise and white wine,
    five miles above the near north,
    straight into the lowering sun —
    winter light spreads rainbows 
    on the rippled undercast. 
    Dark valleys in the cotton, 
    shadows of far cumulus 
    tell of trouble underneath.
    The horizon rises. We begin 
    the long and bumpy glide 
    toward a six-point touchdown. 
    The red cap of the fuel-tank 
    on the portside wing is loose.
    © E. Russell Smith 2012

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