Four Poems


I Oh Lord, let me not bypass logic.
Let me see sumac and bramble at mid-day
clamber to the roof, entwined and rooted in clay,
and grab the shovel and shears and get to work.

Let me clear the gutters of cherry tree leaves
and humanely trap the groundhog burrowed in the woodpile
and kill the wasps in the nest that’s under the eaves.
Give me the courage to use my human wile.

Let me replace the shingles loosened by hail
and climb into the tight and sooty spaces
up ladders to the real and scary places
for the long look where sanity prevails.

And once the job of reason is done
get me step by quick step down the ladder
to the song of being that grows in the sun
to ground that’s covered in dandelions and clover.


Importance attaches to the largest number,
the deepest suffering, the newest song,
I thought for ages, but I was wrong.
Significance sings in slumber

and slips through quiet rooms
with hardly a sound as it moves.
caresses a cotton dress half-hidden in gloom
and the mouse’s fear of the broom

and skilled fingers that weave at the loom
and the poem that weighs less than a plume.
The moral outrage and thought
over which killing wars were fought

the world has now forgot.
What remains behind is loss
rocked in lullabies as common as moss
as rooted as fruit trees to one plot

or fingers that pluck a single apricot
on which the half-asleep years slip the ring
of song that’s woven from straw
of doubt and remembering.

Freight Train

All my life I’ve loved the trains that pass
through the Tennessee valley with a rattling whoosh
and shake the mimosa and the blackberry bush
of little wooden bungalows near the tracks.

The whole world is thundering on tracks
of gleaming metal that go plunging past
the girl who stands on gravel wanting to fling
the world like a raggedy backpack

into cavernous freight cars that divide
the boring neighborhoods into two sides
through sliding doors that swing open wide
and carry off loads of emptiness.

I’ve always loved the freight trains that pass.

Prayer II

I invite you to touch woodbine
that twines about the attic window frame,
to smell the rose of Sharon that brushes the pane.
On the porch the table is set with blue porcelain.

On a faded crimson tablecloth a bee
will keep you, as you have kept me,
through centuries, company, without a word,
except for a single emerald hummingbird.

In the cupboard is a dress of green linen
that you may, if you like, of course, put on.
You may slip off your helmet and microchip wings
and plastic credit cards and flash drives on key rings.

You may put on the ancient dress and pearls.
I will bring you a bowl of bananas and oatmeal.
The river that flows before you, the James,
is limpid and warm enough to sit in all day.

Over granite stone in the river’s silver plain
the white water that runs over the skin
says clearly enough it’s good to be born. Later,
rock on the porch to the eternal rattle of freight trains.

And then if you don’t mind I’ll go
climb the three flights of stairs deep in shadow
to sleep in the undertow of moon in the window
and the light of small stars that fade.


About Katherine Smith

Katherine Smith's work has been published or is forthcoming in Measure, Unsplendid, The Road Not Taken, Ploughshares, The Journal of the Motherhood Initiative, Poetry, Shenandoah, The Southern Review, Atlanta Review, Appalachian Heritage, and The Laurel Review. Her first book, Argument by Design (Washington Writers’ Publishing House), appeared in 2003.